BC Election Series: Looking Ahead to May 2017

By Cailey Murphy M.A.
Managing Director, Western Canada

A BC Provincial General Election is scheduled for May 9, 2017 and, with less than a year to go, parties are beginning to organize, fundraise and position themselves for your vote.

In 2001, BC was the first province in Canada to establish fixed election dates legislating provincial general elections take place on the second Tuesday in May, every four years.  With a predictable election cycle, parties are able to take advantage of advanced planning and a prolonged and tactical approach leading up the election.  Eight months out from the writ period, you can already hear the whirs and creaks of political machinery warming up across the province.

As activity in the political sphere gets ramped up, there are a number of interesting things to pay attention to over the next few months:

Who’s in/Who’s out – Pressure will be on for incumbent candidates to declare whether they will be seeking re-election.  Early in the summer, Moira Stilwell announced that she will not be running in 2017, opening up the urban Vancouver riding of Vancouver Langara.  Likewise, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennet (Kootenay East) followed suit declaring that he will also be stepping away from politics and just last week Health Minister Terry Lake (Kamloops North Thompson) announced his retirement from provincial politics.  These leave some important vacancies and we can likely expect to see a few more in the coming months, making room for some new faces on the landscape.  There will be many returning candidates as well with high profile incumbents such as Mike de Jong, Peter Fassbender, Teresa Wat having formalized their nominations over the summer. 

New faces will also emerge as candidate selection meetings continue to take place over the next number of months with both parties working to fill their slates.  Some new faces in the BC Liberal Party include recently nominated Kim Chan Logan in Vancouver-Kensington and Stephen Housser in the Cowichan Valley.

Ballot questions – Parties will be positioning to frame the ballot question as they gear up to drive people to the polls in May.  Following considerable attention from the BCNPD and media, the BC Liberals recently shifted some focus to the affordability issues that are impacting Vancouverites, convening a rare summer sitting of the legislature to address the issue.  However, while priorities such as affordability and sustainability have traction in metro Vancouver, the regions have generally placed a stronger emphasis on resource development, jobs and the economy.  As such, we can likely expect to see more global messaging around the provincial track record on the economy, which continues to lead the country in growth.  

For organizations looking to engage with government, the upcoming months present interesting opportunities.  Members on both sides of the aisle are eager to get out and meet with constituents and at the same time parties are setting their policy priorities.  If you can find alignment with those priorities and properly position yourself, this pre-election season offers a unique window of opportunity to engage with those decision makers who will be setting the agenda that takes us into 2021.   

As we gear up for a fall sitting of the legislature (scheduled for October 3 to November 24), the 2017 budget and inevitable campaign season, there are a number of opportunities for organizations to position themselves with government:

Research the Parties and Candidates:  Get to know your political parties, their agendas and find opportunities to align your interests with their priorities – identify how the goals of your organization fit within their policy landscape.

Know your regulatory environment: Ascertain how many Ministries touch your industry/issue and how many jurisdictions are involved, who takes a leading role and who is setting the agenda.

Stakeholder relations: Identify other industries or organizations that share your interests and harness the power in numbers to represent your issues in a united, cohesive approach.

Solidify your messaging: Get your issue on paper, include important background and contextual information, but do not create a dissertation.  Be clear, concise and compelling.

Meet with MLAs and Candidates: Be an ambassador for your issue/product/industry and engage with your local candidates and elected officials.  Provide succinct, educationally-minded information based on your research and proven industry expertise.

These are just a few of the critical steps you want to consider before bringing your issue forward over the few remaining months of the 40th Legislature.   As we gear up for the provincial general election, the window of opportunity to make your voice heard is now.  Once the ballots are cast in May, with key Ministers leaving politics, you can be sure to see new faces around the cabinet table this time next year.  Navigating the 41st Legislature will present its own unique set of challenges, but as always the key is to start early (now) and stay consistent.

HOWE&WYE offers strategic support in public affairs, advocacy and stakeholder relations.