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Premier begins to mass forces for election

Jul 14 2012

Premier Christy Clark will rally her Vancouver Island troops on Monday, as her party begins picking candidates to fight what looks to be an uphill battle in the next election.

Clark will host a barbecue at Heritage Acres in Saanich for South Island B.C. Liberal organizers, alongside Oak Bay-Gordon Head cabinet minister Ida Chong and retiring Saanich North and the Islands MLA Murray Coell.

The event comes as the party begins its nomination process to choose candidates for the May 2013 provincial election.

The Liberals currently hold four of the Island's 14 ridings. Two MLAs - Chong and Agriculture Minister Don McRae in the Comox Valley - have said they will seek re-election.

Coell announced this week he was retiring after holding his seat for 16 years.

Parksville-Qualicum's Ron Cantelon, who suffered a heart attack last year, has yet to announce his future.

Whomever the Liberals select, they are likely to face an uphill battle.

Polls have consistently pegged New Democrat support on the Island as high as 50 per cent. Three of the four Liberal ridings were won by slim margins that could easily disappear if the B.C. Conservatives poach even a few hundred ex-Liberal voters, as polls show them currently able to do.

"It's not incredible to think this could be an Island wasteland for the Liberals in 2013," said University of Victoria professor Michael Prince.

Top Liberals acknowledge the Island is one of their toughest fights. Party campaign director Mike McDonald has said the party would nonetheless mount an aggressive campaign with many first-time candidates.

The first name, announced Friday, came in Vancouver-Langara, where incumbent Moira Stilwell will be acclaimed in a vote later this month.

The party plans to reveal more riding nomination details this month, with many of the candidateselection votes in August.

"I don't think much is going to change on the Island - the Island is the NDP," said Sheila Orr, a former Liberal MLA in Victoria.

"Looking at the polling numbers, looking at how the NDP are on the Island, if we [the Liberals] pull off two seats, we'll have done well."

Meanwhile, most NDP candidates on the Island remain in place from party nominations held last summer, when the Opposition bet Clark would call a snap fall election. The Island's 10 incumbent NDP MLAs are running for re-election.

Jessica Van der Veen and Gary Holman, who lost narrowly in 2009 in Oak Bay-Gordon Head and Saanich North respectively, have already been nominated as 2013 candidates.

Education advocate Kassandra Dycke is a new NDP face for the Comox Valley, and former Qualicum Beach councillor Barry Avis has the party nod in Parksville-Qualicum.

B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins said Friday his party is pre-screening candidates and will start nomination meetings in September.

"We're solid on the Island," he said.

The Conservatives are "fully engaged" with organizers in all 14 ridings, Cummins said. "We've got some very good candidates who've put their names forward." rshaw@timescolonist.com

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