British Columbia Battlegrounds: All aboard for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford

The Island riding is shaping up to be a four-way race.

Clockwise from top left: Alistair MacGregor of the NDP; Alana DeLong of the Conservative Party; Blair Herbert of the Liberal Party; the Green Party’s Lydia Hwitsum

The Island riding is shaping up to be a four-way race

We’re not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s a federal election coming up in October. In the coming weeks, BCBusiness will profile the ridings in the province that are most vulnerable, according to Today’s edition focuses on Cowichan-Malahat-Langford.

The federal election campaign has been officially underway for just under a week, and…not a whole lot has changed.

Most of the major parties are still in more or less the same place, at least according to the polls. And while that makes perfect sense, it’s in stark contrast to 2015’s contest, which was called approximately 2,400 months before the actual date so that Stephen Harper could build up some goodwill (he didn’t).

But polls did majorly ebb and flow over that period, so much so that Tom Mulcair was widely expected to be the country’s next prime minister at one point.

It’s very possible that might just not happen this year, given that there simply isn’t enough time for people to make mistakes and reveal their true identities to Canadians.

And if that’s true, it’s tough news for the NDP. The party has been significantly behind the two other major parties in most polls leading up to the vote and has even been caught by the Green Party, according to others.

Under Jagmeet Singh, the NDP will be hard-pressed to win over new ridings, never mind the challenge its have in securing those it currently holds.

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford is one of the latter, and there’s no shortage of vultures lurking.

What happened previously?

Like most ridings, CML (yes, it has a cool new name now, deal with it) was created before the 2015 election. The two areas it was amalgamated from (Esquimalt–Juan de Fuca and Nanaimo-Cowichan) both went NDP in 2011, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when CML did the same thing.

Alistair MacGregor, formerly a constituency assistant for Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder, won with relative ease, earning just under 36 percent of the vote. The second-highest vote-getter, Liberal candidate Luke Krayenhoff, took 23.7 percent.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

The area has a bit of a Conservative past. In 2011, Harper and Co. lost Esquimalt–Juan de Fuca by fewer than 500 votes. And redistributed results for the 2011 election in CML would have had the riding very tight (within 300 votes). 

Obviously, 2015 was a down year for the Tories, so they were more or less a non-factor. But with a new leader and some momentum across the country (and in B.C.), they’re very much a contender. 

Also of note: Last time around the Green Party garnered 16 percent here. It also laid down close to $100,000 in expenditures—a rarity for the group and a sign that the Greens think it could theirs for the taking. More on that later.

Who’s running?

Incumbent Alistair MacGregor is back for another run. The former tree planter has roots in the riding (sorry, had to), and has been the NDP’s critic for justice and heritage. He’s also sponsored a couple private members bills that are distinct to his riding (one concerning Shawnigan Lake and the other advocating for an organic farming tax credit), though neither made it to a second reading. 

The Conservatives are trotting out a fairly high profile candidate in Alana DeLong, who served in the Alberta legislature for 14 years. Originally a B.C. native, DeLong now lives on Thetis Island. She also ran in the 2017 B.C. election for the BC Liberals, losing to the NDP’s Doug Routley by a wide margin.

Local realtor Blair Herbert, in his first foray into politics, will represent the Liberals. He’s spent most of his 12-year career working for Royal LePage in Duncan and on Salt Spring Island. 

Meanwhile, the possible dark horse of the race—the Greens—will be led by Lydia Hwitsum, who won a hotly contested nomination over three other would-be candidates, including our friend Luke Krayenhoff, who came second in 2015 for…the Liberals. 

In any case, Hwitsum is a strong candidate for the job. A UVic law school grad, she served as elected chief of Cowichan Tribes for eight years.

Other candidates include Rhonda Chen for the People’s Party and Robin Stanbridge for the Christian Heritage Party.

What are the key issues?

As with many Vancouver Island ridings, it’ll be a mixture of the economy and the environment. It’s important to note that more than 9 percent of CML residents claimed some form of Indigenous identity in the 2016 census. That was about 4 percent higher than the rest of B.C.

But jobs will be important, too, and the race is likely to be fought along ideological lines, with the Conservatives battling whoever emerges from the left-leaning parties.

What do the polls say? 

It’s pretty close. 338Canada has the Conservatives leading with 27.9 percent, followed by the NDP (25.1), the Greens (23.6) and the Liberals (20.8). There will be very few ridings across the country that will have four different parties over 20 percent. This really could go in any direction. 


A key thing to note is the Greens’ presence on Vancouver Island. Both seats the party holds federally are here, and one was right next door in Nanaimo-Ladysmith earlier this year, in the byelection to replace former NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson.

Are we crazy to kind of like the Greens’ chances here? It will depend on Hwitsum’s ability to gather support and the party’s willingness to spend in the riding, of course. It’ll be tough to fend off a hungry Conservative party that will try to spread its economy-heavy message.

That goes double for a desperate NDP, which will invest in this riding heavily. Has MacGregor built up enough goodwill in the area to save himself? Maybe his experience as a tree planter will add to his environmental cred? 

And the federal status of the Liberals (not to mention the dwindling support in B.C., especially) probably means Herbert will be lucky to see another second-place finish for his party.

However it goes, it promises to be very close. But given the Indigenous presence, the focus on the environment and the Greens’ byelection win, we think Elizabeth May adds another Vancouver Island riding to her quiver.

Other B.C. Battlegrounds: 

Burnaby North-Seymour

Burnaby South

Cloverdale-Langley City