The personal and political ties that unite the three major candidates running in Saanich South run deep.
B.C. Green Party candidate Mark Neufeld taught the son of incumbent New Democratic MLA Lana Popham, while B.C. Liberal David Calder used to serve on the executive board of Popham’s constituency association.
In fact, Neufeld spoke at the start of the campaign about a “wonderful moment in democracy” for people who knew each other well to talk about policy. “I’m not convinced that politics needs to be about personality,” he said. “It needs to be about policies and ideas,” said Neufeld.
Neufeld, who actually consulted Popham before running, appeared to live up to this promise during Wednesday’s all-candidates hearing. When some audience audibly mocked Calder for comments calling for a balance economic growth and environmental protection in answering a question about provincial plans to expend the liquefied natural gas industry, Neufeld singled the audience to hear out Calder.
Neufeld, of course, opposes such plans, but his intervention on behalf of Calder offered no obvious political upside.
This said, the race in Saanich South has a distinct personal dimension thanks to Calder’s political past with Popham, for whom he volunteered. This past came up during last week’s debate on CFAX 1070, when Calder acknowledged this history, while trying to distance himself from it at the same time.
“You may know, four years ago I volunteered for Lana, because we share similar values,” said Calder. “But this riding and this region has been overlooked far too long because our representatives have been in opposition.”
Calder said in an interview that he did not become a B.C. Liberal overnight.
“As I said before, for me, it has always been about our community and community issues first…I don’t think it is this dark, nefarious switch. It is actually quite consistent. It’s important to stand up for the things you believe in and that is what I feel like I’m doing.”
Calder said he has stood up for the community and its values when he was with the New Democrats and now as a B.C. Liberal. “I believe that we need to do more for people in crisis,” he said. “I believe that we need to bring more heart to the table and those are the things that I want to do. I believe that we need to do more for climate action and we need to do for more the environment. Those are values I own, not a political party.”
As for Popham, she enters the race as the prohibitive favourite for a number of reasons, including name recognition, having served eight years, and her status as the NDP’s agriculture critic in a riding with significant rural areas.
Current polling favours Popham’s New Democrats, but Popham said in an interview before various debates that she is not concerned about polling. “We really had confidence in the polls in  and it was a devastating loss for us,” she said.
Her focus, she said, rested on talking to voters in Saanich South and their issues such as housing affordability and health care. As for running against Calder, Popham tried to sound matter-of-fact. “If he wants to champion the BC Liberals, that is fine,” she said. “I want to champion the NDP and the people of Saanich South.”
Popham said Calder’s decision to leave the NDP surprised her, but “I don’t consider it a sense of betrayal,” she said. “I think you can find value in every candidate that is running,” she said.