Aboriginal support cuts both ways in B.C. election, Liberal and NDP leaders discover

Premier Gordon Campbell and New Democrat Leader Carole James discovered Saturday they shouldn't count on the blanket support of the province's aboriginal voters.

Premier Gordon Campbell and New Democrat Leader Carole James discovered Saturday they shouldn't count on the blanket support of the province's aboriginal voters.

Campbell was on Vancouver Island courting aboriginal voters who primarily voted New Democrat in 2005, and James was in Penticton where she received the support of aboriginal leader Stewart Phillip.

Phillip had called for Campbell's re-election to a third term three years ago, but now says the premier doesn't have the full support of B.C.'s aboriginals.

Campbell said he knows aboriginals will not vote as a bloc on Tuesday, but he said his message of reconciliation and economic revival for aboriginals is appealing to all voters.

"There's a little bit of a myth that all aboriginal people will vote the same way," said Campbell at a stop in Comox. "They're like the rest of us. They've got different opinions of where they should go."

Campbell was also in Campbell River on Vancouver Island to support Liberal candidate Marion Wright, a former elected aboriginal chief, who is trying to win the North Island riding from New Democrat Claire Trevena.

Ten per cent of the riding's population are aboriginal, and many who voted New Democrat in the past are expected to vote Liberal, said local leaders attending a Campbell River campaign rally.

"Usually we have a lot of in-fighting amongst us, but this (Wright's candidacy) is a common denominator that we all need," said Dallas Smith, president of an area native council.

But in Penticton, Phillip, who leads the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said the Liberals cannot count on complete support from aboriginals.

"We continue to support their social justice issues," he said. "But on the other issues, privatization of the rivers, the fish farm issue, and all of these kinds of issues, the B.C. Liberals do not enjoy the broad support of First Nations."

Wright said First Nations voters may be poised to change their political traditions at the polls Tuesday.

Wright has deep aboriginal family and leadership roots on Vancouver Island and Campbell campaigned with her in a riding held by the NDP.

Wright said the NDP has promised everything to aboriginals but delivered little.

In her riding, the aboriginal vote is "about 10 per cent of the voting population here, so we are making sure we get out the vote," said Wright, adding she had the endorsement from a majority of the chiefs in the area.

She suggested some voters could shift to the Liberals from the NDP.

"If you look at the record, NDP promised aboriginal people everything and delivered nothing. This government has delivered on many many levels. There's resource sharing. It's in everything."

While Campbell appeared confident campaigning in Opposition-held territory, there appeared to be a touch of desperation evident in James's campaign.

She began her day in search of votes in Kamloops, where she candidly expressed worry that the Liberals may win the election.

"I'm concerned that Gordon Campbell will get elected again because I'm worried about our province," said James after receiving warm greetings from shoppers as she strolled through a farmers' market.

"I'm worried about support for seniors, I'm worried about forest workers."

James repeated an earlier prediction that she believed the election will be close, calling it a critical time where voters will decide to maintain the provinces resources with the NDP or lose them with the Liberals.

"I am reaching out to people who are thinking about voting Green, who haven't voted before, to say there's a lot at stake, to say the resources that belong to us as British Columbians, if we lose those under Gordon Campbell, we don't get them back," she said.

James had to shake off comments made by former NDP premier Mike Harcourt, who said he supported the carbon tax initiative of the Liberals, even though James is opposed.

She said Harcourt is her friend and has been a good mentor and that his comments do nothing more than add to the debate.

But while Harcourt's timing might not have helped, James got support from an unlikely source, a former cabinet minister in previous Social Credit party governments in B.C.

Rafe Mair, who was also a prominent radio broadcaster, attended James's rally in Kamloops.

"I'm supporting the NDP because they have got a stand on run-of-the-river (projects), plus the fact that the political sands have shifted very dramatically since I was last in government," said Mair.

"There is no centre party per say, the Liberals have moved so far to the right and I find that I can feel very comfortable with the policies, generally, enunciated buy the NDP."

He said "Carole James is the only choice."

The campaign took on a bit of a brief ugly tone during a stop by James in Merritt in support of local incumbent Harry Lali.

When Lali told the crowd it was time to oust Campbell from the premier's chair, someone from the crowd shouted, "Take him out."

A woman then said "shoot him."

Campbell said the comments were "obviously not acceptable to me."

"It wouldn't be acceptable to Ms. James. People can sometimes get carried away, that's obviously carried away. When you have a campaign that's based on attack, some of your followers think they can do whatever they want."

 
 
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