Jennifer Rice has emerged victorious for a second term in the 2017 provincial election. Rice, who resides in Prince Rupert, is the NDP for the North Coast; a massive riding including Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Lax Kw’alaams, Bella Bella and Bella Coola, among other centres.
Rice, before her win in 2013, had been an environmentalist and was the NDP’s critic for northern and rural economic development. She was contested by Liberal candidate and former Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond, who first ran in 2009, and Green candidate Hondo Arendt, a professor at Northwest Community College, who was running for the third time.
The North Coast stayed safely orange in a rollercoaster of an election, which saw the Liberals losing seats and the NDP and Greens gaining. Currently the BC Liberals have an unstable minority, which is yet to be determined, but the North Coast is once again riding the orange wave.
By the time the ballots were counted, Jennifer Rice had 58 per cent (4,998) of the popular vote, the BC Liberals trailed at 33 per cent (2,879) and Green had 9 per cent (809).
The preliminary 2017 results practically mirror the 2013 results — but voter turnout was higher.
Elections BC reported 14,220 registered voters as of April 11, and there were approximately 8,686 votes or 61 per cent of the eligble voting population. In the last election, 52.5 per cent of the 15,500 registered voters cast a ballot.
Provincially, the Liberals have 43 seats, the NDP took 41 and the Greens captured three seats – one seat shy of receiving official party status.
However, it may be weeks before the final results of the election are made known as absentee mail-in ballots still have to be counted. The tight electoral race is also expected to go into a judicial recount.
The energy in the NDP camp at the Prince Rupert Royal Canadian Legion was high as it became clear that Jennifer Rice would return to her seat as MLA for the North Coast.
“I’ve tried my best to take the issues from the North Coast to Victoria and remind the government that often when we make decisions in the big cities policies don’t always translate well in the rural communities,” Rice said.
By 10:30 p.m., when it was clear that BC Liberal candidate Herb Pond would not garner enough votes to turn the district blue he gave a concession speech to his supporters.
“I think what was heard loud and clear across the entire riding was there’s a hunger for a different kind of leadership, there’s a hunger for a less partisan voice and a voice that really speaks to getting practical things done on the ground,” Pond said.
Earlier in the evening, Pond’s campaign managers predicted that locally the BC Liberals would do better than they had for a long time — but they weren’t confident that it would be enough to win.
“We knew it was a serious uphill battle to get Herb elected,” Rosa Miller said. “But if anything, I feel like our efforts will push people for the next four years to hold our MLA accountable because even though her first job she feels as being opposition, I feel like people perhaps will start to push for the fact that her first job is actually to be representative of this riding and these communities.”
Green party candidate Hondo Arendt wasn’t surprised with the outcome in the area.
“Well, I’m not stunned. It’s been an NDP riding for a long time, so I’m not super surprised to see Jennifer Rice win again.”
Arendt is pleased with the provincial results. For the first time in history the Green Party in Canada has won more than one seat in an election.
“We’ve got three seats. It’s also the highest percentage of the Green vote in any province, or federally with over 16 percent of the vote,” he said.
As MLA for a second time around Rice said making life more affordable for people is first on her agenda by lowering MSP, car insurance and hydro costs.
“I want to focus on creating jobs that are sustainable and speak to our values on the North Coast,” she added.
She included that a vote for NDP isn’t necessarily an end to the potential LNG (liquefied natural gas) industry on the North Coast.
“The NDP supports LNG done right. We have four criteria to accept a project. We need to make sure our land, air and water are protected, and we need First Nations to be treated as true partners, not just check box consultations, and we need to see a fair return for the resource,” she said.