United left test case?

Stephen Harper was talking global financial turmoil and national health care in Victoria today, but a lot of the chatter in the corridors of the hotel where he spoke was strictly local politics.

In this case, however, the most intriguing local race, for the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding, hints at a direction for national party politics.

Tory incumbent Gary Lunn, the natural resources minister, is up against a Liberal star candidate, Briony Penn and the Greens’ Andrew Lewis. But the NDP’s Julian West stopped dropped out after he faced a barrage of embarrassing publicity over a public nudity incident 12 years ago.

The absence of an NDP contender makes this a sort of accidental test case for what federal politics might look like after a unite-the-left movement—assuming the riding’s New Democrat voters tend to shift to the Liberals.

But Lunn was busy telling reporters, after Harper’s event, that expects to pick up a good share of those NDP votes, pointing out that many B.C. New Democrats are fervently against the Liberals’ Green Shift. “It’s classic Liberal arrogance to say, ‘We’re getting all the NDP vote’,” he fumed.

If Briony does pick off Lunn, though, he might well be the only Harper cabinet minister to fall. And that would surely serve as an object lesson in the benefits of uniting the left-of-centre parties.

Just now, the damage inflicted by splits among left-tilting voters are glaringly obvious in seat projections. Even factoring in the Tories’ recent slide in the polls today, LISPOP has Harper coming back to Ottawa with 142 MPs to the Liberals’ 85 and the NDP’s 31.

The prospect of the Conservatives winning substantially more seats than last election—even if they do no better, and possibly a bit worse, in the popular vote—would surely prompt more centre-left politicos to talk more openly about joining forces. Watch Saanich-Gulf Islands for a sign of what might come.

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