Today's byelection call for the provincial riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam was the official start to a campaign that has been in full swing for weeks, with visits from both BC Liberal and NDP leaders as well as announcements of government funding for community projects.
As well as leader visits, NDP candidate and former Port Moody mayor Joe Trasolini has been stumping for months, alongside newcomer Christine Clarke, who was nominated by the BC Conservatives in early December. More recently, Dennis Marsden joined the race, representing the BC Liberals in the contest to replace former MLA Iain Black.
In recent weeks, voters in Port Moody-Coquitlam have been deluged with flyers in the lead-up to the official byelection call and online and radio advertising has slammed BC NDP leader Adrian Dix to sway opinion in what is expected to be an all-out election battle. Although a win for either side won't change the dynamic in the house, where the BC Liberals still have a majority, the byelection is seen as a test of Premier Christy Clark, who won the party leadership just over a year ago.
All that was missing are lawn signs and an official election date.
But with an election now on the calendar for April 19, the political parties can be expected to rectify that situation soon. The riding - comfortably held by the Liberal Black from May 2005 to his retirement in the fall to take a job as president and CEO with the Vancouver Board of Trade - is increasingly being scene as a bellwether for a full provincial vote in May 2013.
As the rhetoric heats up in locally, voters can be expected to withstand some dire predictions about the future of B.C. politics, especially from the BC Liberals, who, it could be argued have more to lose, and the BC Conservatives, who have more to gain from a Liberal blood-letting.
In two outings so far, the BC Liberals and NDP are taking some liberties with the truth, with Marsden's campaign brochures giving Premier Christy Clark credit for breaking the "log-jam" on the Evergreen Line and Trasolini promising to stop school closures.
Marsden's flyer boasting "Christy got it done" on the Evergreen Line will rankle some, especially Metro Vancouver mayors, who fought a long, hard battle to convince the BC Liberal government to consider measures other than property taxes to fund the long-awaited Burnaby-to-Coquitlam rapid transit line.
In fact, Clark almost scuttled a deal when she second-guessed a plan to hike fuel taxes by 2 cents a litre. She back-tracked two days later, saying she supported the gas tax, which is set to spike gas taxes to 17 cents a litre in April.
The TransLink mayors' council is still looking to offset a $23 property tax hike in 2013 with suggestions for a broader array of tolls, a regional carbon tax or a new car levy. So while the Evergreen Line is assured, with an operating date scheduled for 2016, transit and transportation funding is nowhere near settled.
On the truth meter, Trasolini's promise to stop school closures is a head-scratcher considering closures haven't been on School District 43's radar for years.
With enrolment on the rise, the introduction of full-day kindergarten and new programs of choice to put more students in seats, the district was occupied in getting new modular and classroom additions for several schools, including one in Port Moody.
Not mentioned either in Trasolini's brochure is a new middle school being built in Anmore and a re-build on the books for Moody middle.
Despite the fear-mongering on school closures, Trasolini's first two mail-outs are tame compared to the strong condemnatory approach taken by Marsden's campaign in the run-up to the byelection call. Marsden's campaign literature accuses Trasolini of party shopping - an allusion to the former mayor's choice of the NDP over the Liberals, when he'd long been considered a friend of premier Clark, herself a Port Moody-area MLA from 1996 to 2005.
What Marsden's flyer doesn't acknowledge is that, over the years, Trasolini was increasingly on the outs with the BC Liberals for his complaints about a port tax cap, and transit and transportation funding, especially on the now-stalled Murray-Clarke connector. Trasolini has tried to raise the MCC as an issue in this campaign even though the city council he used to lead is now looking at other alternatives in visioning sessions with TransLink.
Both Trasolini and Marsden are seasoned vets when it comes to political campaigning. Trasolini was notorious for raising significant sums of money to keep his mayor's seat in races where he was the obvious frontrunner, although he now considers himself an underdog because the BC Liberals have had a lock on the riding for years.
Marsden, meanwhile, fought a tough campaign in 2009 against New Democrat MLA Diane Thorne in 2009, in which the Liberals spent $95,363 to the NDP's $70,174 and he lost by only 668 votes.
Up against the two political warhorses is Tory Christine Clarke, a newcomer to the political scene who's described as a life-long conservative. She is backed by some political heavy-weights, including BC Conservative Leader John Cummins, a former federal Conservative who has been nipping at Premier Clark's heels with running commentary via press releases about her government's budget and record. The party has also been digging at other irritants such as another proposed vehicle levy to pay for transit, which may favour Clarke, in a riding where many voters are commuters who own cars.
Whether the Conservative candidate - with a name uncannily similar to the premier's - can pull votes away from the BC Liberals is uncertain. In the last go-'round in 2009, no Conservatives were on the ballot and Black handily kept his seat in a race with New Democrat Shannon Watkins (a former Port Moody councillor), by a 2,300-vote margin, drawing 52.5% of votes cast to Watkins' 39.85%. In that election, the Green Party's Rebecca Helps was the spoiler for the NDP, drawing 6.59% of the popular vote and 1,261 votes.