May 2nd was an important day in Canadian history

While the unexpected Conservative majority and NDP surge dominated news coverage in the wake of the recent federal election, a less publicized issue had a major impact in key B.C. swing ridings on election night: oil tankers.

Lost in the post-election media melee was the fact that Harper’s Conservatives lost seats in B.C. and that these losses were almost certainly related to their ongoing support for expanding oil tanker traffic. A ban on oil tankers on the north coast was the singular environmental issue that broke through during the election in B.C. and even across the country. It’s not going away simply because Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s new majority government desperately wants a new tanker terminal to ship tarsands oil to China.

Eighty per cent of British Columbians oppose tankers in northern waters, and the election demonstrates that if asked, these voters will show up on election day. As Vancouver Sun columnist Barbara Yaffe recently wrote: “The pipeline and port project has the makings to become the biggest political controversy the Harper Government will have to deal with in the next Parliament. It bears close watching.”

A major subplot to the federal election story in B.C. worth mentioning is the impact Dogwood Initiative and other No Tankers groups had in keeping the Tories from winning in battleground ridings across B.C., thanks in no small part to our generous supporters and dedicated volunteers.

Battleground Ridings

In the riding of Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, where we were actively organizing on the ground, the No Tanker vote helped swing a close election to NDP candidate and tanker ban champion Randall Garrison. Only 406 votes separated Randall from the Tory runner-up Troy DeSouza. Dogwood Initiative volunteers were responsible for more than 5,000 voter contacts in that riding alone.During the last couple of years Dogwood Initiative has organized almost 3,000 supporters in Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca. After the election was called, No Tankers volunteers knocked on more than 1,700 doors and made almost 1,800 phone calls. We also used automated calling techniques to contact more than 16,000 homes and engaged 1,300 residents in our first-ever telephone town hall.

Not only did No Tankers support help win the battle at the polls in Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, our volunteers won the battle of the Mackenzie overpass. Tory candidate Troy DeSouza staked his campaign on the promise of a new overpass at the intersection of Mackenzie and the Trans-Canada Highway, where traffic congestion during rush hour is a problem. Early in the election campaign, De Souza supporters planned to gather on the highway twice a week during the morning commute holding signs promising an overpass to frustrated commuters. However, when No Tanker volunteers showed up with their own signs that read “A vote for Troy is a vote for oil tankers,” the Conservative candidate and his supporters abandoned their post along the highway.

The issue of a tanker ban was front-and-centre in the riding of Vancouver Quadra where Liberal MP Joyce Murray, won a close contest against Conservative Deborah Meredith. Meredith ran on an aggressive pro-tanker platform. Her main election flyer featured an oil tanker message: “Quadra Liberal MP Joyce Murray introduced an irresponsible private member’s bill to stop tanker traffic off our north coast – killing the northern gateway and hindering trade with Asia.” The network of supporters Dogwood Initiative has developed in Vancouver Quadra proved pivotal in the election. Thousands of e-mails and individual conversations happened on doorsteps and on the phone. Joyce Murray was one of only two B.C. Grits able to hold off a Tory opponent, thanks in no small part to the No Tanker vote.

Joyce Murray was one of only two B.C. Grits able to hold off a Tory opponent, thanks in no small part to the No Tanker vote.

On Vancouver Island, the Green Party’s Elizabeth May’s historic victory in Saanich-Gulf Islands was buoyed by her strong opposition to coastal oil tankers. May’s team reported that concern about oil tanker traffic was among the top two issues they heard about from people in her riding. Dogwood Initiative has been organizing in key swing neighbourhoods in the riding since 2007. As Canada’s first Green Party MP, May will now be a strong voice for a tanker ban in Ottawa.

It’s no coincidence that federal NDP candidates Nathan Cullen and Finn Donnelly, who both have  strong records of fighting for a tanker ban, were victorious on election night. Cullen, whose Skeena riding includes the proposed Enbridge pipeline-tanker route, won a landslide victory by making the Enbridge project the feature of his campaign, increasing his vote share by more than five per cent. Incumbent New Westminster-Coquitlam NDP candidate Finn Donnelly, who had also proposed a private member’s bill banning tankers, won a narrow victory against a strong Tory challenger.

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, the collapse of the federal Liberals prevented a clean No Tankers sweep. Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, who played an important role in pushing the northern tanker ban in Ottawa and the Liberal caucus couldn’t withstand the collapse of the party’s vote. Taleeb Noormohamed, the Liberal running in North Vancouver also lost to a Tory incumbent as the Grit vote evaporated.

Moving Forward

Election day was a big day in the No Tanker campaign. While the Tory majority will likely delay getting legislation passed permanently banning oil tankers in northern B.C. waters, the electoral muscle that No Tanker supporters demonstrated in key ridings will have a lasting effect.

There remain only two types of politicians in B.C.: Those who will stand up and defend B.C. against oil tankers, and those who won’t. With talk of a provincial election this fall, a clear divide is already emerging, with the BC Liberals willing to allow oil tankers on our coast and the provincial NDP vocally opposed.

Consider the successes in Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, Saanich Gulf Islands, New Westminster-Coquitlam and Skeena-Bulkley Valley a trial run of what will be a major wedge issue if an early provincial election is called.

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