VANCOUVER May 9 Voters in Canada's British
Columbia went to the polls to choose a new provincial government
on Tuesday in a neck-and-neck race between the ruling Liberal
Party and left-leaning New Democrats.
Some pollsters predicted the Liberals, who have governed the
westernmost province for 16 years, would carve out a victory.
The party is not linked to Canadian Prime Minister Justin
Trudeau's federal Liberal Party and is more right-leaning.
Premier Christy Clark's Liberals were able to close a 10
point gap with the New Democratic Party (NDP) in the past two
weeks, helped in part by the revival of a thorny trade dispute
between Canada and the United States.
A Liberal victory could safeguard big oil and gas projects
in the resource-rich Pacific Ocean province. NDP leader John
Horgan had vowed to stop Kinder Morgan Inc's Trans
Mountain oil pipeline expansion, which the Liberals approved.
Hitting back at U.S. plans to implement duties on Canadian
softwood lumber, a key export for British Columbia, Clark said
the Liberals would add a carbon levy on thermal coal exports
from the province that would make them uneconomic. Most of the
thermal coal comes from U.S. mines.
The softwood lumber dispute "really provided an opportunity
for the premier to stay on her message of jobs for the resource
sector," said Gerald Baier, University of British Columbia
political science professor.
The party is locked in a statistical dead heat with the NDP,
according to the latest Mainstreet poll, although the polling
group forecasts a Liberal majority.
The province's most widely read newspapers, including the
national Globe and Mail, all endorsed the Liberals.
In a weekend editorial headlined "Hold your nose and vote
Liberal", the Globe said the party, helped by robust economic
growth and balanced budgets, was "better than the alternatives"
even as the paper detailed the Liberals' failings including
controversial corporate cash-for-access fundraisers.
In addition to his opposition to the Trans Mountain oil
pipeline expansion, the NDP's Horgan has expressed reservations
about a liquefied natural gas terminal that Malaysia's Petronas
wants to build.
Horgan, who campaigned on an affordability ticket, including
cheap daycare and a higher minimum wage, is also facing a strong
challenge from the provincial Green Party, especially in his
party's stronghold on Vancouver Island.
A majority win for the NDP, which won 35 seats in the last
election in 2013 to the Liberals 47, would be a "pretty big
challenge", Baier said.
"The (Liberal) government is in a pretty good position to
hang on," he said.
(Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Tom