NDP seeks upset in B.C. riding that has traditionally gone Liberal or Conservative

·4 min read

SQUAMISH, B.C. — From a suffocating heat dome to wildfire smoke that weighed down the skies, it's no surprise that several federal candidates in one British Columbia riding say they're hearing at the door that climate change is the top election issue.

West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country is as sprawling as its lengthy name might suggest, stretching north of Pemberton, down to the edge of Vancouver and west onto the B.C. coast.

Its local issues are just as diverse. Whistler's tourism economy has struggled under pandemic pressures and staffing shortages; Squamish is going through growing pains as one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the province; drought conditions have created water shortages on the Sunshine Coast; and parents in West Vancouver are worried their children won't be able to afford to live in the neighbourhoods they grew up in.

Yet several candidates in a crowded race said they're hearing a common concern from both rural and urban constituents.

"The go bags parked at the doors and the climate emergency caught in our throat under smoke-choked skies — this is an extraordinary historical moment where we need massive changes," said NDP candidate Avi Lewis, 54, who is hoping to wrest the seat from Liberal incumbent Patrick Weiler.

The New Democrats are hoping Lewis's profile as an environmental activist and filmmaker is the key to disrupting the tradition that has seen the riding typically trade hands between the Liberals and Conservatives. The Greens surged to third place in the last election, making it a packed race this year.

It would be new territory for the NDP, which has never won the seat.

"I’m not naive. I’m an underdog and I’m trying to pull off what would be a gigantic upset," Lewis said.

Lewis, who is pitching a Green New Deal for Canada, is married to journalist Naomi Klein and is the son of former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis and feminist journalist Michele Landsberg. He is also the grandson of former federal NDP leader David Lewis.

Also in the race are Conservative John Weston, Green Party candidate Mike Simpson and Doug Bebb of the People's Party of Canada.

Weiler, 35, who was first elected in 2019, says he believes he's proven to his constituents that he's a hard-working MP whose background in environmental and Aboriginal law makes him suited for local issues.

He says he's proud of the progress he has made having thousands of conversations with constituents and believes the Liberals have momentum toward an economic recovery from COVID-19 and other issues, warning a Conservative government would turn back the clock.

Weiler said he's keen to keep tackling local issues — like bringing $10-a-day child care to meet demand in Squamish — as well as the broader themes that unite the diverse riding.

"First and foremost, there's concern about climate change and ensuring we're going to have a bold plan to mitigate it," Weiler said, adding housing affordability and reconciliation after the discovery of unmarked graves on residential school grounds are not far behind.

Weston, 63, represented the region in the Commons for seven years until 2015. He's an international lawyer and government relations specialist who launched both the Canadian Constitution Foundation and the Canadian Health and Fitness Institute.

Weston believes constituents are ready for a return to a Conservative government, but one with a new leader and new ideas.

"We need a change of direction," Weston said, adding only a Conservative government can reduce unemployment, give businesses confidence and keep debt under control.

Protecting the economy should be accompanied by a viable environmental policy and he said he's satisfied the Conservative plan will meet the Paris Accord greenhouse gas emission reduction targets without harming the economy.

"I told Erin O'Toole I would only run if we had a robust, achievable environmental policy," he said.

Meanwhile, Simpson, 56, is hoping to build on the Green momentum from the last election, as well as a surge in local support for the party at the provincial level. Jeremy Valeriote nearly won a seat in the area for the Greens in last year's B.C. election.

Simpson, a filmmaker who has also worked with environmental non-profits, bases his campaign on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

With climate change on track to create significant damage in his nine-year-old daughter's lifetime, he said he felt he had to change tack.

"There actually is no time left to do advocacy and education. And all the things I've been doing for 20 or 30 years have all become something we no longer have time for, because the actual decisions need to be made really quickly."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 11, 2021.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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