Premier Christy Clark, 51, seeks a third term to extend the rule of her Liberal Party, in power since 2001. She has pledged to ban the shipment of thermal coal from the province’s Pacific Coast if re-elected. That could hurt U.S. miners that have been sending exports to Asia through Canada because of growing congestion and environmental opposition to new ports on the West Coast.
Polls show her neck and neck with John Horgan, 57, a former pulp mill worker and leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party who has pledged to use “every tool” to thwart the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline linking the Canadian oil sands to the Pacific.
An Ipsos poll published Monday showed the Liberals and NDP in a statistical dead heat with support for the opposition party at 40 percent and for the incumbents at 39 percent. In Canada, each district, or riding, chooses a representative for the legislature, and the leader of the party that wins the most seats gets to govern.
The Liberals currently hold a majority of the 85 seats in the British Columbia legislature, while the NDP holds 35. The Green Party — a wild card that could potentially split votes and whose leader Andrew Weaver has a better approval rating than either Clark or Horgan — holds one. Polls close at 8 p.m. local time.
During the campaign, Clark, a former radio host, pledged to enact a levy of C$70 ($64) on every ton of thermal coal exported from the province — a retaliatory move against U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs on softwood lumber. That would make it uneconomical for U.S. miners like Cloud Peak to ship through British Columbia’s Pacific Coast facilities, including Westshore Terminals Investment Corp.
A Liberal victory, however, is broadly seen as more friendly for business.
Under the watch of Clark, British Columbia topped Canadian growth for the second consecutive year in 2016 and posted a budget surplus for five straight years. In the birthplace of Greenpeace, her government faced down fierce environmental opposition to back the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline and Petroliam Nasional Bhd’s proposed $27 billion natural gas export terminal.
Horgan, a cancer survivor, was still largely unknown by voters until recently. In past weeks, his approval ratings have topped Clark’s as he tapped into public perception that the strength of British Columbia’s economy has failed to filter down to the middle and lower classes, accusing his rival of “working for her rich friends and donors at the top.”
The Liberals have faced growing criticism for campaign contributions of tens of thousands of dollars per donor. In a country where most provinces limit donations from individuals and companies alike to a few thousand dollars apiece, the province has been dubbed the “Wild West” of Canadian fundraising. Clark also drew derision for her snub of a grocery-store shopper that went viral in the final days of the campaign.
The NDP has called for a 2 percent tax on real estate speculators in the nation’s priciest property market, where the average cost of a typical Vancouver house has surged to C$1.5 million. The party has also pledged to review oil and gas subsidies, and the environmental risks of fracking. It hasn’t ruled out gas export projects but says they must ensure a fair return to the province.