2017 British Columbia election: Victoria-Swan Lake riding profile

2017 British Columbia election: Victoria-Swan Lake riding profile

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Here is Victoria-Swan Lake, one of 15 ridings on Vancouver Island — and one where provincial issues are very local.

1. Rob Fleming's story about the first door he ever knocked on is so good, it deserves to be told in full. 

"A lovely Polish women came to the door. She explained in the little English she had that she would have her son take my materials, and then she invited me to sit down in her kitchen. My campaign manager said 'don't do that, you need to knock on as many doors as you can.' But she went into another room, came back with some money, and I thought 'here I've got a couple of votes, and the first donation of my political life,'" said Fleming. 

"And then she handed me a slip of paper that was a subscription payment to the Times Colonist newspaper. So it was very clear she thought I was too young to run and I was the newspaper boy." 

2. The anecdote speaks to the young age Fleming began serving Victoria voters.

Fleming first was elected to city council in 1999 at the age of 28, serving two terms before heading to provincial politics in 2005. 

He's won all three elections by large margins, and it was the Green Party, not the Liberals, that finished second in the riding last election. 

"It remains a very, very progressive community," said Fleming. "The party has a very strong grassroots presence. We work hard, we're well organized, we stay in touch with constituents. The issues people talk about in our community are the ones New Democrats care about. It helps to be on side, and have a set of shared values with a politically passionate population." 

3. Demographically, the area *should* be more favourable to the B.C. Liberals than it actually is. 

It's one of those districts with a few corridors of commercial activity, a smattering of apartments, but mostly mid-income family neighbourhoods close to the city core. 

In most of B.C., that profiles as a swing seat, or one that leans towards the Liberals. But this is Victoria, and the capital's predominance of government workers, university students, and environmentally-focused voters are big reasons why the area has only elected a non-NDP MLA once in the last 40 years. 

4. The Lower Mainland isn't the only place where housing has become a major issue.

Three years ago, the benchmark price of a single-family home in Victoria-Swan Lake's three real estate regions ranged from $479,000 to $591,000.

Today, the benchmark ranges from $659,000 to $809,000, making it one of the most expensive ridings in the province outside of Metro Vancouver, putting a strain on the high proportion of renters on the west side of the riding.

"The situation is still getting worse, but in terms of having housing programs that add to the stock of co-op housing and non-profit housing, there's been very very little activity over 15 years," says Fleming.

"There's not enough affordable options on our community right now."

5. Where does the NDP do well? 

They do well throughout the riding, but particularly in north Fernwood around Bay and Haultain streets, getting 60 to 70 per cent of the vote in recent elections. 

6. What about the Liberals? 

The Liberals are most competitive along the waterfront polling stations of Gorge Road, along with the more suburban neighbourhoods north of Tatersall Drive.

7. And the Greens?

Aside from north Fernwood, the Greens have historically done well along Burnside Road, and the homes in between Blanchard and Quadra streets.

In the 2013 election, the party had their fourth best result in this riding. Their 2017 candidate is Chris Maxwell, an associate professor at UBC and co-lead for the B.C. Children's Hospital's childhood cancer and blood research group.

8. Being a heavy favourite doesn't stop Fleming's enthusiasm for the campaign process. 

"We need to do a lot better to get people engaged in elections. We should be removing every and any barrier to participation to engaging in democracy," said Fleming, noting he's pushed a private members bill to pre-register people for voting when they turn 16.

"I really like getting on the doorstep. Talking to people is hopefully something every politician loves."