Six-pack of BC local elections columns

Global News has kept me busy over the past six weeks thinking about BC local elections on October 20th.  Here are six columns covering Vancouver, Surrey, the wave of changes in Metro Vancouver, voter turnout, and how candidates are seeking votes this time around.

The tepid race to be Vancouver’s next mayor, Global News/CKNW (October 15, 2018)

Surrey election may be BC’s most consequential, Global News/CKNW (October 12, 2018)

Crowded races and changing times – the many ways candidates can seek your vote, Global News/CKNW (October 3, 2018)

Voter turnout in local elections trails federal and provincial elections – why?, Global News/CKNW (September 28, 2018)

A surprise exit opens up Vancouver’s mayoral race, Global News/CKNW (September 21, 2018)

Wave of changes coming in Metro Vancouver politics, Global News/CKNW (September 15, 2018)

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Floor crossings older than Canada itself

I had never heard of Leona Alleslev before she switched from red to blue. The Member of Parliament for Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill becomes the latest in a long line of Canadian politicians who have crossed the floor to sit with a different political party than the one they were elected with.

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MP Leona Alleslev with her new leader, Andrew Scheer. (iPolitics)

Most of the time, the end is nigh for that politician. Some are pushed by desperation. Some are motivated by pique. Others for genuine policy and ideological reasons. I’m not sure which category Alleslev belongs to.  Unlike some examples, it was not expected, it was not a public journey, and she didn’t lay any track or provide signals.  Thus, it’s fair comment to point out that she seemed like a happy Liberal not that long ago.

Floor crossing is older than Canada itself. Wikipedia informs us that, in 1866, an anti-Confederate politician in New Brunswick switched sides when he did not receive a desired cabinet post.  We could go back to WWI when many Liberal MPs left Wilfred Laurier and joined with the Unionist government under Robert Borden. Or to 1935 when British Columbia’s H.H. Stevens bolted the Conservative barn to form the Reconstructionist Party.

At times, a floor crossing can signal a sea change in politics. In the past few weeks, we saw Maxime Bernier jump out of Air Scheer without a parachute. The impact of this Xtreme floor crossing is yet to be known.

Some floor crossings precipitate or reflect foundational change. Réne Lévesque leaving the Quebec Liberal Party in the 1960s to form the Parti Quebecois is one of the most momentous moves in Canadian political history. It led to the election of the first Péquiste government in 1976 and a referendum on sovereignty-association in 1980.  Watch the documentary Champions to see Lévesque’s impact and his enduring rivalry with Pierre Trudeau.

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Réne Lévesque: probably the most impactful floor-crossing in Canadian history (CBC)

In 1990, Lucien Bouchard spectacularly left the Mulroney government after the collapse of the Meech Lake accord, forming the Bloc Quebecois, and taking other Quebec PC and Liberal MPs with him, including Liberal MP Jean Lapierre. Bouchard led the Oui forces to the brink of victory in 1995, and shortly thereafter became Premier of Quebec.

The 1993 election saw the collapse of the Progressive Conservatives to two seats with Preston Manning’s Reform Party dominating Western Canada.  After Jean Chretien continually swept up in Quebec, PC Senator Gerry St. Germain was one of the first to attempt to unify the Conservative parties and changed his allegiance in the Senate from PC to become the first Canadian Alliance senator in 2000.  Later, eleven Canadian Alliance MPs left caucus to sit as the “DRC” – Democratic Representative Caucus when they couldn’t get along with Alliance leader Stockwell Day, and included some political heavyweights like the first Reform MP ever elected, Deb Grey.  The DRCs would morph into a coalition with Joe Clark’s (second-coming) PC caucus: the PC-DRC.  Ultimately, most everyone got back together under the leadership of Stephen Harper after new PC leader Peter Mackay agreed to merge the PCs with Stephen Harper’s Alliance.  Harper became the leader of the new Conservative Party and held Paul Martin to a minority in 2004 before winning his own minority in 2006.  (Joe didn’t cross, he stayed PC until the end). The key point is that floor crossing influenced the course of events between 2000 and 2004.

Some floor crossings reflect the ebb and flow of political tides.  Scott Brison was elected as a Progressive Conservative, but left when that party merged with the Alliance to form the modern-day Conservative Party. Brison is a senior Liberal cabinet minister today. One can argue that he represented a shift in Canadian politics where some Progressive Conservatives migrated to the Liberals.  Many politicians, like Bob Rae and Ujjal Dosanjh, sat for one party, then came back to run for another party later, reflecting how they had migrated through the political spectrum.

Provincially, MLAs in both the Saskatchewan PCs and Liberals crossed the floor to the new Saskatchewan Party in 1997, which has governed the province since 2007. The PCs were extinguished and the Liberals are in the wilderness.

In 2002, Yukon NDP MLA Dennis Fentie left his party to join the Yukon Party. A month later he was leader and later that year he became Premier, serving until 2011.

BC has had three significant floor-crossings that led to a restructuring of political support bases.  Leading up to the 1952 election, Conservative MLA WAC Bennett left that party and migrated toward to the Social Credit Party. The leaderless party won the plurality of seats in 1952 and Bennett became its leader (and, ultimately, Premier) after the election. Bennett governed for 20 years.

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Seismic shift in BC politics when three senior Liberal MLAs join Bill Bennett and the Socreds in 1974 (Vancouver Sun)

Then following his defeat in 1972, his son Bill Bennett, the new leader, recruited former Liberal leader and MLA Dr. Pat McGeer, Allan Williams, and Garde Gardom to join the Socreds, along with PC MLA Hugh Curtis. All four floor crossers would play major roles in Bennett’s government, which lasted 11 years. He also attracted former Liberal leadership candidate Bill VanderZalm to run as a Socred in 1975 too. Then in the 1990s, there was a two-step process. First, four Social Credit MLAs left the former dynasty in ruins when they turned away from the fledgling BC Liberals under Gordon Campbell, to join the BC Reform Party in 1994. Their defection ultimately benefited the ruling NDP – Glen Clark would win a majority in 1996 while losing the popular vote. Campbell corralled the Reformers after 1996 and remaining Reform MLA Richard Neufeld crossed the floor to the BC Liberals, marking the formalization of a de facto coalition.   Neufeld served as BC Liberal minister for seven years (now a senator) and the BC Liberals governed continuously for 16 years.

(A footnote to the 1975 example above is that Frank Calder, British Columbia’s first indigenous parliamentarian, lost his NDP nomination in the riding in Atlin.  Having been first elected in 1949, Calder brought his winning ways to the Socreds and was elected yet again. Four years later, he lost by one vote to the NDP’s ‘Landslide’ Al Passarell.  Passarell would later cross the floor from the NDP to the Socreds as well.)

Some floor crossings backfire spectacularly. Arguably, the WildRose defections to the ruling PC’s under Jim Prentice destroyed the political careers of those MLAs, like former leader Danielle Smith, and boomeranged on the Prentice government. It looked too cute, too orchestrated – the overdog overdoing it. Belinda Stronach’s floor crossing to the Liberals in 2005 helped save the minority Martin government for a time, but arguably galvanized Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in the forthcoming election in 2006.

Some leave and come home again. The most famous example is Winston Churchill going Conservative-Liberal-Conservative. The aforementioned Jean Lapierre left the Liberals to join the Bloc Quebecois upon the election of Jean Chretien as Liberal leader. He returned to the Liberals under Paul Martin and was a senior cabinet minister in his government. Then there’s Joe Peschisolido who was a Young Liberal that was elected as an Alliance MP then crossed the floor to the Liberals. After a stint out of politics, he’s back again as a Liberal MP. There to stay, presumably.  Gordon Wilson was Liberal leader in BC from 1987 to 1993.  He left, with fellow MLA and wife Judi Tyabji, to form his own party, the PDA, and won his seat again in 1996 under that banner.  He was recruited by NDP Premier Glen Clark to join the NDP cabinet in the late 1990s and then ran for the leadership of the NDP, unsuccessfully.  Since 2001, he has been out of elected politics, but he did go ‘home’ again in 2013 when he made an intervention in that year’s election campaign in favour of BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark (who once worked for him) and against NDP Leader Adrian Dix (who once recruited him).  Never dull in BC.

Some floor crossings weren’t mean to be. BC Liberal MLA John van Dongen left the BC Liberals over unresolvable disagreements. He joined the fledgling BC Conservatives, but within months, left them over unresolvable disagreements. Conservative MP Eve Adams defection to the Liberals on the eve of the 2015 election reeked of desperation.  Her career was soon over, at least for now.  A husband and wife both crossed the floor from the New Brunswick PCs to the Liberals in 2007, but by 2010 they were both out of politics.  One-term West Vancouver Liberal MP Blair Wilson got into some hot water and would eventually leave the Liberal Caucus to sit as an independent.  Just before the 2008 election, he migrated to the Greens to become their first ever MP in Canada.  He failed in his bid for re-election, as a Green.

Some cross and never look back, like Scott Brison. Dr. Keith Martin was elected as a Reformer in 1993 and ran for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance. He crossed the floor to the Liberals in 2004 and served as a Liberal until 2011. David Kilgour was a longtime Progressive Conservative MP. Even though John Turner was his brother-in-law, he stayed as a PC, but after Turner left, Kilgour crossed to the Liberals and continued from there.

Some floor-crossers are peripatetic.  Paul Hellyer was elected as a Liberal MP in 1949 and went on to be Minister of National Defence under Lester Pearson and a major contender for the leadership of the Liberals in 1968, placing second on the first ballot.    He fell out with Pierre Trudeau the following year and tried to form his own party.  He then crossed the floor to the PCs and in 1976, he ran for the leadership of that party.  He would return to the Liberals in 1982 and ran unsuccessfully for a nomination in his old seat in 1988.  He then formed another party, the Canada Action Party, and would try to merge it with the NDP.  At the age of 95, he may have another run in him, but for which party?

Countless others have gone to sit as independents only to return later.  Some are sent because they were naughty, others leave because they’re mad but come back once they’re happy. BC MLA Blair Lekstrom left caucus over the handling of the HST but came back after a leadership change.  MLAs and MPs who never leave, and feel that they are team players, can often be annoyed and upset when those that leave are welcomed back.  If handled properly, it can be seen as beneficial to the greater good that they return.  Alternatively, it can be seen as rewarding bad behaviour.

Surrey MP Chuck Cadman was elected as a Reform MP and carried on as an Alliance MP, but prior to the 2004 election, he lost his nomination.  He ran as an independent and won.  In 2005, battling cancer, he was pivotal in keeping Paul Martin’s minority government in power during critical votes, against the wishes of his former colleagues.

In the ‘timing is important’ category, David Emerson’s defection to the Conservatives days after the 2006 federal election effectively marked the end of his career in electoral politics.  The ink was barely dry on the ballots when he reversed course, causing much consternation among his former Liberal supporters. But it provided Stephen Harper with experience and depth in cabinet for two years and demoralized the Liberals, who sat out of power for nine years.  Alberta PC MP Jack Horner crossed over to Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals in 1977, joining the Trudeau cabinet.  There has rarely been a good time to be a federal Liberal in Alberta and this wasn’t one of them.  His constituents did not reward him for his efforts in the subsequent election.

Many, many, many more floor crossings happen in the imaginations of political back roomers.  There is always the threat of a disgruntled MLA or MP taking off.  Most of the time, that representative is governed by some restraint.  The voters elected him or her largely on the basis of their party label.  Imagine you worked hard in support of your party only to find that the recipient of your hard work crossed no-man’s land to sit in enemy trenches?  Many would-be floor-crossers have surely taken a step back when realizing they would have to explain their actions to the volunteers who backed them.

To be accepted by the voters, the conflict usually has to be real and substantive and/or that representative must have a lot of personal credibility.  If it’s opportunistic, and imposed from the top, it’s not likely to go down well with the voters or the supporters of the sending and receiving party.  Not many like a turncoat, especially when they weren’t part of the process.

What floor crossings can demonstrate is the dynamic state of our political system.  In the ‘first past the post system’, parties are always in a state of constant movement.  Parties continually search for a plurality of votes and seats, and attracting someone who represents a set of ideas or representative of a community of interest is a way to grow a party’s base.  A floor crossing can give a tiny party a foothold in Parliament. Parties that fail to unify their members behind a common purpose can disintegrate, with floor crossings one such manifestation.  Unlike the United States, Canadian parties can rise and fall (and rise again).  There is much more fluidity.  Real policy differences – such as Quebec independence – can lead to dramatic changes and fracture coalitions.  Strong leadership glues coalitions together, unifying disparate elements.  When it comes down to it, elected representatives are just people, unbound to their party label.  They have the ability to exercise their free will.

Many floor-crosses vaporize without causing any major effect.  Will the departure of Leona Alleslev amount to much? Will Maxime Bernier accomplish anything? History tells us that we will have to wait to find out.  There are many possibilities.

Update: (Feedback from Rosedeer.com contributor @Jay_Denney)

1) James Armstrong Richardson: Winnipeg Cabinet Minister from the Pierre Trudeau era, who he clashed with over patriating the Constitution. Notable in that one day, he just up and crossed the floor, telling the desk clerk “I’m sitting over there from now on”

2) John Nunziata: though technically he was kicked out, he essentially crossed the floor to be an independent by voting against a Budget. Notable in that he is a rare example of winning reelection, like Chuck Cadman, as an incumbent independent (as opposed to the numerous losers, most recently former Conservative MPs Brent Rathgerber and Inky Mark, John Van Dongen, and former BC NDP MLAs Bob Simpson and Chris Darcy)

3) Thank you for not mentioning the man who crossed from blue to red federally and was subsequently drubbed by Lisa Raitt in 2008. (I will mention him because it’s a good example – Jay would be referring to Garth Turner – the one-time PC leadership candidate and former Conservative MP who, after harshly criticizing David Emerson’s defection to his own party, crossed the floor himself to sit as a Liberal.  He lost in the subsequent election.)

There are many more colourful examples.  As University of Manitoba Political Science professor Royce Koop puts it, “When an MP crosses the floor, it’s a beautiful reminder that in Canada we cast our votes for candidates, not parties”.

Wave of changes coming in Metro Vancouver municipal politics

Published via Global News and CKNW (September 15, 2018)

First, the Sedin twins retired. Now, it’s the local mayor. Two-thirds of Metro Vancouver’s mayors have decided that it is time to bow out and won’t be seeking re-election this October.

Only 8 of the region’s 21 mayors are seeking re-election, compared to 16 who campaigned to keep their job in 2014 (with 14 winning re-election).

Why so much change? Like the Sedins, some veteran mayors have run their course after lengthy careers in office. After ten years as mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson is leaving office, as is Metro Vancouver chair and Port Coquitlam mayor Greg Moore. All three mayors on the North Shore are hanging up their chains of office. While Delta’s Lois Jackson plans to run for Council, she leaves the Mayor’s chair she held since 1999. Ralph Drew has been the mayor of tiny Belcarra for over 34 years. He’s like the Gordie Howe of Metro Vancouver mayors.

However, four rookie mayors are “one and done”. Newly elected in 2014, Surrey mayor Linda Hepner, Maple Ridge mayor Nicole Read, Bowen Island mayor Murray Skeels and Lions Bay mayor Karl Buhr have decided to head to the locker room after one term.

Is the high number of retirements the ‘cycle of life’ or is there something deeper happening?

First of all, politics in Metro Vancouver have been disrupted significantly by housing affordability. It may well be the single most important factor toppling the Christy Clark government in 2017 as her party lost significant ground in the region. One year later, it may have also resulted in a game misconduct for Vision Vancouver. Voters are grumpy, whether they are renters or homeowners, with policy prescriptions and blame zigzagging all over the political spectrum. It feeds ‘time for a change’.

Second, is serving as the mayor (or Councillor) becoming a thankless task? Earlier this year, Metro Vancouver board members were roasted over a one-time retirement allowance and pay increase.  In this age of social media, reactions can be immediate and harsh. Greg Moore complained about the change in discourse this week at the Union of BC Municipalities convention. Many local politicians are paid for part-time work and expected to work full-time hours. Well, they did sign up for the job four years ago, but re-upping for another four years requires a heavy gulp.

Finally, there are new campaign financing rules restricting donations to individuals which makes fundraising harder. Not that the old days were particularly desirable, but campaign finance records show that developers and unions took care of most of the financing. The new rules will be a chore to put together the funds necessary to order signs, print brochures, run social media ads, and otherwise get the word out.

Yet despite these reasons, the lure of politics and service is drawing flocks of candidates. Mayoralty races are flourishing throughout the region. Vancouver will have in the neighbourhood of 40 ‘serious’ Council candidates seeking 10 spots. It’s fair to ask all candidates rushing headfirst into politics– do you know what you are getting into? Are you ready? Do you have your head screwed on right?There will be a lot of rookies around Metro Vancouver board table and at Translink Mayors’ Council meetings.

Will wily veterans like Derek Corrigan, Richard Stewart, and Malcolm Brodie, assuming their re-elections, skate circles around the newcomers? Or will the rookie mayors bring a new dynamic, a new style, and new priorities to regional politics? That’s unclear. Voters have the opportunity now to press all candidates on their agenda. How do they propose to implement their ideas? How will they move things through the process? It’s one thing to promote an idea, but how prepared are they to get it done? Are they surfing on sound bites alone, or have they done their homework?

The campaign is only just beginning and, with the new timetable moving the election from November to October, there are only five weeks remaining to Election Day on Saturday, October 20th.

The next five weeks will be like training camp. Voters will need to give these candidates a good workout because they’re signing their mayor and council to a four-year contract.

Federal Leaders in By-elections and the Burnaby battleground

Updated (August 17th)

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh announced his bid for a federal seat today in the riding of Burnaby South, vacated by Vancouver mayoralty aspirant and NDP incumbent Kennedy Stewart.

Burnaby South is over 4,000 km from Singh’s former riding in the Brampton area, but he’s certainly not the first federal leader to leave his home province to seek entry into the House via a by-election.

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Will Jagmeet Singh ride on to victory in Burnaby-South? [Cycling Magazine]

Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney was elected in 1983 as MP from the riding of Central Nova in Nova Scotia.  He gave the seat back to Elmer MacKay when he led the 1984 election from his hometown riding of Manicouagan in Quebec.  Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper found a seat close to home in 2002 when he re-entered the House from Preston Manning’s seat of Calgary Southwest. Rebel founder Ezra Levant had secured the nomination but was evidently persuaded to step aside for the new leader of the Canadian Alliance (this was before the Alliance and PC’s merged).  Of note, both the Liberals and the PC candidate, Jim Prentice, stepped aside to make way for Harper.  The NDP fielded a candidate.

Rt. Hon. Joe Clark made a political comeback to return as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1998 and sought election to the House of Commons in early 2000 when then-PC MP Scott Brison stepped aside in Kings-Hant to make way.

As for Liberals, the longest-serving Prime Minister of all-time, Rt. Hon. William Lyon Mackenzie King, lost his seat in York North in 1925 and sought a new seat in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, winning a by-election there in February 1926.  An interesting side note is that Rt. Hon. John Diefenbaker encouraged an independent to run against King in the by-election, then Diefenbaker himself ran unsuccessfully against King in the subsequent 1926 general election. King would continue to represent Prince Albert until the 1945 election when he lost to a CCFer.  He sought re-entry into the House via Glengarry in Ontario and retired while representing that seat.

Rt. Hon. John Turner was the newly appointed prime minister, without a seat, when he announced he would contest the 1984 election from Vancouver-Quadra.  While he had attended UBC and had a longstanding family connection to BC, he had lived in Eastern Canada for decades and did not pretend too hard that he would actually move to Vancouver.  Despite the disastrous national campaign, Turner held on to claim Quadra from the PC’s and the Liberals have held it for the past 34 years.

Jean Chrétien’s return to the House of Commons in 1990 came via the New Brunswick riding of Beausejour. He returned to his home riding of Saint-Maurice

The NDP can look back at the experience of Tommy Douglas.  Douglas was defeated in his first attempt to win election to the House of Commons from the riding of Regina-Centre in 1962.  The former Saskatchewan premier, and first elected leader of the NDP, had to find a seat out-of-province in… Burnaby.  He was elected in Burnaby-Coquitlam in 1963 and 1965.  In 1968, he contested Burnaby-Seymour (similar to MP Terry Beech’s current riding) and lost to Hon. Ray Perrault.  Perrault was a former leader of the BC Liberal Party and a gritty, grassroots politician.  While he would only serve one-term, he went on to a distinguished career in the Senate.  As for Douglas, his opportunity to regain a seat was borne from tragedy when Nanaimo-Cowichan-The Islands MP Colin Cameron (grandfather of NDP strategist Robin Sears) passed away not longer after the 1968 election.  Douglas won a 1969 by-election there and represented the seat until 1979.

Topical in the news these days is Rt. Hon. John A. Macdonald who was elected in Victoria in 1878.  I assumed it was a by-election victory, but he actually contested three separate ridings in the general election that year, and, having lost in Kingston, he chose to represent Victoria where he had defeated Liberal Amor de Cosmos (!).  Sir Wilfred Laurier also contested multiple districts and won in both Quebec-East and Saskatchewan provisional district in 1896, choosing to represent Quebec-East.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May announced on August 16th that due to  “longstanding parliamentary tradition” she would extend ‘leader’s courtesy’ to Jagmeet Singh by not fielding a Green candidate.

Longstanding tradition?  That’s a selective interpretation of history.  Here are the by-elections contested by leaders:

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Every leader noted above has been contested in a by-election, and since 1962, every leader has been contested by at least one other main political party.  The NDP have never extended Leader’s courtesy in a by-election.  Even the Greens contested Harper’s by-election.   And certainly on a provincial level, neither the Greens nor the NDP honoured the “longstanding parliamentary tradition” of leader’s courtesy to Hon. Christy Clark in her two by elections (Point Grey in 2011, West Kelowna in 2013).

Courtesy aside, leaders need a seat in the House and sometimes have to go far afield to find one.  When they are ‘adopted’, sometimes they stay put.  Singh says he will move to Burnaby.

But can Jagmeet Singh win Burnaby-South?  Presumably, the NDP have polled the riding and believe they can win it.  It would be a huge risk, otherwise.  It does not appear to be a slam-dunk seat for the NDP though.

In 2015, Liberal Adam Pankratz won election day.  It was Kennedy Stewart’s margin-of-victory in the advance polls that saved his bacon.  This was a result of two factors – Liberal momentum was still building during the advance polls and the NDP had a superior GOTV machine.

Table 1: Burnaby-South in 2011 and 2015

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Liberal Adam Pankratz (left) with PM Trudeau and MP Terry Beech [Burnaby Now]

Liberal gains in 2015 came at the expense of both the NDP and the Conservatives.  Pankratz himself, a young, educated multilingual candidate whose father was a well-known BC Lion football player, presented well for the Liberals.

There are other variables to consider.

The federal NDP typically does not do well in British Columbia when there is an NDP government in Victoria.  The 1974 election was a disaster for the federal NDP, in the height of the Dave Barrett government.  The federal NDP were decimated in the 1993, 1997, and 2000 elections in BC while a parade of NDP premiers governed (though Svend Robinson held his Burnaby riding).  Will it be a factor this time?  At this point, I don’t think the provincial NDP have angered voters in the manner of previous NDP governments.  It’s early days.  However, being in power can demotivate activists who are accustomed to fighting the establishment rather than being a part of it.

Singh’s connection to BC is not apparently strong.  He will have recruited support during his NDP leadership run in BC, especially from the South Asian community.  But he lacks the personal ‘story’ that Mulroney had in Nova Scotia (he attended university) or Turner had in BC.  Maybe there is one that I haven’t heard yet, and it may not matter that much anyway.

Another factor is Kinder Morgan.  On the surface of it, the NDP have this field to themselves.  The NDP Mayor of Burnaby, a formidable force, strongly opposes the pipeline.  The Liberals and the Conservatives are on the other side of the debate.  Assuming the Greens can be kept at bay (a big assumption), the NDP may have room on that issue.  But is the worm turning on this issue? The protest camp has been drawing negative attention.  Are people ‘worn out’ on all of the Kinder politics? We’ll see.

Municipally in Burnaby, Mayor Derek Corrigan has ruled since 2002.  He has built a strong political machine.  For the first time in a long time, he faces a credible challenge this October.  Will that divert energies away from Singh’s campaign? Will the winds of change blow away from NDP candidates?  Opponents hope, but I know from experience that the NDP machine in Burnaby is real.  It will take a lot to defeat them.  Singh has to get the most out of the local organization.

About 46,000 residents voted in 2015.  In a by-election, the turnout is almost always lower.  GOTV will be a huge factor.  Not just the ‘machine’ but the motivation of voters to vote.  Will they turn out for Jagmeet Singh? He will have to build a connection with them.

Kennedy Stewart’s departure may be another factor.  Vancouver mayoralty candidates will be taking shots at Stewart for leaving his post as a Burnaby MP to run in another jurisdiction.  It turns out Stewart was living in Vancouver – how is that going over in Burnaby? Issues like “demovictions” are being raised in Burnaby which could make life uncomfortable for NDPers.  It may all amount to nothing and the status quo may well prevail.  We’ll see how the opposition approaches it.

Singh obviously has the most to win and lose.  A win gets him into the House while getting a weight off his back.  A loss could be curtains for him.

Some Liberals may want Singh to win, preferring his leadership to an unknown alternative that could present itself in the aftermath of a Singh by-election loss.  Liberals ought to be concerned about the Conservatives winning though.  As the 2011 results show, the Conservatives were not far off.  The Liberals could consider not running a candidate, as was the case with the Stephen Harper by-election in 2002.  This would be a bit surprising given their narrow margin of defeat in 2015.  They might also yield the seat to the Conservatives if they fail to contest it.  We will most likely see all parties in it.

It will be an interesting test of the three parties.  We have seen the Liberals steal a Conservative seat in White Rock and the Conservatives steal a Liberal seat in Chicoutimi in recent by-elections.  Local factors played a big role, but this by-election will take on more of a national dimension.

The upshot is that Singh is the favourite but there are a lot of reasons why this may not be an easy ride.  It’s not a slam dunk.  He does not have the advantages of being a sitting prime minister and not especially well-known in British Columbia. The riding was a close call in 2015.  It’s a risk, but politics often rewards the risk-takers.  Or buries them.

 

Taking a look at Chicoutimi

This week’s by-election made me a bit curious about Chicoutimi.  It’s a long way from my perch on the west coast and probably even further in cultural terms. Turns out to be a pretty interesting riding in terms of its political history and volatility.

The riding boundaries have changed over time but I have gone with the main Chicoutimi riding to see the overall trends (purists alert – this is not precise, just directional).  Since Diefenbaker, Chicoutimi has gone Creditiste, Liberal, PC, Bloc, PC, Liberal, NDP, Liberal, and, now, CPC.

Chart 1: Chicoutimi federal election results since 1962

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Here’s a closer look at elections since 2000…

Chart 2: Chicoutimi federal election results since 2000 only

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As the charts show, there has been huge volatility over time.  Parties swing from domination to destruction.  For the NDP, they managed to go from 8% to winning with 38% and back to 9% over four elections.

The Liberal percentage held fairly steady compared to 2015.  Before 2015, the prior Liberal win was with Andre Harvey who had been first elected as a federal PC MP in 1984.  Harvey won in ’84, ’88, and ’97 as PC, but crossed over, and won as a Liberal in 2000. Harvey’s nemesis was the Bloc Quebecois which won in ’93 and again in 2004, 2006, and 2008 before giving way to the one-and-done NDP MP.

The Conservatives were lower than a snake’s belly in 2000 and 2004, and only at 17% last election, but clearly their candidate in the by-election did an excellent job drawing support.  The question is: are we also seeing a consolidation in Quebec between the Liberals on one side and the Conservatives on the other, feasting from the remnants of NDP and Bloc support?

I will leave that to others to judge. Quebec politics is definitely above my pay scale.

On a national basis, if the NDP collapses in Quebec, it will have an impact on their national effort.  The NDP had one-quarter of the vote in Quebec in 2015, with Quebec representing about one-quarter of the national population.  That’s good for about 6% nationally in the popular vote.  Chicoutimi-Le Fjord dropped from 29.7% (above Quebec average for NDP in 2015) to 8.7% in the by-election.  Not to read too much into by-elections, but if the NDP slip to 10% province-wide in the next election, that drops their national share of the vote by about 4%.  That means they are going to look more like a third party that can’t keep up with the Liberals and Conservatives, whereas in 2011 and 2015, they were at the main table.  The Layton legacy is in real jeopardy and that will have consequences across the country unless they can find new voters elsewhere. The Tom Mulcair days are looking pretty good right now.

Pondering a Nanaimo By-election

Nanaimo NDP MLA Leonard Krog announced his candidacy for Mayor of Nanaimo on Wednesday.  If he wins, his resignation as MLA will set up a high stakes by-election that could have a major impact on the government’s razor thin margin in the House.

Nanaimo is a mess and an embarrassment.  Whatever the reasons are, the Council has failed to pull themselves together, evidenced by criminal investigations, staff departures, and chaos. The City, renowned for tasty Nanaimo bars and bathtub races, but lately for dysfunctional politics, desperately needs new leadership.

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Krog pondering the fate of British Columbia.  (Nanaimo News Now)

Leonard is a well-respected elected official who has respect from both sides of the electoral fence.  I lived in the area for 15 years and saw Leonard around town a lot – he’s present.  He’s well liked.  I like him.  He’s a good constituency MLA.

The City has a ton of potential.  It’s growing, it has an underrated university that does great things, an airport that is one of the fastest growing in Canada, and if someone would please figure out a passenger-ferry link to Vancouver, it would be very attractive for housing-stressed families that work in Vancouver area.  It’s a pretty good lifestyle on the mid-Island.  It would be even better if the City could get its act together.

It is surprising though that Leonard would seek to leave his post as MLA.  When I first heard the rumours of his mayoral candidacy, I rejected them out of hand.  Notwithstanding the need in Nanaimo, the NDP have a precarious hold on the Legislature after having endured a sixteen year time-out.  I thought there was no way that a by-election could even be contemplated.

Leonard has been serving as MLA since 2005 (and before that he was a government backbencher from 1991-1996).  He has 17 years of service, but the call to Cabinet did not come last year.  Perhaps, had it not been for Darryl Plecas, he would be Speaker today, and, thus, a central figure in a split Legislature.  That opportunity passed him by as well.  I’m not sure if any of this factored into his decision, but here we are.

If Leonard wins as mayor and resigns as MLA, the Legislature would then stand at 40 NDP, 3 Green, 42 BC Liberal, and 1 Independent until a by-election fills the seat.

If the BC Liberals win the by-election, they would then have as many MLAs as the combined NDP-Greens, with the Independent Speaker (formerly a BC Liberal) holding the tiebreaker.  We can go back a year in time to the exhaustive discussions about how the Legislature will be in gridlock if it is tied.  The recruitment of Darryl Plecas relieved that pressure, but losing the by-election makes the situation worse than it was pre-Plecas, especially when the situation would be one of the NDP’s own making.

It should be noted that there already is a strong candidate in the Nanaimo mayor’s race – Don Hubbard.  Don is a former chair of Vancouver Island University, a former chair of the Vancouver Island Health Authority, past Citizen of the Year, and an active businessperson in the Nanaimo area.  He brings a lot to the table as a mayoralty candidate.  While he does not have the profile of Leonard, Nanaimo has only elected one left-leaning mayor (Joy Leach) since the 1960s, and through much of that time, elected a free enterprise pirate.   Hubbard is more than capable to be the mayor and could save Horgan the grief of a by-election.

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Modern-day Nanaimo Pirate: Is Leonard Krog making John Horgan walk the plank?

If Leonard does win and resign, is there a chance the NDP could lose the by-election?

There are a number of things about the Nanaimo riding to consider.

  • Nanaimo is a north-south City.  The BC Liberals are strong in the north; the NDP are very strong in the south.  A lot of North Nanaimo was previously in the Parksville-Qualicum riding when Judith Reid and Ron Cantelon were the MLAs, but the redistribution prior to 2009 pushed the core Nanaimo seat to the north.  This favoured the BC Liberals chances in Nanaimo, but they have not been able to capitalize on that shift.  Had former BC Liberal MLA Mike Hunter run on the current boundaries in 2005, he would have been very close to winning the seat.  Instead, he lost to Leonard on previous boundaries.
  • Prior to 2017, the boundaries were tweaked.  It improved the riding yet again for the BC Liberals as some polls in the tough south end were swapped over to Nanaimo-North Cowichan while some good BC Liberal polls were added in.  It didn’t help. The BC Liberals did worse in 2017 but that was for other reasons.
  • With Leonard, the NDP had a strong candidate with a strong local brand.  There is no question he added to the NDP margin.  In 2013, BC Liberal Walter Anderson was the 84th of 85 BC Liberal candidates nominated.  He was in Hawaii when the campaign started and was recruited by phone.  He did a good job and lost to Leonard by only 9.5% – not a huge margin, and won 34 polls, indicating a solid base of support.  Had the NDP not had Leonard, had the BC Liberals been more organized, and had the current boundaries been in place, it might have gone to the BC Liberals.  Coulda shoulda woulda.

Chart 1: Total votes in Nanaimo riding by Party (2005-2017)

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  • In 2017, the BC Liberals performed poorly across the entire Island.  While Paris Gaudet increased the number of votes for the BC Liberals compared to 2013, turnout increased considerably with the Greens and NDP also growing.  The spread between the NDP and BC Liberals grew.  Things have changed now.  Christy Clark – who had become a lightning rod – has moved on.  Andrew Wilkinson is yet to be truly introduced to voters.  John Horgan appears strong on the Island but he will not have Leonard on the ballot this time and will have to account for government decisions over the past year.

By-elections in BC suck for governments.  Since 1981 when the Social Credit government won a by-election in Kamloops,  a sitting government has only won by-elections twice and, in both cases, the candidate’s name was Christy Clark (Point Grey and Westside-Kelowna).

The NDP never lost one of their own seats to a by-election in the 1990s, because no one resigned.  In fact, no NDP MLA resigned during the Barrett government either.  If Leonard resigns, it will be the first time in BC history that any NDP MLA has resigned his or her seat while an NDP government held power.

While they didn’t have to defend any seats in the 1990s,  the NDP were trounced in numerous by-elections, including Parksville-Qualicum in 1998 in which Leonard was a candidate.  He had been the MLA in the riding from 1991-1996 but lost in a squeaker to Parksville Mayor Paul Reitsma.  Reitmsa disgraced himself over phoney letters to the editor, and other transgressions, and resigned before he could be recalled.  What was a slim defeat for Leonard in 1996 mushroomed to a 28-point swing and blowout win for BC Liberal Judith Reid in the 1998 by-election.

One year later, in the Delta South by-election,  NDP support plunged from 26% in the previous general election to 2.44%.  This may be a record-low in Canada for an incumbent government in a by-election (which can’t be blamed on the candidate, Richard Tones, who dutifully put his name on the ballot).  Yes, Millennials, the NDP government really was that unpopular.  Is the Horgan government at the same stage as Glen Clark’s government twenty years ago?  No.  Not even close.  But stuff happens and who knows what the next 2, 3, 6 months look like?

(By-elections were not easy for the NDP in the 1990s. In the Matsqui by-election of 1994, the NDP nominated a witch.  The witch did not make it to the ballot).

The BC Liberals had their problems with by-elections too.  Despite being relatively steady in the polls, the BC Liberals lost a relatively safe seat in Coquitlam – Burke Mountain in a 2016 by-election  (a harbinger of things to come).  In 2012, during a time of trouble and turmoil early in her premiership, Christy Clark’s government lost two BC Liberal seats, in Port Moody and Chilliwack-Hope.  Chilliwack-Hope was truly a safe seat yet voters soundly rejected the government.  Is Horgan’s government in the glue as much as Christy Clark’s government was in 2012? No.  Not even close.  But the 2016 example should give them pause for thought.

Since 1981, there have been twelve by-elections were the government defended its seat and government’s record is 2 wins, 10 losses.  Or more precisely, it’s 2 wins for candidate Christy Clark, and 10 wins for the NDP Opposition, which won five by-elections against the Social Credit government between 1984-1989, and five against the BC Liberals between 2004-2016.

Table 1: BC by-elections since 1981 in government held seats

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The average swing against the incumbent government of the day since 1981 is 26%, ranging from a massive 59% swing in Surrey-Panorama in 2004 to a 6 point swing in favour of the government in the by-election that elected Premier Christy Clark in Westside-Kelowna in 2013, the only example where the government improved its position.

Since 2008, leaving Christy Clark out of it, the swings range from 14% to 36%.

The high-stakes Point Grey by-election of 2011, won by Christy Clark, had a 7% swing against the BC Liberal government.  In hindsight, it was a very risky move to run there.

The swing that is needed for the BC Liberals to win Nanaimo is 15%.

Therefore, the swing required for the BC Liberals to win Nanaimo is on the low end of the spectrum.

If I was an NDP strategist, I would be a little nervous about this.  The BC Liberals will be fired up for this opportunity.  There will be no shortage of volunteers and money.  If the free enterprise base can’t be motivated for a high-stakes by-election like this, then the Party has a deeper problem.  I suspect they will rally to support the local campaign, even if the odds are against them.

Finally, it comes down to candidates.  Candidates make a big difference in a local campaign.  Take Leonard away and the NDP lose support.  There is likely not a candidate who is as strong as Leonard available to the NDP.

The BC Liberals must consider carefully their approach too.  This is an opportunity and the Party should be beating the bushes, talking to local members and identifying a range of potential candidates.

The Greens say they will run a candidate.  They improved their vote in 2017 at no consequence to the NDP.  They were also a serious contender in the 2015 federal election in Nanaimo.

As of today, victory still looks like a tall order for the BC Liberals, but not impossible.  I estimate, with my gut, that the BC Liberals have a 20% chance of victory.  That’s worth fighting for, given the stakes, and given the history of swings against governments in by-elections.

Politics is full of surprises – who would have thought Rachel Notley, Justin Trudeau, Donald Trump, and Doug Ford would be where they are today?  Not to mention John Horgan – he didn’t look like a likely prospect 6-12 months before the election.

The NDP sounded confident in the Province newspaper on Sunday.  “We’re very confident we would win that by-election,” said an NDP official.

Free advice: don’t take the voters for granted.

Especially ones that travel by bathtub.♦

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Electoral Wipe-Outs and the Aftermath

Ontario Liberals are looking into the abyss.  This isn’t news.  Premier Kathleen Wynne said as much already when she conceded defeat, a rare admission by a campaigning incumbent Premier.

But how bad will it be?  And then what?

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It’s just politics.  Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell on Election Night, 1993.

We’ll know Thursday night where the Liberals will stand, but they stand to face drastic losses.  Reaching 10 seats at this point will be a triumph.  Our numbers at Pollara Strategic Insights, applied to a seat model, indicate there is a greater likelihood that they will be reduced to five or less seats.

Canadian politics provides us with several examples of tsunami elections where incumbent governments were literally washed away:

  • 1987 New Brunswick (58 Liberal, 0 PC).  Premier Richard Hatfield had governed uninterrupted since 1971, but by the mid 1980s, his government had lost its way, not to mention Hatfield’s own personal scandals.  Upstart Liberal leader Frank McKenna mobilized the electorate behind his active, youthful leadership.
  • 1993 Canada (PC’s reduced from 169 seats to 2 seats).  After two successive majority PC governments, the fallout of the Charlottetown Accord defeat, rise of Preston Manning’s Reform Party, and imposition of GST had dealt fatal blows to the Mulroney government.  Despite leadership change and the first and only female prime minister in Canadian history, the PCs were obliterated.  The Liberals had been dealt a hobbling blow themselves in 1984 -their worst outcome since Confederation.  Not only did they return with a majority under Jean Chretien in 1993, a key part of three successive wins was their utter domination of Ontario.
  • 2001 BC (77 BC Liberals, 2 NDP).  The BC NDP pulled a rabbit out of the hat in 1996 when incumbent NDP Premier Mike Harcourt gave way to one of his ministers, Glen Clark.  Clark won a majority by a thin margin.  However, Clark’s government was quickly under siege early and never recovered.  Clark resigned and Ujjal Dosanjh led the NDP into an electoral clearcut.  Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberals won the largest majority in the province’s history.

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There are examples where governing parties have been rendered extinct – the BC Social Credit, United Farmers of Alberta, Alberta Social Credit, Saskatchewan PCs, and Union Nationale come to mind.

The Ontario Liberals look to finish well below Richard Hatfield’s PCs and Ujjal Dosanjh’s NDP in terms of popular vote.  They have fallen below the “pitchfork line” – my newly coined phrase that I am marketing to Canada’s political science professors. It’s that line where – once crossed – a government will never recover because a critical mass of voters is so angry that the incumbent government cannot overcome that passion and intensity.

It’s hard to believe that the Ontario Liberals will become a political DoDo bird.  It’s more likely they will rise again, in due course.  Among the stages of recovery:

  • Mourning
  • Walk of humility
  • The professional class gives way to the true believers and new believers
  • New governments eventually screw up, therefore, opportunity
  • Momentum builds for a comeback
  • Time passes, change is inevitable

1987 New Brunswick – the PCs came back and won the first election after the retirement of McKenna.  It took a while to rebuild and the flash-in-the-pan Confederation of Regions Party supplanted the PCs briefly during that period.  But eventually, voters stopped punishing the PCs and Bernard Lord’s PCs returned to power in 1999. (12 year recovery)

1993 Canada – From two seats, the PCs climbed to official party status, then the merger with the Canadian Alliance, which had evolved itself from the Reform Party.  After forcing a minority in 2004, Stephen Harper won the 2006 election and governed for nine years. (13 year recovery)

2001 BC – the NDP were reduced to two of 79 seats.  They roared back in 2005 almost upsetting the Campbell government, and for the next three elections, there was a 4-point standoff between the governing BC Liberals and NDP.  After 16 years, in 2017, the NDP returned to power, with support from the Green Party.  While missing their chance at the 12 year mark, they are there now. (16 year recovery)

Whatever happens on June 7th, the Liberals will not be dead, they will just be resting.  In all likelihood, they will be back some day.  The three-party system is well-established in Ontario. Maybe it will be the 12 to 16 year range like the examples above.  Or maybe the volatility of today’s politics will expedite that process.

I will draw from my own personal experience.  My first campaign was in 1984 when as a Liberal in the Mission-Port Moody riding, I saw the pitchforks first-hand.  Voters were very angry with the Pierre Trudeau government and weren’t buying the change that John Turner offered as his replacement.  While burma-shaving on the Lougheed Highway in that summer campaign, the rage emanating from the commuters was hotter than the pavement we were standing on.  We were clobbered, going from government to 40 seats – the most humiliating defeat for the Liberal Party since Confederation.  Yet, the Party rebuilt, made a hard charge during the 1988 election, and then won a decisive majority in 1993.  A nine year recovery.

In 1988, I was on hand for Liberal Sharon Carstairs’ amazing breakthrough from one to 20 seats in Manitoba, only a few seats from governing.  Then again in 1991, for BC Liberal Gordon Wilson’s rise to Official Opposition from zero seats.  Turnarounds can be faster than people expect, especially in the social media age.  I mean, six months ago, did anyone – anyone – expect Doug Ford would be the next Premier of Ontario?  Anything can happen.

Ontario Liberals can learn from the 2011 federal election and events thereafter.  It was a humiliating loss for Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals and many touted a Liberal-NDP merger, with the NDP having the strong hand.  Until halfway through the 2015 election campaign, it looked like Tom Mulcair’s NDP were the primary opposition to Harper.  Justin Trudeau turned the tables and governs today, taking his party from third to first in probably the most dramatic comeback in Canadian political history.

A huge loss can be a good loss.  It allows for new growth and regeneration.  The Liberals will shake off “government-itis” in the face of the obvious. Voters will want to see that the Party has learned its lesson, has changed, and is offering new leadership.  Internally, the party will need to heal and unify.

Electoral wipe outs – and subsequent recoveries – speak well for our system.   There is elasticity.  Voters are in charge, punishing when they are mad, generous to parties that change and renew.  Parties that can take a punishing hit, rebuild, and contend for power are examples of parties that strive to be inclusive, rather than staying in a narrow box that only appeals to a narrow slice of voters (like the Greens, for example).  For Ontario Liberals, this phase may be over, but it will also be the beginning of something new.