VICTORIA - Matt Toner is outfitting condo-dwelling dogs with campaign signs, touting his candidacy for the NDP in the trendy, ultra-urban Vancouver-False Creek riding.
He's gearing up for what he expects will be an "epic fight" against his Liberal opponent, former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan.
Both want to represent the area Sullivan describes as "downtown British Columbia," with its colourful Granville Island Market and uptown Yaletown neighbourhood. And like dozens of candidates vying for a seat in the provincial legislature, neither has run a provincial campaign before.
Of the 85 seats, the New Democrats are fielding more than 50 new candidates and the Liberals almost two dozen.
Among the top five new Liberals to watch are Langley mayor Peter Fassbender in Surrey-Fleetwood; criminologist Darryl Plecas, in Abbotsford-South; Paralympic champion Michelle Stilwell in Parksville-Qualicum; lawyer-doctor-Rhodes scholar Andrew Wilkinson in Vancouver-Quilchena and Sullivan.
Among the top five new New Democrats are three-time candidate and multicultural adviser Gabriel Yiu in Vancouver-Fraserview; labour leader turned environmentalist George Heyman in Vancouver-Fairview; lawyer and civil rights activist and potential giant killer David Eby, who stands a chance of defeating Clark in her own Vancouver-Point Grey riding; long-time labour leader and former Workers' Communist Party of Canada candidate Judy Darcy in New Westminster; and Toner.
Toner said one of the first questions he's asked by voters is why the NDP?
His background points to a pedigree the Liberals covet: Royal Canadian Navy, Bank of Canada, Canadian diplomat in Manhattan, start-up entrepreneur in New York and successful Vancouver video game business owner.
But Toner — who admits he could work with the harmonized sales tax, but rejected, like most others, its flawed introduction — said his decision to run as a New Democrat came down to Liberal incompetence and his "love at first sight" experience with Layton.
"I heard him speak and I talked to him afterwards and it was really kind of love at first sight," said Toner. "I got it. I got what he was trying to do and it seemed like within that party there was a place increasingly for people like me."
He said he believed Layton's New Democrat vision involved embracing innovators, creators, entrepreneurs and producers "that shared the same values but instead of standing on a picket line, people are sitting in a coffee shop with an iPad tweeting about their concerns."
"I think he got the future," said Toner. "I think he knew what the future looked like."
Sullivan said innovation, creation and social change also brought him back to politics after his 2005-2008-term as Vancouver's mayor, but he sees progressive values among the Liberals and resistance to change on the NDP side.
"I've always felt attracted to the flexibility (of the Liberals)," Sullivan said. "I found that certainly in terms of social change, and in disability issues, I've always found that the public sector unions have been resistant to social changes."
He said he believes the centre-right political parties like the B.C. Liberals are more able and willing to embrace and accept social innovation.
"I'm interested in social change," Sullivan said. "I'm interested in innovation. I'm also interested in fiscal responsibility."
Sullivan said he always wanted to return to politics after he was ousted from the mayor's chair in an internal political coup of sorts in 2008, and he views his venture into provincial politics as an extension of what he worked to achieve in Vancouver.
"Many of the issues that were the biggest challenges in the city government were the issues that were really in the domain of the provincial government," he said. "These include social housing, drug policy, transportation funding, even the structure of municipal government, which I think needs a lot of work."
"I've been where the rubber hits the road and a lot of the issues we struggled with really almost had their roots in provincial challenges," Sullivan said.
Three-time New Democrat candidate Gabriel Yiu said he expects to face a barrage of Liberal criticism during the campaign, but says he's used to it.
"So far, other than (NDP Leader) Adrian (Dix), I have been the Liberals' favourite attack person," said Yiu.
In the weeks prior to the start of the campaign, Yiu was accused by the Liberals of earning more than $300,000 as an NDP hired gun paid for by B.C. taxpayers.
Yiu provided his vast connections and capable communication skills in Vancouver's Chinese-Canadian community to the NDP's caucus members. He received the majority of the almost $460,000 connected to the government-approved but largely unknown NDP fund that was built through $200 monthly deductions from the taxpayer-funded constituency allowances of the 35 NDP opposition members.
Leaked draft documents from the Office of the Auditor General revealed concerns the fund was being used for partisan purposes and to balance NDP caucus expenses.
Yiu's name also surfaced in the ill-fated Liberal Party multiculturalism strategy that saw the departures of multiculturalism minister John Yap, three communications workers, and the release of a government-ordered report that concluded misuse of government resources involved government workers doing B.C. Liberal Party work while on the public payroll.
The Liberal multiculturalism report mentions Yiu as an able campaigner in the Asian community, and cites him as a person the Liberals should exemplify.
Yiu said he is spending much of his time explaining to voters the differences between working for the NDP caucus and the party.
"People are a little confused," he said. "They cannot distinguish what is the difference between the NDP caucus and the NDP party. I have to explain what I did was actually serve as a bridge between the Chinese community and 35 NDP MLAs, and some of the work that I've done, translations, interpretations and those kinds of things."
Yiu said he's developed a thick political hide since his failed attempt to win the seat in the 2009 election that saw former police chief Kash Heed emerge the victor for the Liberals, but later forced to pay $11,000 after a judge found he overspent campaign funding limits.
Three Heed campaign workers faced Election Act and Criminal Code charges relating to campaign financial reporting issues.
Yiu also alleged dirty tricks in 2009 when inflammatory campaign pamphlets were distributed to Chinese-Canadian voters in his riding and two neighbouring ridings.
The Chinese-language mail-outs, which did not identify themselves as official campaign literature, accused the New Democrats of planning to legalize illegal drugs, including heroin and cocaine, and said the party would also consider bringing in an inheritance tax.
"I saw all that last time," said Yiu. "It's like a flu shot for me. At least I survived that."
Parksville-Qualicum Liberal candidate Michelle Stilwell doesn't get dirty tricks, and as a first-time candidate, she's positively gushing about her opportunity to represent Clark's families first agenda.
Stilwell is a world-class athlete, winning a gold medal in basketball at the Sydney Olympics and gold medals and silver at the Beijing and London Games in wheelchair sprint events.
"I believe in the importance of supporting families through strong economic growth and I really see the vision of the premier that we have and I believe in it," she said. "We need to help create well-paying jobs by promoting the positive business environment because that's the key to helping families prosper."
"I honestly believe that that is the cornerstone to keeping B.C. strong," Stilwell said.
Stilwell said she considered running federally for the Liberals four years ago. She said she's always been involved in political causes and can still remember her first campaign in Grade 9 in Winnipeg working for Conservative Bonnie Mitchelson, who still holds the seat.
Stilwell said she possesses a never-give-up attitude who wants the best for B.C. families and people with disabilities.
"If you believe passionately and you can articulate it, that's the best you can do," she said.
Also running for the New Democrats are veteran North Vancouver councillor and college instructor Craig Keating in North Vancouver-Lonsdale and Prince Rupert councillor Jennifer Rice, who says something must be done about crippling freight charges on north coast B.C. Ferries, causing food prices on Haida Gwaii to skyrocket.
The Liberals are running a slate of new candidates who include Chilliwack's John Martin who ran unsuccessfully for John Cummins's B.C. Conservatives in one of two byelections last year, but later joined the Liberals, saying the Liberal free-enterprise coalition is the best weapon against the left-wing New Democrats.
Martin is known for his staunch law-and-order views, but he's also an accomplished barbecue chef, skills he demonstrated with a massive rib cook-out at last fall's B.C. Liberal convention in Whistler.
Also running for the Liberals are house-boat builder Greg Kyllo in Shuswap; Asian media entrepreneur Teresa Wat in Richmond-Centre and on-leave RCMP Insp. Amrik Virk in Surrey-Tynehead.