UVic a battleground for BC recall campaign?

BC’s Minister for Universities may have a very short tenure

Fans of schadenfreude, grassroots populism and reenactments of the Titanic have been enjoying the goings-on in British Columiba politics over the past year, as the Liberal Party has been in free-fall since they announced the implementation of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) right after being re-elected in May 2009.

A successful petition for a referendum on the tax generated hundreds of thousands of signatures, and now organizers, led by former Premier Bill Vander Zalm, have begun the next stage of campaign: recalling MLAs.

To be successful, a petition must have 40 per cent of eligible voters from the riding, and must be completed within 60 days. The first recall initiative begins on Monday, and the target is Ida Chong, MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, located in Victoria.

(well, not actually “Victoria”. Victoria as most Canadians know is a series of small municipalities, with the capital city at the centre. If you live in Victoria, as I did for 18 years, this becomes very annoying to explain time and time again. Oak Bay-Gordon Head is located in two of these smaller municipalities. We now depart my Grade 10 Civics class, and return to the blog post)

This is interesting to university-watchers for two reasons. The first tie-in is that Chong is the newly appointed Minister of Science and Universities. The second is that Oak Bay-Gordon Head, aside from being home to a plethora of public sector employees (28 per cent of the population in 2001) and old people (21 per cent over 65, from the same year), is home to the University of Victoria.

Now, it doesn’t take much to assume that a university student in Victoria is more likely to be on the left of the political spectrum than not. Until this year, for example, UVic’s student union was dominated for over a decade by a pro-Canadian Federation of Students slate, and generally advocated for policy positions to the left of the NDP. So one can expect at the very least a few thousand eager participants in the recall process.

However, there’s a catch. In BC, recall legislation states that “In order to sign a recall petition an individual must have been a registered voter for the electoral district for which the member was elected on general voting day for the last election of the member.”

Meaning, for a UVic student to sign a recall petition, they would have had to be a registered voter in Oak Bay-Gordon Head in the 2009 election, which would remove most first and second year students. Moreover, aside from being 18 months ago, it is also outside of the traditional school year. The thousands of UVic students who went home/vacationing during the 2009 summer won’t be eligible. So the student influence may not be as strong as it would originally seem.

But will the recall be successful? Well, I’m no Nate Silver, but if it’s going to pass anywhere, Oak Bay-Gordon Head could very well be it. Vancouver Island has always been solidly anti-Campbell, but more importantly, the riding is dense enough and close enough to Vancouver to ensure there will be an army of canvassers. The relative lack of apartments in the riding will make it easier to knock on every door, too.

On the other hand, it’s quite possible that some of the sentiment against the HST has wavered with a) A referendum date set for the HST, and b) Campbell’s promise to resign as premier. Whatever the case, the clock begins to tick Monday.