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.

Voter Turnout lessons and what it means for Ontario

Update: My editorial in the Globe & Mail (June 6, 2018)

Ontario voters will render their verdict on June 7th.

It’s a very significant election.  The Liberals have governed since 2003.  A change in Ontario – either to Doug Ford’s PCs or Andrea Horwath’s NDP – will be a major tone-setter for national politics and influence the make up of the issues heading into the 2019 federal election, not to mention the impact it would have on one of the largest sub-national economies in the world.

But of course, only those who actually vote get to decide.  Millions of Ontario residents will avoid the polls altogether.

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Who will end up voting to elect the next Premier of Ontario? (Photo: CBC)

The recent BC election and 2015 federal election provide insight into who will show up to the polls in Ontario, and what it means for parties when the overall voter pool grows, and by how much.

You can’t stand still while the voter pool grows

Like the Ontario Liberals, the BC Liberals won four consecutive elections in BC – and like the Ontario Liberals – a female leader replaced a three-term Premier and won an improbable fourth term for her party.

In the case of BC, Christy Clark succeeded in holding her Party’s overall raw vote and its market share, especially in relation to the BC NDP, and won a majority in 2013.  In 2017, Clark’s BC Liberals still held their raw vote (almost identically), but the voter pool grew resulting in a loss of market share.  The Greens surged and the NDP bridged the gap.  Result: a minority government and we all know how that turned out.

Chart 1:  Raw vote for BC parties (1996-2017)

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In fact, when looking at BC’s historic forces of “Free Enterprise” versus “The Left”, the change over time is quite dramatic.  Free Enterprise has been sitting at around 800,000 voters for 20 years while the NDP/Greens have nearly doubled.  It finally caught up to “Free Enterprise” in 2017.

Chart 2:   Raw vote for Free Enterprise (BC Libs/Right wing parties) vs. NDP/Greens (1996-2017)

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The number of voters in BC provincial elections has climbed steadily since 2009 after a dip, with the total now reaching close to two million. Federal turnout was not that much different than provincial turnout from 2000 to 2011, but exploded in 2015.  Close to 2.4 million British Columbians voted, 20% more than the 2017 BC election.

Chart 3: Total number of voters in British Columbia in recent provincial and federal elections (BC only)

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The federal Conservatives – like the BC Liberals in 2017 – held their raw vote in 2015, but lost market share because almost three million more Canadians cast ballots in 2015 compared to the previous election. The Conservatives were happy with their slice of the pie in 2011, but Justin Trudeau helped bake a bigger pie leaving the Conservatives with their same old slice.  The Liberals were clearly the beneficiary of the increased turnout.

Chart 4: Federal parties’ raw vote totals (2006-2015)

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It also matters where you hold your vote.  Both the Clark BC Liberals and Harper Conservatives actually increased their raw vote in their heartland.  The BC Liberals cleaned up in the Interior while the Conservatives thumped the other parties in Alberta (and gained votes in Quebec).  But they both lost ground in the vote-rich urban regions.

A study of federal voter turnout among registered voters between 2011 and 2015 showed that there was increased turnout in all age groups, but the largest increase was among younger voters.

Chart 5: Turnout rate of registered voters by age group (2011 and 2015 federal elections)

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So, increased voter turnout, means more young people voting, meaning bad news for centre-right parties.  Got it?

Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Federal turnout in 2015 was quite exceptional.  It blew the lid off of previous federal elections and, as shown above, the 2017 BC election did not replicate that level of turnout.  Turnout increased, but it wasn’t “Justin-sized”.

In BC, the Golden Agers still rule the roost.  Those aged 55 to 74 punch above their weight.  Compared to their share of the population, those age groups make up a much bigger share of the voter pool.  The 55-64 age group makes up about 17% of the adult population but accounts for about 21% of the voters; the 65-74 age group makes up about 13% of the population but 18% of the voters. Combined, about 30% of the population have close to 40% of the voting strength.  Add the over 75s, who also have a disproportionately large share of voting strength, and you have half of the voting population over the age of 55.

The reverse is true, obviously, for younger voters, particularly those under 35.  Those voters make up about 28% of the population but only about 18% of the voters in BC.

Chart 6: BC age groups as a percentage of the population and as a percentage of voters

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When looking at how age groups compared between the 2013 and 2017 provincial elections, there are interesting findings.  The largest increase by age group was the 65-74s with over 60,000 more voters in that category in 2017.  The next largest increase was 25-34s at close to 40,000.  What explains this?  Demographics partly, but there may be a mini-Justin effect with the Greens inducing turnout (a theory, not proven) and it may have been a result of third-party turnout activism (again, not proven).  These numbers are also the result of Elections BC estimate so we also have to assume they got it right, but it rings true to me. (Not sure what’s going on with that 45-54 category – did I remember to vote?)

Chart 7: Increase in votes by age category between 2013 and 2017 BC elections

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Was the increase in 25-34s concentrated in the Lower Mainland where the BC Liberals suffered heavy losses? I don’t know.  It would be an interesting study to see where in BC the largest increases took place.

The increase in 65-74s – and indeed increases across the board among 55+ age groups, should have been a good thing for the BC Liberals.  The fact is – they didn’t do as well as 2013 with their base.  It wasn’t just young people showing up that made a difference; it was a lack of performance among previous BC Liberal voters.

What does this mean for Ontario?

Let’s take a look at how Ontario provincial elections compare to federal elections when it comes to turnout.

Federal turnout has been consistently higher.   In 2015, 6.5 million Ontario voters galloped to the polls to vote in the federal election, yet no Ontario provincial election has ever seen more than five million voters.

Chart 8: Comparison of number of Ontario voters voting in recent federal and Ontario elections

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Historical election data in Ontario shows us that – only once – has a political party received over two million votes (Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals in 2003)

Chart 9: Ontario elections since 1990 – total votes and top party votes

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Taking turnout into account relative to federal elections, how many voters can we expect in the June 2018 election in Ontario?  And how many votes will the top party need?

The 2014 election saw provincial turnout at 88% of the level of the dull 2011 federal election.  If the 2018 Ontario election is 88% of the sizzling 2015 federal election, then that would equate to 5.7 million voters in June. That would be a huge increase. I don’t think that’s going to happen.  I think, like BC, there will be an increase in the voter pool – over 5 million for the first time – but probably not as high as 5.7 million.  Even with an increase north of five million, the winning party will likely need a record-setting vote total (+two million) or hope for a good vote split.

Then, who votes?

It is more likely that Ontario’s age composition will resemble BC’s 2017 profile than Canada’s 2015 profile – older people having a disproportionate share.

I looked at the share of each age group in the 2011 and 2015 federal elections, and the BC 2017 election, and applied those ratios to Ontario’s population.  Based on these three scenarios, 55+ age group would account for 42% to 48% of the voters in the coming election, compared to 38% share of the population.

Chart 10: Ontario population by age group compared to age models from 2011 and 2015 federal elections, and 2017 BC election

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Does it matter in Ontario?  Typically, the 55+ age group leans right relative to younger voters.  This was certainly the case federally in 2015 and in BC in 2017.

However, in Pollara Strategic Insight’s mid-election survey of Ontario voters, we found that the NDP had gained 7 points among voters aged 50 and over during the first half of the campaign, taking the lead in this category of high-turnout voters.

Chart 11: Pollara Strategic Insights survey results of Ontario election, May 4 & 22, 2018 (50+ voters)

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The striking difference in Ontario is the gender split, with men more likely to vote PC, and women more likely to vote NDP at this stage of the campaign.  From what I have seen over the years, there is not a major turnout difference between men and women, like there is with age.

If the poll results stand, the NDP will have blunted a major advantage for the PCs – support among older voters.  Geographically, there is likely still a PC advantage.  The NDP may be gaining in key demographics, but at the end of the day, it matters where the votes are located – in the ridings.  (More on seat models another day).

Pollara’s research also finds an “enthusiasm” advantage for Doug Ford’s PCs.  Ford Nation is already lining up at the polling stations to vote, they’re so excited, though slightly less so than earlier in the campaign.  The NDP voters are the least excited.  Is that just their nature or is their rise in support a bit thin? In terms of impact on votes, if Ford over performs the polls on Election Day, it may well be because he was throwing red meat to his base, regardless of their age.

Chart 12: Pollara Strategic Insights survey results of Ontario election, May 4 & 22, 2018 (Enthusiasm Gap)

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What does it all mean?

  • When the voter pool grows, parties must grow with it or perish.
  • Older voters (55+) still rule the roost and constitute a majority (or close to it).  They punch above their demographic weight at the polls.  The party with an advantage in this age group will have a turnout advantage.
  • Youth turnout continues to lag behind, but it is growing and becoming a bigger factor.
  • While it will likely be a record turnout for an Ontario election, it is very unlikely that the June election will keep pace with 2015 federal turnout. The unknown is to what extent 55+ age group exerts control over the outcome, or whether Millennials offset their influence by voting in increased numbers.

 

Three lessons for Ontario from B.C. and the world of outrageous politics

Published in Globe & Mail, March 2 / 2018

As Ontario PC members and interested observers brace for the finale of an unanticipated and compressed leadership race, they may wish to take note of how BC Liberals recently selected Christy Clark’s successor using basically the same voting system. Instead of outrageous politics, the boring math will decide the next PC leader, and maybe the next Ontario Premier.

Three key points:

1) Some votes count more than others: In British Columbia, Andrew Wilkinson prevailed in the six-candidate race despite having the fifth-highest number of votes on the first count. How did he win?

It’s a weighted ballot. Every riding is created equally. A riding is worth 100 points, and points are allocated according to the percentage of votes received by each candidate. In Mr. Wilkinson’s case, while he had the fifth-highest number of raw votes on the first count, he had the third-highest number of points because he did well in ridings that had low membership levels (mainly in B.C.’s Interior) where his supporters had higher impact.

 Another candidate, Michael Lee, had more votes than anyone in the race but finished third because his support was concentrated in ridings with big membership lists.

 

2) First choices are important, but second and third choices will decide: It’s a preferential ballot, meaning that you only vote once and you have the opportunity to rank your choices. In the Ontario PC race, there are four candidates.

Mr. Wilkinson started third on the first ballot with only 18 per cent of the weighted votes, but he won. He made huge progress on the third count, and by the fourth count he was second, ultimately winning on the fifth and final count. He climbed throughout the counting process because he accumulated more second and third choices than any other candidate. He especially gained from former finance minister Michael de Jong, with whom he had a formal alliance to support each other as second choice, and from Mr. Lee, whose supporters decisively preferred Mr. Wilkinson over his final-ballot rival, Dianne Watts.

3) Not every voting member stays in the “convention hall” to the end: In the old days, delegates voted on the first ballot, heard the result, then lined up and voted again, and kept doing so until one candidate had a majority. In the Ontario PC system (as was the case in B.C.), members do all of their voting in advance, which means ranking their candidates from 1 to 4. However, they do not have to rank all of the candidates. They can just vote for their first choice if they want, but they might find that their ballot won’t count when it comes down to the final two candidates.

In the BC Liberal race, about one-quarter of the voters who cast a vote on the first count did not have their ballots considered on the final count. They had essentially “walked out of the convention hall” as they did not express a preference for either Mr. Wilkinson or the runner-up, Ms. Watts. Since they had only voted for candidates already eliminated, their ballots were removed from the counting process. Smart candidates will plead for second and third choices from voters who might otherwise “leave the hall.”

 The outcome in B.C. was certainly unpredictable. When it comes down to who wins, the next Leader of the Ontario PCs may be the one who is the best at math.

Ben there, done that

Ben Stewart made way for Premier Christy Clark in 2013 and, last night, the voters of Kelowna West returned him to the BC Legislature to continue his career as MLA.

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Kelowna West MLA-elect Ben Stewart.

Someone had to open up a seat for Premier Christy Clark in 2013 when she was unseated in Vancouver-Pt. Grey despite winning a majority government.  Ben stepped up and, now, he has returned to where he has always truly wanted to be – serving his constituents in the BC Legislature.

Making way for defeated leaders has happened from time to time throughout Canadian history.  Canada’s longest serving prime minister, Rt. Hon. William Lyon Mackenzie King, lost his seat in York North in 1925.  A seat was made available in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in 1926 which he won.  He stayed put in Prince Albert until 1945 when he lost his seat again and returned to run in a by-election in Glengarry, Ontario for his final term.  During that 19 year stretch in Prince Albert, he even managed to defeat a young, upstart named John Diefenbaker (the only time two people who served as prime ministers faced each other in an election?).

Ben Stewart’s resignation and return is not the first time this has happened in modern BC political times.  In 1975, NDP Premier Dave Barrett rushed to an election, in part to head off the revival of the Social Credit Party under Bill Bennett.  It didn’t work.  Bennett rallied the forces opposed to the NDP and vanquished the Barrett government, including Barrett himself who lost his seat in Coquitlam to Socred George Kerster by 18 votes.  Vancouver East MLA Bob Williams made way for Barrett, triggering a 1976 by-election that Barrett easily won.  After Barrett’s third successive defeat to Bennett in 1983, he retired and returned the seat to Bob Williams who was elected in a 1984 by-election. Williams had the additional task of fending off newly elected BC Liberal leader Art Lee, the first and only Chinese Canadian political leader of a major party in BC history.  Williams easily won and served until 1991.

As for the significance of the Kelowna-West by-election, here are the results for the last four times those voters went to the polls:

Table 1: Westside-Kelowna (2013) and Kelowna West (2017-8) results

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The 2017 by-election was the first time in four elections since 2013 (two by-elections and two general elections) that four parties had contested the seat.  (The name of the riding changed but the boundaries are identical).

No one party can claim any type of breakthrough.   The BC Liberals held their support, and given that there were two minor parties this time, losing a couple of points compared to previous efforts was bound to happen. (The final by-election results will not be available for a couple of weeks as Section 98-106 votes have not yet been counted.  It likely won’t change much.)

The NDP have slid in the riding since the 2013 general election, which reflects the move away from the NDP in the Interior in the 2017 election, but moreso, it’s the impact of the Greens showing up on the ballot in 2017 and 2018, splitting their vote a bit.  I wouldn’t be too fussed by this result if I was John Horgan.  They didn’t expect to win this and, in the 1990s, when they were deeply unpopular, they would be obliterated in such by-elections.   That wasn’t the case here.

The BC Conservatives returned to the ballot in the 2018 by-election but had a very similar result to the 2013 by-election and much less than 2013 general election.  In 1973, the BC Conservatives had stress tested the then Coalition party (the Socreds) in a by-election in South Okanagan to replace the retiring WAC Bennett.  BC Conservative leader Derrill Warren challenged WAC’s son, Bill Bennett.  The younger Bennett (39%) defeated Warren (24%), settling the issue.  This was significant as, arguably, Warren’s performance in the 1972 general election was a key factor in defeating the Socred government and electing the NDP.  After the ’73 by-election, Warren left BC politics, senior Conservatives joined the Socreds, and Bennett went on to be premier.  The Kelowna West by-election yesterday was decidedly uneventful by comparison.

It’s the Greens that should be down in the mouth.  Despite the controversy over the PipeWine dispute, the NDP held its second place standing comfortably over the bronze Greens.  If anything, it may show that as long as the NDP and Greens are in cahoots, it will be difficult for the Greens to make a relative gain against their Coalition partners.  Maybe they’re happy playing second fiddle.

For new BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, he gets a win under his belt, even if it was gift-wrapped.  His team is back to 42 seats in the Legislature with no nasty surprises.

Wilkinson Win by the Numbers

The BC Liberal leadership election reached an exciting conclusion on February 3rd.  Five professional campaigns believed they had a pathway to victory and it was a night where the slightest breeze could have blown the math in another direction.

After gaming out the scenarios about infinity times, I could only come up with a few predictions – Dianne Watts would lead on the first count, Sam Sullivan would be sixth, and the race would go down to the fifth count.  What order would the candidates be from two to five?  Everyone had an opinion.  Of those four caucus contenders jockeying for position, certainly none were volunteering that they were fifth! If there was a prevailing theory about who was fifth, it often mentioned Wilkinson – and that theory wasn’t really wrong.  Wilkinson was fifth in terms of raw votes on the first count, but more importantly, third in terms of weighted votes (points), and that’s what matters.

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BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson (CBC.ca)

I only knew one other thing for sure – that I was bound to be surprised.  Some candidates would fall short of expectations and some would exceed them.  You wouldn’t know until you saw it.

If you are wondering about how the votes get counted in this preferential ballot, regionally-weighted system, see my blog post on how it works.

The only way to look at this is one count at a time.

Table 1: Results by ballot (weighted)

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Source: Wikipedia.  Note: this graphic was updated.  Original contained minor errors. 

Count 1

There was a feeling among many members I talked to that Dianne Watts would have a challenge growing her support as the counts progressed.  While well-known as Mayor of Surrey and enjoying the outsider mantle, she did not have deep personal connections throughout the province with Party members as Christy Clark had in 2011.    It was clear that she would need to start off strong in the high 20s and that there be a gap between her and the second and third  place candidates.  Her first count result (24.54%) fell short and the gap between her and her rivals too narrow.

Michael Lee’s second place showing on the first count (22.03%) was impressive for a rookie MLA that had just begun to raise his profile in the Party.  Lee pulled together a veteran campaign team and a strong group of supporters, with prowess in recruiting new members, particularly in the South Asian and Chinese-Canadian communities.  In fact, Lee had the most actual votes of any candidate in the first four counts.

Table 2: Raw votes by Ballot

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So, how you can get more votes and less points? Under the regional weighting system, every riding is treated equally.  A riding with 800 voting members is worth the same as a riding with 200 voting members.  While Lee had the highest number of casted votes, by a margin of more than 600 over Watts, many of them were in ridings with high membership totals.  On the other hand, Wilkinson had the fifth highest number of votes on the first count, but because he had strength in ridings with lower membership (eg. rural BC), he finished third in terms of points, which was critical.

Table 3: Vote efficiency (1st count)

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The table above shows that every candidate, but Lee, had a higher percentage of points compared to raw votes.  This is basically a reflection of Lee’s sign-up success in those high-member ridings.  Of the five ridings with the highest number of voters – Surrey Panorama, Abbotsford West, Surrey Newton, Vancouver Quilchena and Surrey Green Timbers –  Lee won four and was a strong second in the fifth.  He was second in Mike de Jong’s riding (Abbotsford West) which means Lee won Quilchena, Wilkinson’s riding (39% to 33%).

Notwithstanding the points system working against Lee, his second place finish put him in a strong position to win given that Watts was sub-25%.

Watts and Lee shared one trait in common – they were newcomers who did not have a Caucus endorsement between them.  They were banking on the Party members wanting to go in a different direction than what was being put forward by the three veteran ex-cabinet ministers in the race.

Those three ex-ministers – Wilkinson, Stone, de Jong – accounted for just about 52% of the points on the first count.  Only two percentage points separated third (Wilkinson) from fifth (de Jong).

Wilkinson and de Jong had announced their deWilkinson deal a couple of weeks ago where they recommended each other to their supporters for second choice.  It was an ideal scenario for Wilkinson to have placed ahead of de Jong and receive the hoped-for benefits of that deal.  Stone, stuck in the middle between Wilkinson and de Jong, could only hope for divine providence once de Jong dropped off the ballot.

Now that we know where everyone stood at the end the first count, where did the points come from?

Table 4: First count by region (weighted vote)

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Breaking down the Province into only three regions is a limited form of analysis, but it does show some key storylines.

Watts led the Island, and was second in the Lower Mainland, but slipped to third in the Interior.  While there are twice as many ridings in the Lower Mainland than the Interior, the weakness up country slowed down her first count support.

Michael Lee showed a lot of strength in the Lower Mainland, taking 29% of the points, eclipsing Wilkinson and Stone.  However, his support was less than half of that on the Island and in the Interior where he is not well known.

For a Vancouver guy, Andrew Wilkinson did not do well on the first count in the Lower Mainland.  But he did very well in the Interior.  When looking at his support and Stone’s, you can see that the profile of their vote, regionally, was very similar except that Wilkinson did just enough to keep ahead of him.

Wilkinson’s weakness in the Lower Mainland would be mitigated on subsequent counts by second, third, and fourth choices.

Mike de Jong showed well in the Lower Mainland, but could not generate enough support in the regions.

In terms of specific ridings, the table below shows the Top 5 ridings for each of the five main contenders:

Table 5: Top 5 ridings of leadership contenders on 1st count

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Watts’ top finishes were close to home, in South Surrey and the adjacent Langleys.  Lee drew on strong support in Surrey and Richmond, as well as his own riding in Vancouver. These ridings reflected his sign-up strength.  Wilkinson’s top 5 were all in the Interior and were all ridings held by caucus endorsers.  Stone dominated his riding of Kamloops-South Thompson (90.3%) and Kamloops North-Thompson (82.3). No other candidate received more than 67% on the first count in any given riding, so Stone’s Kamloops base really delivered.  Nearby Shuswap and Fraser Nicola also gave him majority tallies on the first count while North Van Seymour was his best showing in the Lower Mainland.  de Jong’s best result was in Peace South.  MLA Mike Bernier dropped out of the race early to endorse de Jong.  de Jong drew strength from the three Abbotsford ridings though did not gain majorities there.

Overall, what was interesting was how candidates did very well in some ridings and very poorly in others.  Wilkinson had 67.8% in Kootenay East but only 1.6% in Abbotsford South.  He was below 10% in 25 ridings on the first count.  Watts was stronger in more ridings than anyone with only five ridings where she had less than 10%, but she didn’t really crush it in enough ridings.  Stone had 31 ridings where he could not garner 10%, and his lowest five ridings were in Richmond, East Van, and Burnaby.  de Jong’s lowest five were all in the Interior where Stone and Wilkinson did well.  Similarly, Lee’s bottom five were in the Interior.

The ‘lumpiness’ of the voting results demonstrated the opportunity for candidates down the ballot to make big gains.  If you are at less than 2 points in a riding and end up with over 60 points by the fifth ballot, that’s a huge gain over the course of five ballots.  Thus the importance of second, third, and fourth choices.

Sam Sullivan’s support (1.82%) was not enough to trigger a realignment on the second count, so the next major move takes place on the third count.

Count 3

The results of the third count were dramatic, if you are a political nerd like me.

At this point, over 93% of the ballots were still in play.  That means 7% of the voters – those who voted for either Sullivan or de Jong – did not put second choices on their ballots and therefore their ballots were removed from the count.

With Mike de Jong eliminated on the second count, the question was where would de Jong’s second choices go.  A significant plurality went to Wilkinson.

de Jong finished the second count with 16.51% of the points.  Wilkinson took almost 40% of de Jong’s points.  He boosted his total from 18.74% to 25.29% – an increase of 6.55%.

The next closest gain was Dianne Watts who gained 3.5%, increasing to 28.38%.  Lee kept pace with Watts, gaining 3.45% but did not gain any ground.  Rather, he had Wilkinson breathing down his neck.  Stone had the least amount of de Jong’s points and given that he was already in fourth place, he dropped off the ballot.

Wilkinson went from 1.62% in Abbotsford South to 29%, from 2.55% in Abbotsford West to 23.98%, from 2.91% in Surrey Whalley to 18.58%, from 10.99% in Peace South to 39.51%.  Making gains in de Jong’s stronger ridings gave him that critical three point advantage on the third count.  Now, he was less than 1% behind Lee.

Stone exited the third count with 20.29%, a significant amount considering how close the top three candidates were between each other, only separated by 3.9%.

Count 4

The fourth count decided who would be on the final ballot with Dianne Watts.  Wilkinson was making a strong run up the ballot, but would it be enough?  That’s what many were thinking.

At this point, the total amount of votes being counted was about 87% of the original pile. Watts, Lee, and Wilkinson would see their points rise on the basis of attrition but it was the remaining votes that would make the difference. (It’s worth noting that the Stone ‘votes’ also included those de Jong and Sullivan voters who went to Stone on the second and third counts)

Where would Stone’s points be allocated?

It turned out that they were competitively allocated between the three candidates with Wilkinson gaining 37.4% of Stone’s points, Lee 32.2%, and Watts 30.4%.  And by the slimmest of margins, Wilkinson’s advantage over Lee made all of the difference.

The table below shows a regional breakdown of the fourth count and, below it, where the Stone votes went by region:

Table 6: (a) 4th count by region; (b) Growth from 3rd count to 4th count

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On the fourth count, Watts had the most balance between the regions ranging from about 30% in the Interior to 38% on the Island, but she did not have a dominant base.

Lee’s strength was in the Lower Mainland where his support now stood at over 40% of points – in the largest region (48 seats).  But his support on the Island and Interior was just over half of that.  Wilkinson was opposite, weak in the Lower Mainland, but strong outside – and very strong in the Interior (47%) – and he made larger gains in these regions while not falling much further behind Lee in the Lower Mainland

On a points basis overall, it was a measly difference of 0.33% between Wilkinson and Lee.  One third of one-percent.  If Lee had pulled ahead, he would most likely be the Leader now.

Lee is dropped off the ballot despite leading Wilkinson by over 2000 raw votes.  The table below shows the striking difference in the efficiency of the Lee and Wilkinson votes.  There was an 8 point swing from Lee to Wilkinson based on the weighted points system. Watts was about on the mark when her raw vote and weighted was compared.

Table 7: Raw votes (%) on 4th count compared to weighted vote

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Count 5

With Michael Lee eliminated, a few questions remained.  Theories abounded. Where would his sizeable support among the South Asian community, Chinese community, and some who identify with his conservative background gravitate toward?  Lee was winning Surrey – would those members opt for the former Mayor, Dianne Watts?  In Vancouver, would Lee’s strength near his home riding (and in Quilchena) naturally gravitate toward Wilkinson?

Overall, the answer was clear – overwhelmingly to Wilkinson.

Of the remaining 6271 raw votes coming from Lee’s fourth count, they broke decisively toward Wilkinson – about 75% of Lee’s support went to Wilkinson (which is mainly Lee first choice support but there would be some first count Stone, de Jong, and Sullivan support in there too).

On the fourth count, Lee had 9787 raw votes, the most of any candidate.  About 64% of those votes migrated to the fifth and final count, while 36% of Lee’s voters were removed as they did not indicate a choice of either Wilkinson or Watts.

Table 8: Distribution of Lee votes on 5th Count (raw votes)

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(The * above recognizes that an estimated 82% or more of that total was Lee-first count support and the balance from de Jong, Stone, and Sullivan who went to Lee before moving on to Watts or Wilkinson)

Taking a look at Lee’s top 10 ridings on the fourth count, the migration in those ridings in terms of raw votes and points was significantly higher to Wilkinson.  In Watts’ home base of Surrey, the Lee voters stampeded to Wilkinson, by a factor of 10 to 1 in some cases.  The shift in the Surrey ridings below, and Delta North, was almost entirely from South Asian members (This shift was not replicated to same extent among Lee members in Richmond or Vancouver). The overall shift from Lee to Wilkinson allowed Wilkinson to rise from the basement in terms of support in the Lower Mainland to basically tie Watts in that region.

Table 9: Movement on 5th count in Lee’s top 10 ridings

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This was the story of Wilkinson’s day.  He, by far, had the lowest amount of first-count support as a percentage of final count support.  Looking at raw votes, Wilkinson’s final count was made up only 38.5% of his first count support.

Table 10: First count as percentage of final count (raw votes)

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Up until the fourth count, his growth from de Jong, Stone, and Sullivan was also significantly higher than Lee.  On the fourth count, only 61.7% of his votes were his first choice votes, while Lee and Watts were at 82%.  Wilkinson’s growth rate was twice the rate of the others, which is why he caught up.  This was mainly attributable to de Jong’s second choices, but Stone’s second choices (which included some de Jong) also pitched in.

Table 11: Percentage of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd count support as % of 4th count support, and growth between 1st and 4th count

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This series of tables above is based on raw votes to show how actual people moved.  However, the actual results are based on weighted votes (points).  Wilkinson almost tripled from the first count result while Watts almost doubled.  Again, it was Wilkinson’s growth that was the key.

Table 12: First count votes as percentage of final count votes (weighted vote)

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A further aspect of Wilkinson’s support was from his Caucus endorsers.  He had the most compared to any other candidate.  On the first count, he had about 37% support in his Caucus endorser ridings.  To be specific, it was the Interior ridings where the Caucus endorsement seemed to make a difference, such as Kootenay East (68%) and Cariboo Chilcotin (59%).  On the final count, that support in Caucus ridings grew to over 60%.

Perhaps it’s the fourth count where it is noteworthy.

In the 14 ridings where he had an endorsement (including his own), he had 47% of the points compared to Watts (27%) and Lee (19%).  The difference between Wilkinson and Lee in these ridings was about 390 points.  Wilkinson edged Lee by 30 points.

Yes, you can say the opposite.  Lee had a considerable advantage in the Lower Mainland area compared to Wilkinson and had he edged him, we would be talking about that.  We would be talking about Michael Lee (or Dianne Watts) who won the leadership despite any caucus endorsements.  That’s true, but Wilkinson won and that’s, in part, how he did it.  That was particularly the case from his endorsers in the Interior.  In the Lower Mainland, Wilkinson won 2 of 5 ridings on the fourth count where he was endorsed (Coquitlam-Burke Mountain and Chilliwack-Kent).

Regionally, on the final count, Wilkinson would be strongest in the Interior (61.8%) but he grew in all regions as the counts unfolded, especially in the Lower Mainland. Starting at 12.1% on the first count, he had nowhere to go but up and finished in a near-tie with Watts in the region.  He overtook Watts on the Island, while Watts never got close in the Interior.

Table 13: (a) Final count by region, (b) Growth from 1st count to final by region

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What role did attrition play in the final result?  Only three-quarters of voters who cast a a first choice vote had their ballot count on the final ballot.  That’s akin to a quarter of the voters walking out of the room after their candidate was eliminated to, yes, have a cheeseburger.

With a smaller pile of votes in play, Watts’ first choice votes actually amounted to about 33% on the final count (her original first count vote divided by the remaining votes).  Wilkinson’s first choice votes amounted to almost 25%.  In order for Watts to win, she needed growth and shrinkage – growth from her rivals at the same time voter attrition made her original support higher.  It wasn’t enough.  Wilkinson’s growth from Lee on the final count overwhelmed the benefits of the shrinking pile.

Keys to Victory

After that laborious review of the numbers, what are the takeaways?

  • Efficiency

The Wilkinson support was very efficient, meaning that they had a higher degree of support in lower-member ridings where votes had more impact.  Strategy is often borne from necessity and Wilkinson made the most of his support.

  • Interior Base

Wilkinson built a base of strong support in the Interior, which may seem counter-intuitive to casual observers given some try to brand him as a West-side elite. The Interior base was instrumental in getting him to third place on the ballot.

  • deWilkinson deal

Once in third, Wilkinson could reap the rewards of the deWilkinson deal.  Whether the deal made the difference, or it was just the nature of the deJong supporters to lean toward Wilkinson on their second choices will never be truly known.  But one thing is clear – de Jong’s seconds put him in a position to springboard to second place. Even if Wilkinson had finished fourth on the first count, he may still have leapt ahead of Stone given the strength of deJong voters’ support for him.  In 2011, de Jong’s second choices leaned heavily to Christy Clark and helped elect her Leader.

  • Wilkinson was a Stone’s throw to second

Again, Wilkinson drew on down ballot support, not to the extent of deJong’s support, but enough that he could make it to second place. Wilkinson made important gains on the Island and Interior from Stone, but also kept pace in the Lower Mainland with Watts and Lee.  The result was a bare 30 point edge over Lee to make it to second.  To put that margin in perspective, had 13 voters in Peace River South switched from Wilkinson to Lee, Lee would have made it to the final ballot and likely have defeated Watts.  It was that close. Slight changes in low-member ridings would have tipped the balance.

  • No Lee-way for Watts

Watts needed 47% of Lee’s points to win.  She only received 38% to Wilkinson’s 62%.  It was a decisive move by (primarily) Lee voters to elect Wilkinson, and especially from Lee’s supporters in Surrey and North Delta.


In a race this close, there is no one reason why a candidate won or lost.  There are a multitude. Yet we know that there is only one winner.  Despite having the fifth highest number of raw votes on the first count, Wilkinson parlayed regional strength into a third place finish, allowing him to receive down ballot support from de Jong and Stone.   He is not the first leader to trail on all ballots and win on the last – Andrew Scheer did it last year, trailing on 13 ballots before winning the 14th.

Wilkinson and his supporters will need to remember (as I’m sure they do) that they started off with 18.3% while 81.7% of the points were tied to another first choice.  This makes his task all the more important in terms of reaching out, mending relationships, healing divisions, and ensuring rivals and their teams play important roles going forward.  Dianne Watts came very close to winning and has a strong following throughout BC.  Her strength in suburban swing ridings during this process should gain the attention of the backroom.  Michael Lee has established himself as a force and emerging star on the provincial scene, adding to the depth that the new Leader has with Stone, de Jong, Sullivan, and the balance of Caucus.  Wilkinson has the largest Opposition Caucus in history at his disposal, an electoral referendum to fight, and a general election that could happen anytime.

Congratulations to Andrew Wilkinson and his team.   Moving from 18% to 53% over the course of five ballots does show one thing – just when we thought the Doctor-Lawyer-Rhodes Scholar could not be more educated, we may now have to add Mathematician to the list.

** There’s bound to be mistakes in this post somewhere.  Errors all mine.

Addenda

Update: February 7

I have added some numbers.  How did the leadership candidates do according to held seats and non-held seats?

Dianne Watts and Michael Lee had a combined 50.7% of the points in forty-one NDP ridings compared to a combined 43% in forty-three BC Liberal ridings (which includes Abbotsford South and Kelowna West for this analysis).  This is similar to the 2011 result where Christy Clark did much better on non-held than held seats.  The outsider candidates did not do as well in incumbent ridings.

Andrew Wilkinson and Todd Stone were stronger in BC Liberal ridings, Wilkinson especially so.  Wilkinson was 2nd in BC Liberal ridings and 4th in NDP ridings.  There are only three Green ridings so Watts’ advantage was not as important though Todd Stone wishes it was the case – it does reflect that Stone had some strength on the Island.

Table 14: First count leadership vote by BC Liberal, NDP, and Green ridings 

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On the fifth count, Wilkinson led in BC Liberal and NDP ridings, but moreso in the held seats.  Watts held her advantage in the three Green ridings.

Table 15: Fifth count leadership vote by BC Liberal, NDP, and Green ridings

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Update: February 8

Some more calculations to add to the mix.

Table 16: First count, raw vote by sub-region

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Table 16 shows the raw vote in each sub-region.  In the left-hand column, the number of ridings in that region is included for reference.  The most votes cast overall were in the Surrey-Delta area (686 per riding) followed by Vancouver (402) and then three regions that were very close together: Fraser Valley (390), Southern Interior (389), and Richmond (381).

Table 17: First count – Candidate raw votes in each sub-region as a percentage of each candidate’s province-wide vote. 

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Okay, let me explain.  This table shows what percentage of each candidate’s support came from each sub-region as a percentage of that candidate’s province-wide vote.  Of all the people that voted for Watts, 35% came from Surrey-Delta’s 11 ridings – the same as Michael Lee.  Stone had 35.1% of his province-wide raw vote come from the Southern Interior (and, actually, extremely high in Kamloops area).  For reference, the right hand column shows what percentage of the weighted vote each sub-region made up as part of province-wide total.  De Jong’s best region was the Fraser Valley (23.1% of all of his votes in BC), and that sub-region only accounted for 10.3% of the weighted vote so, yes, de Jong did quite well there.  As I write this, I’m yawning.  This is borderline pointless but I will leave it for the die hards.

Table 18: First count – Average raw vote per riding, by sub-region

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This is more straightforward.  Here are the raw votes per riding in each sub-region.  You can see here where a little could make a lot of difference.  Watts was 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in each region.  Lee led four Metro Vancouver regions (Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, North East sector), but was fourth or fifth outside the Lower Mainland.  Wilkinson won the North, Kootenays, and was second in the Southern Interior and Island, while he did no better than third in the Lower Mainland sub-regions.

Table 19: Candidate raw vote increase per ballot

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This table shows the distribution of raw votes per ballot and which candidate had the most members migrating in their direction.  On the second ballot, Michael Lee had the most Sam Sullivan supporters choosing him as their second choice (25.2%) with Andrew Wilkinson close behind.  On the third ballot, over half of the redistributed ballots went to Wilkinson, almost all from de Jong (though there were some Sullivan third choices who came to him via de Jong).  On the fourth ballot, Wilkinson also gained the most in terms of raw votes, edging Lee.  On the fifth ballot, almost three-quarters of redistributed raw votes chose Wilkinson.   Another aspect of Table 19 is how many ballots were retained through each count.  Over 96% of Sullivan voters carried on to the second count.  On the third count, on 61% of de Jong voters stuck around.  When Todd Stone dropped off, almost three-quarters (74%) carried on to a further choice and, on the fifth count, almost 80% carried on to provide another choice.

Table 20: Candidate share of point increase per ballot

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Table 20 shows the distribution of points to each candidate following the removal of a candidate.  Like Table 19, it shows Wilkinson’s growth.  What’s interesting is that Wilkinson actually had more movement in terms of raw votes as he grew through the third, fourth, and fifth ballots than he did in terms of points.  He had over half of the redistributed raw votes in round 3 but only 40% of the points.  In round 5, he had almost 75% of redistributed raw votes but only 62% of redistributed points.  Wilkinson had started out with a high efficiency on the first count, but became less efficient as the ballots wore on.  This is basically a math issue where the support he was receiving on second and third choices were, in many cases, from members in high-member ridings.

BC Liberal leadership: counting the votes and the cheeseburgers

I’m getting quite a few questions on how voting works for the BC Liberal leadership convention.

If you’re a member of the BC Liberal Party, and haven’t registered to vote, you can go here: https://www.bcliberals.com/Leadership/

Voting begins on Thursday morning at 9am (PT) and ends at 5pm (PT) Saturday. FAQs at the Party website.

 

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Six candidates: but in what order?

The complicated part is the counting.

It’s a preferential ballot meaning that you only vote once and you have the opportunity to rank your choices. There are six candidates. There is no downside to filling out your ballot from 1 to 6 – it doesn’t hurt your preferred candidate. In fact, it ensures your vote will count right through to the final ballot if your preferred candidate is eliminated.

In the old days when leaders were picked at delegated leadership conventions, voting delegates in the hall would vote for their candidate. The results of the first ballot would be announced then if no candidate had a majority, there would be a second ballot and everyone would line up again to vote. The bottom candidate would be eliminated.

If you supported the bottom candidate, you could stay in the hall and vote for someone else on the second ballot. Or you could walk out the door, go to McDonald’s, have a cheeseburger, and go home to bed.

That’s what happens if you don’t fill out your preferential ballot. If your #1 preferred candidate is eliminated, and you do not fill out your ballot in terms of your 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th choices, then you might as well be out having a cheeseburger when everyone else’s vote is being counted to determine who will be the next leader.

My Dad went to the 1968 Liberal leadership convention. He went there supporting Eric Kierans, who was eliminated on the first ballot. He didn’t go to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger; he stayed and ended up voting for Pierre Trudeau on the fourth and final ballot.

Some folks wistfully remark that it’s not as exciting as the good old days. The preferential ballot lacks the drama of candidates walking the floor between ballots to endorse a rival. In 1976, Sinclair Stevens surprised delegates when he walked over to endorse Joe Clark, creating momentum for his eventual winning candidacy. In 1984, Bob Skelly prevailed amidst complicated floor dynamics to win as a compromise candidate for the BC NDP leadership. In 1986, Bud Smith cemented Bill Vander Zalm’s win when he walked past Grace McCarthy and Brian Smith to endorse the man who many of his supporters preferred as their second choice. Gerard Kennedy delivered mightily for Stephane Dion in the 2006 federal Liberal leadership race propelling Dion to a final ballot victory over Michael Ignatieff.  Hey – delegated conventions elected Joe Clark, Bob Skelly, Bill Vander Zalm, and Stephane Dion. Excitement hardly guarantees long-term success.

In that 1968 Liberal convention that my Dad attended, Paul Hellyer should have walked after the 2nd ballot and waited one ballot too long to influence the outcome despite supporter and cabinet minister Judy LaMarsh imploring him to stop Trudeau: “you’ve got to go to Winters. Don’t let that bastard win it, Paul—he isn’t even a Liberal.” As seen on live TV.

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Judy LaMarsh and Paul Hellyer: nice hats!

The federal NDP has had its share of convention floor drama. In the 1989 federal NDP contest, CBC mic’d up candidate Simon de Jong, who forgot he was wearing it, exposing viewers to bareknuckle backroom discussions with BC’s Dave Barrett. It was reported that de Jong leaned over to his mother asking, “Mommy, what should I do?” Audrey McLoughlin went on to win. Then there was Svend Robinson who led after the first ballot in the 1995 NDP federal leadership convention. He realized he couldn’t win and dropped out, endorsing the second place candidate Alexa McDonough, who became leader.

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1995: Svend concedes despite finishing first

Sure, old-style conventions could be dramatic, but not necessarily democratic. There’s no perfect system, but at least the current system of universal voting for members allows people from all over BC to participate without barriers of cost and travel. Every member is equal, rather than select delegates wheeling and dealing their votes to the highest bidder.

Another key part of the voting system is that ridings are weighted. Each riding is equal to 100 points for a total of 8700 points (87 ridings * 100). This prevents one region of the province from swamping another. A point is basically the same as the percentage of the vote in that riding. If 200 people vote in the riding of Sasquatch-West and Candidate X gets 70 votes, X will get 35 points (35%).

(In 1993, the BC Liberals chose Gordon Campbell on a purely one member-one vote system. The Executive of the Party proposed the system. Contender Gordon Gibson opposed it and sought changes to make it more regionally balanced. Campbell’s campaign, of which I was the Campaign Director, backed the Executive and the rules passed the two-thirds vote required by one vote. Amazingly, there was no demand for a recount as people were shocked. Six weeks later, Campbell went on to win the leadership vote decisively with about 65% on the first ballot, and would have won under either system, frankly.)

Back to the voting system this weekend, it remains to be seen how many members will ‘leave the hall’ by not completing their ballot. If members only rank their first and second choices, there may be thousands of members that miss the final vote. What happens in that case is that those ballots are removed from the pile.

Using the example above, if the rival Candidate Y received 60 votes in Sasquatch –West, he or she would garner 30 points on the first ballot. But what if Candidate Y was eliminated thereafter from the ballot and his or her supporters did not record second choices? That would reduce the pile of votes in Sasquatch-West from 200 to 140, and, now, Candidate X (still in the race) would go from 35% (70 votes out of 200) to 50% (70 votes out of 140). A candidate doesn’t need to increase his or her support in raw votes to see an increase in his or her points because support would be increasing as a percentage of the overall pile, due to the pile shrinking. Did you get that?

No matter what, there will be 100 points per riding and the winner will need at least 4350+1 votes to win on the final ballot (8700 points divided by half, +1).

Voting ends at 5pm Saturday. Results should be broadcast soon thereafter and they will come in rapidly, count by count . It won’t take long. There will be drama, just not the way it used to be. Instead of hours upon hours of speculation, Saturday’s drama will be very concentrated within a relatively short period of time.

How many counts will it go? The federal Conservative race that elected Andrew Scheer had 14 candidates and went 13 counts. The winner needs a majority. This weekend, if the winner gets a majority while two or more candidates split the rest, it may go four counts or less. It is more likely that this process will require a full five counts to determine a winner.

We’ll see what happens when the votes, and the cheeseburgers, are counted on Saturday night.