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.

 

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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.

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.

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.

 

The Vancouver Fog and the future PM

There has been a thick fog enveloping Vancouver this week.  My mind always turns back to stories my mother has told me about the Vancouver fog in the 1940s.  The fog, she says, was so thick that my grandfather would have to get out of the car to find the bridge so that they didn’t drive into the Fraser River.  You literally could not see the hand in front of your face.

I’m not an air quality expert, but this photo from the City of Vancouver archives (1936) of the sawmills on False Creek tells a large part of the story.   In weather conditions like today, the pollution would exacerbate the fog.  Add to that home heating – people burned coal and wood to heat their homes.  Despite the huge increase in population over the years, natural gas and electricity have led to huge improvements in air quality.

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CVA: 260-561 (James Crookall photographs)

Which leads me to the story of the Vancouver fog and the future prime minister.  Round about the time my mother was sitting in the car waiting for my grandfather to find the bridge, John Turner was attending the University of British Columbia.  He was a phenomenon.  The phrase “Big Man on Campus” was probably  invented for him.  Paul Litt’s biography of Turner, Elusive Destiny, chronicles his early years at UBC and his triumphs in academia, sports, and student life.  He was awarded a Rhodes scholarship upon graduating from UBC.

turner_biopg1According to the UBC Sports Hall of Fame, Turner was one of the three fastest men in Canada between 1947 and 1949.  He led UBC to two Pacific Northwest Conference track championships and his Canadian-best in the 100 and 200 yards qualified him for Canada’s 1948 Olympic team. In June of 1947, at a track meet in Seattle, Turner recorded the fastest time by a Canadian in the 100 yard dash, covering the distance in a UBC record 9.8 seconds.

What does this have to do with fog?

In 1948, at the peak of his athletic career, Turner was on his way home from attending a football game in Bellingham.  He lived near UBC on Vancouver’s west side. Paul Litt tells the story in Elusive Destiny:

As they passed over a level crossing on Arbutus Street in Vancouver, a train appeared out of the heavy fog. “We were lucky we were only hit in the front of the car and not in midship,” Turner recalled. “I saw this light coming out of nowhere and was able to turn and roll with the train as it hit us.” The train was not moving rapidly, but it still drove the car a hundred feet down the track. Turner’s left knee was smashed. Surgeons were able to piece it back together, but his leg muscles atrophied as he waited for the bone to heal. By the time he could run again, it was too late to train for the Olympic trials in Vancouver that June. He showed up anyway and gave it a shot, but his knee gave way and he collapsed on the track.

The Vancouver fog dealt a punishing blow to Turner’s Olympic hopes, but he would go on to have an outstanding career in politics and serve as prime minister – and the first PM with a British Columbia pedigree.  He represented Vancouver-Quadra for 9 years and must have cursed the Arbutus Line every time he crossed it.

So, enjoy the fog today, it’s not as bad as it used to be.  And while the trains may be gone, watch out for those bikes on the Arbutus corridor!

Opportunity knocks for BC Liberal leadership candidates

BC Liberals aren’t in the habit of electing leaders very often – only twice in the last 24 years.  I was fortunate to have directed the campaigns in both cases – Gordon Campbell in 1993 and Christy Clark in 2011.

Those races were very different.  Gordon Campbell was the outsider who joined the party on the eve of announcing his candidacy.  While the party was the official opposition, its organization was threadbare having gone from zero to 17 seats in a populist brushfire in the 1991 election.  Campbell’s leadership campaign, and subsequent efforts over seventeen plus years as leader, built the guts and machinery of the modern day BC Liberal Party.  The 2011 campaign featured three serious senior cabinet contenders – George Abbott, Kevin Falcon, and Michael de Jong – and Christy Clark, who ran from the outside in the aftermath of the government’s handling of the HST.  However, Christy was no stranger to the Party.  She had served as MLA for nine years until 2005, including Deputy Premier, and was one of BC’s most recognizable names.  Unlike Campbell who spent eight long years winning his way into government, Clark went straight to the premier’s chair.  She brought a fresh look and focused agenda, enabling the party to win an improbable election in 2013.

This time will be different yet again.  The party is in a stronger position organizationally than 1993 and even stronger than 2011, though not in government.   The next leader has a better opportunity than Campbell had to take power in the subsequent election and does not have as challenging an internal dynamic as Clark had in 2011.  Nevertheless, the final furlong is always the hardest and the next leader will be under huge pressure to deliver victory in a party that has grown accustomed to winning.

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The contenders are assembling at the gates for the BC Liberal leadership race

Vaughn Palmer wrote recently on potential leadership candidates with the headline shouting “BC Liberals slag own potential leaders”.  Of course, these are unnamed sources who hide behind the curtain.  It certainly doesn’t reflect my own view.

As someone who has worked in the engine room of politics, I try to follow Ronald Reagan’s famous maxim that “thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow [BC Liberal]”.  Leadership aspirants are contemplating making huge personal sacrifices to put themselves on the line.  Running in a leadership contest is a politically naked process – it’s all about you.  You can’t hide behind someone else.

What I see is a field of potential candidates that all offer something unique.  There is no question that each candidate has to overcome perceived weaknesses, but that’s why you have a leadership race.  The leadership race is a trial by fire where the most organized, most eloquent, most driven, most motivating and compelling candidates rise to the fore.

Another of my political maxims, based on years of scientific research, is that “You can’t win if you don’t run”.  Politics is full of surprises.  Joe Clark in 1976.  Bob Skelly in 1984.  Stephane Dion in 2006.  Andrew Scheer was hardly a front-runner for the CPC leadership when it started and Maxime Bernier was certainly not seen as a main contender.  Let’s not forget Jeremy Corbyn in the UK (twice) and Donald Trump.  Then there’s John Horgan – when no one wanted the job – and now he’s Premier.

When I look at the field of potential candidates that people are chatting to me about, they all have an interesting story.  Winning means taking it to a higher level than where they are today, but they all have something to build from.  My hope is that we have a race where individual candidates make great strides in reaching their potential, and in doing so, make a significant contribution to building the party going forward.

All leadership candidates will have to demonstrate they can lead and win at the highest level.    It’s not whether one is a liberal or conservative; rural, suburban, or urban; or male or female.  The best candidate will be the one who can sell his or her vision to the membership.  Rather than slag them, or rule them out on some superficial basis, I say “thank you” for considering running and encourage them all to step bravely forward to articulate their vision for British Columbia.