VICTORIA — The British Columbian election pits a battle-tested Liberal dynasty against a gloves-off New Democratic Party fixated on shaking its loser mantle, while the upstart Green party pushes for a political breakthrough.
Liberal Premier Christy Clark, a tireless campaigner who defied the pollsters in 2013 to win a majority government despite being down 20 points in the polls, said she is poised to strap on her trademark construction hard hat and tell British Columbians good jobs build healthy families and strong communities.
Clark's Liberals are looking to win their fifth consecutive mandate in the May 9 election.
John Horgan said the NDP's defeat in 2013 left him sick to his stomach and he's determined to mount an in-your-face campaign that challenges the government's record after 16 years in office.
Horgan, who was acclaimed the party's leader in 2014, said B.C.'s New Democrats are tired of losing.
"What I want to do in the campaign is hold the government accountable for its record, and I am going to be very strong on that," he said.
The Greens are running a full slate of candidates and leader Andrew Weaver said his party is primed to win seats and shake up the traditional two-party power structure.
Weaver is a noted climate scientist who, despite being his party's lone elected member, convinced the government to adopt several new policies, including forcing post-secondary institutions to introduce tough regulations combating sexual assault on campuses.
The leaderless and almost-invisible provincial Conservatives are fielding a half-dozen candidates and will not participate alongside the other three parties in the televised leaders debate.
The current standings in the legislature are: 47 Liberals, 35 NDP and three Independents, which include Weaver. There are two new ridings this election, bringing the total to 87 seats.
The Liberals enter this Tuesday's election campaign with a strong economic record: the lowest jobless rate in Canada, a top-performing economy and consecutive surplus budgets.
But controversy over high-priced political fundraisers, unlimited donations to political parties, sky-high housing costs and the long-running feud over funding public education have the NDP and Greens targeting the Liberals.
A special prosecutor was appointed days before the start of the campaign to help the RCMP in its investigation of possible Election Act violations over political donations to both major parties.
Weaver said he expects campaign financing will be a crucial election issue. He said the ballot box question will be trust.
"Who do you trust to put your interests ahead of the interests of unions or corporations?" he said. "We banned union and corporate donations to our party. We do not accept them. The other two parties do."
Horgan said British Columbians want somebody who helps families, students and seniors instead of the corporations and individuals making the largest party donations.
"The wealthy and the well-connected have had their premier and it's time the rest of the province has someone working for them," he said.
Clark said the New Democrats are turning their backs on thousands of jobs, which is a message she plans to hammer home throughout the campaign.
She said Horgan is "Dr. No," opposing the Site C dam, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the George Massey Tunnel replacement and most liquefied natural gas plant proposals.
"What I know is a job means stability," she told a gathering of road builders. "It means food on the table. It means you can own your own home."
Clark also served notice that she will spar verbally with Horgan throughout the campaign.
She recently suggested Horgan was not a strong enough leader to corral his caucus, which is divided over resource development and environmental protection.
Previously, she said Horgan and the NDP were often dismissive of her because she is a successful woman, which Horgan denied, saying his mother raised him to be kind.
"Normally, I'm charitable," he said. "But she's going to be having to look for a new job after May 9."
But Hamish Telford, a political scientist with the University of the Fraser Valley, said the NDP is up against its historic election foe, which is an undivided centre-right vote.
"The centre-right under Christy Clark is united and the centre-left is a bit fractured between the Greens and the NDP," he said. "This is a real electoral advantage to a united Liberal party and it's totally within their interests to play it up."
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press