May 9, 2017 / 4:23 PM / 8 months ago

Voters in Canada's British Columbia head to polls in dead-heat race

VANCOUVER, May 9 (Reuters) - 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 Brown)

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