Poll states the obvious – this campaign is a dogfight

Here we go. The Vancouver Sun is trumpeting a poll on the front page that shows the NDP with a 10-point lead.

I could probably drive a truck through the methodology of this poll. But that’s not the point.

The point is: of course the NDP can win! That is an eternal truth of BC politics.

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It’s a dogfight this time.

In February, I addressed the BC Liberal provincial council where all of the campaigners were in town for a pre-election briefing. I said there what I say now: the NDP get 40% of the vote before they get out of bed in the morning. Or 39% anyway. They are always lurking in the shadows.

In 10 of the last 11 BC elections, the NDP have hit the 39% threshold. They won an election with 39% in 1996. In the past three elections, it hasn’t been enough as the BC Liberals have finished about 4-points ahead each time. But we know they can win. I respect that and I respect them. They are tough adversaries.

An NDP friend of mine told me last fall that the only time he believed the NDP could win was when he talked to me! The NDP seemed down in the dumps. The set-up for the election is reversed this time – the underdog became the overdog and vice versa. Conventional wisdom is a powerful thing and most observers felt the BC Liberals were cruising to victory in 2017. I have never felt that this was going to be easy. My nickname “Eeyore” is borne from hard-luck lessons on the campaign trail over the years.

So, 10-point lead? My advice to BC Liberal followers and other interested voters is to believe this snapshot could be real, midway through the campaign.

What does this mean? The BC Liberals have led a lonely crusade to expose the NDP platform dare, which is to promise everything to everyone without the means to pay for it, and hoping they won’t get caught. Now, you would think the media and general scrutiny would increase, and in recent days, the NDP has been marked up a bit with more scrutiny about the role of the Steelworkers and nagging questions about how to pay for eliminating  Medical Services Premiums. I also believe that voters see the NDP’s flashy, dashy promise to eliminate Lower Mainland bridge tolls as unrealistic – “how are they going to pay for it” and “nothing comes for free” are voiced by voters at the doors and in focus groups.

With two weeks out to election day – and four days until the start of Advance Polls – it is clear that the stakes have been raised in this election.

The next two weeks will be vigorous. There is a lot on the line. We should always campaign like we are ten points behind.

I feel good about a lot of things in this campaign. The response at the doors is good. Morale is positive. We have a great team of candidates and they are working hard. My view is that the Premier has out-performed John Horgan at the radio debate and on the nightly news.   The BC Liberals have a strong core of seats and a resilient voter base. We’ve been here before and fought through it.

For those who believe BC is on the right track, take the Mainstreet poll as a serious wake-up call. Of course the NDP can win. Could election night be a 10-point NDP margin? 15-points in the Lower Mainland as this poll suggests? (I cannot resist point out that the poll does not reveal the number of interviews with key multicultural communities). I do not take these poll numbers literally, but I do not discount the potential of an NDP victory.  John Horgan’s sensitive hands are dangerously close to the reins of the economy.

In 2013, while we knew where we were at, we snuck up on the NDP, media, and conventional wisdom and had an election night surprise.

In 2017, its eyes wide open. There will be no sneaky NDP win. The NDP can only win now if it is an an out-in-the-open fully considered decision. The overdog and underdog have now converged. It’s simply now a dogfight … and that’s fine with me. An out-in-the open fight over BC’s economic future and what it will mean to BC families.

 

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Electing First Nations candidates in BC – will 2017 be a big step forward?

When it comes to electing First Nations people from British Columbia to the Legislature or Parliament, all political parties have to do better.

The right of First Nations to vote was finally acknowledged in 1949 in BC (not until 1960 federally).  Nisga’a Frank Calder was elected from the riding of Atlin in 1949, representing the CCF.  He served most of the next 30 years as MLA from that riding.  In 1972, he was the first aboriginal person appointed to cabinet in BC, though was later removed by Premier Dave Barrett.  According to a biography of Calder, the NDP moved on from Calder, nominating another candidate in the 1975 election.  Calder left the NDP, joined the Social Credit Party, and was elected for the last time.  A recipient of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia, Calder’s career deserves more attention, which included his leadership role in the Calder case, massively significant to the recognition of aboriginal rights and land claims.

Yet few others have followed in Calder’s wake.  Larry Guno was elected as an NDP MLA from Atlin between 1986-1991 but did not run again.  Until Melanie Mark was elected in the Mt. Pleasant by-election, there had been no First Nations representation since 1991 in the BC Legislature.  I was hopeful that Marian Wright, a former Chief, would succeed for the BC Liberals in 2009 in North Island but she fell short.

The story federally from BC isn’t any better.  Len Marchand was elected as a Liberal in Kamloops amidst the first round of Trudeamania in 1968.  He held the seat twice, and until 2015, had been the only Liberal to represent a seat in the Interior for decades.  Len went on to serve in the Senate.  He passed away last year, but left a considerable legacy.  In particular, he was a strong advocate for First Nations representation in Parliament.  He made an important point – First Nations populations are scattered across Canada with diluted voting strength on a riding by riding basis.  It was no coincidence that the only riding to elect a First Nations person was the one riding where First Nations had the numbers .  Len thought that aboriginal people should have guaranteed representation based on their proportion of the population.  It’s an interesting point and it remains to be seen if recent advances in representation make such a guarantee a moot point.

Marchand had been the only First Nations person elected to Parliament from BC, ever, until 2015.  Jody Wilson-Raybould became the second, and the first First Nations woman elected from BC since Confederation.  She busted through the ceiling and then some, with her appointment as Minister of Justice.

Today, there is a heightened awareness and advocacy for aboriginal representation in our institutions.  Provincial legislatures are starting to see higher levels of representation as is the federal Parliament.  Groups and networks have formed to promote indigenous representation.

But what about BC and this election?  Premier Christy Clark has made it a priority to recruit First Nations leaders to run as candidates.  She has three strong candidates running in seats held by the NDP that can be described as ‘swing’, meaning they should be close races.  Former Haisla Chief Councillor Ellis Ross is running in Skeena; Wanda Good, who has served as a deputy Chief and an advocate for First Nations women, is running in Stikine; and former Nanwakolas Council president Dallas Smith is running in North Island.

The Premier took some flak for appointing Ellis Ross as candidate in Skeena.  She did it because she felt she needed a leader like Ellis in the Legislature.  She went out and recruited Wanda and Dallas to the team as well, and ensured they have local teams to support them.  This week, the BC Liberals launched a 30-second TV spot promoting their First Nations candidates.  The party is making the election of these candidates a priority.

The NDP nominated and elected Melanie Mark in the Mt. Pleasant by-election.  Mark became the first First Nations woman elected to the BC Legislature which, like the election of Wilson-Raybould, was long, long overdue.

But then there is the curious case of the Fraser-Nicola riding.  Chief Aaron Sam of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, a lawyer, sought the NDP nomination.  NDP Leader John Horgan asked former MLA Harry Lali to stand down and make way for Sam.  Lali refused.  At this point, Horgan has a choice.  He can override Lali and appoint Sam, or he can let it play out.  Horgan let it play out and Lali, a four-term former MLA, got the votes.

Simply put, Horgan did not make the nomination of Chief Aaron Sam a top priority.  If he wanted to make it happen, he could have. The NDP can claim ‘local democracy’ but its nomination process is already a shambles when it comes grassroots democracy.  NDP minority-preference rules have already caused confusion and resentment in places like Columbia River-Revelstoke, Cowichan Valley, and Skeena.  I understand Horgan’s choice.  Nomination politics can be messy and Harry Lali would surely have not gone quietly into the night.  It just means one less First Nations leader seeking a seat in the Legislature, which is too bad considering our history.  It also means one less leadership moment for Horgan, especially at a time his party should be looking for renewal.

Premier Clark stuck her neck out and is proudly campaigning alongside three strong First Nations candidates.   So far the Greens (including Deputy Leader Adam Olsen) and NDP have two First Nations candidates each, perhaps more will emerge.  Let’s hope all parties in the future stick their necks out when necessary to get First Nations candidates on the ballot and into the Legislature.  It would make a difference.  From my side of the ledger, I hope to see Ellis, Wanda, and Dallas elected on May 9th.

BC Liberal candidates on video:

 

BC Liberals renewing, NDP not so much

Updated (March 19, 5:30pm)

The renewal dynamic had a new twist on March 18th when NDP members rejected Leader John Horgan’s chosen candidate, Lower Nicola First Nations Chief Aaron Sam, and opted for Harry Lali who first won in 1991, re-elected in 1996, did not run in 2001, elected in 2005, re-elected in 2009, and defeated in 2013.  Lali’s candidacy puts a punctuation mark on my blog post.

—–

Andrew Weaver raised the issue of term limits for BC politicians.  He assumes that voters can’t make up their own mind whether they want to keep their MLA or not.  It’s not such a bad thing to have a bit of experience in the Legislature.  I suppose Andrew Weaver would have had Winston Churchill sit out WWII!  I can hear the cries of “Shame!” emanating from Oak Bay right now.

But renewal is important.  Most voters would say that “new blood” is important for our public institutions.  I certainly believe that.  Last election, Premier Christy Clark made a strong statement by recruiting a lot of new, strong candidates.  It was seen as one of the hallmarks of her success.  Half of her caucus was newly elected in 2013, which is uncommonly high.  This time, the Premier continues to recruit strong new candidates like First Nations leaders Ellis Ross, Wanda Good, and Dallas Smith; former Coast Capital CEO Tracy Redies; and former journalists Steve Darling and Jas Johal… just to name a handful from a very solid list.

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Premier Christy Clark serving up some renewal with candidates like Dallas Smith (North Island)

How have the BC Liberals and NDP renewed themselves? The past three provincial elections have seen a level of stability in BC and provides a basis to compare:

  • 2005: 46 BC Liberals vs 33 NDP
  • 2009: 49 BC Liberals vs 35 NDP vs 1 IND
  • 2013: 49 BC Liberals vs 34 NDP vs 1 IND vs 1 Green

In terms of renewal, you would think there would be more BC Liberals remaining from the class of 2005 than NDP since there were more BC Liberals elected.  In fact, the opposite is true.

  • There are 15 NDP MLAs from 2005 running for re-election in 2017.  That equates to 45% of NDP MLAs elected in 2005 still around to seek another term in office in 2017.  Plus Jagrup Brar, who was elected from 2004-2013, is seeking to return.  Harry Lali (1991-2001, 2005-2013) also now adds to this list.
  • The BC Liberals elected 46 MLAs in 2005 but only 9 remain today to run in the 2017 election.  Thus, less than 20% of BC Liberal MLAs elected in 2005 are running today.
  • Thus, using 2005 as a point of reference, the BC Liberals have renewed at more than twice the rate than the NDP.

Another way to look at it is that out of 87 ridings today, only 18 BC Liberal MLAs seeking re-election in 2017 were elected prior to 2013.  That group makes up only 20% of the BCL candidate slate, and only 43% of the current caucus (with the remainder having been elected in 2013).  That is also a pretty good renewal rate.

The BC NDP have 20 MLAs who have been around since prior to 2009 that are seeking re-election, which is 57% of their current caucus. Their renewal rate is lower.  NDP MLAs stick around longer, especially on Vancouver Island.

On Vancouver Island, there is only Michelle Stilwell seeking re-election for the BC Liberals and she was elected in 2013.  The NDP have 8 MLAs that were elected in 2005 and going for their fourth term.  That seems like the opposite of renewal and sets up a clear contrast between the parties.  For those Canucks fans arguing for a rebuild of the team, that’s what is happening on the Island for the BC Liberals.  After disappointing results in 2013, the BC Liberals have pressed reset, retooled, and relaunched with a slate of candidates that bring new energy.  Same old NDP faces, for the most part.

Andrew Weaver’s motivation to renew the Legislature is a good thing.  The BC Liberals have excelled at renewal compared to many modern political parties.  Perhaps Dr. Weaver is surrounded on Vancouver Island by so many BC NDP MLAs seeking a fourth term that he sees term limits as his only escape.  This time, there may be a cohort of first-term BC Liberal MLAs on the Island to ease his concerns… maybe even in Oak Bay.

For reference (Class of 2005):

2005 NDP 2005 BCL
Running in 2017 Out of office/retiring Running in 2017 Out of office/retiring
Fraser Simpson de Jong van Dongen
Chouhan Wyse Lee MacKay
D.Routley MacDonald Coleman Nuraney
Horgan Thorne Polak Bloy
Krog Gentner Bond Penner
Trevena Karagianis Reid Les
Farnworth Sather Yap Hagen
Simons Evans Sultan Roddick
Bains Puchmayer Rustad Bennett
Ralston Coons Richmond
Simpson Cubberley Krueger
Dix Austin Horning
James Hammell Hawkins
Fleming Kwan Hawes
Conroy Robertson Cantelon
 Brar (2004-2013) Chudnovsky Whittred
 Lali Jarvis
Chong
Christensen
Thorpe
Neufeld
17 16 9 Lekstrom
Barisoff
Black
Bell
Ililch
Coell
Abbott
Falcon
Hayer
Hogg
Mayencourt
Oppal
Taylor
Campbell
Hansen
McIintyre
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1991: The election that transformed BC politics

British Columbians went to the polls on October 17, 1991 and changed BC politics in more ways than one.

It was the election of Premier Mike Harcourt’s NDP government and only the second time in BC history that the NDP had gained power. The election was hugely significant for the NDP as they governed for a decade. But its longer-term impact was the realignment of the free enterprise vote in BC.

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Gordon Wilson, BC Liberal leader in 1991 breakthrough election.

The Social Credit Party had governed for 36 of the previous 39 years, mostly with a Bennett at the helm. It had renewed itself during the first NDP term of office in the 1970s and emerged stronger under WR Bennett with a broader base of support. Bennett had revived the Socred coalition by attracting Liberals, Conservatives, and even an NDP MLA to run with him in 1975. The renewed coalition was maintained for three elections (1975, 1979 and 1983) in the most polarized elections in BC history. When the Social Credit chose a new leader in 1986, they chose Bill Vander Zalm. While he led the Socreds victory one more time, their coalition would unravel under his premiership.

Starting in the early 1980s, a small group of Liberals worked to revive the provincial wing. From virtually no candidates in 1979, they ran close to a full slate in 1983 under leader Shirley McLaughlin, with parachutes attached to many Young Liberals. They garnered about 3%. Most federal Liberals (and they were a vanishing species at that time) were supporting the Social Credit Party.

Undaunted, Liberals held a leadership convention in 1984 where former Member of Parliament Art Lee, the first Chinese-Canadian leader of a political party in BC, defeated Stan Roberts, who would go on to help establish the Reform Party of Canada. Lee would build a strong relationship with Liberal Party of Canada leader John Turner, who represented Vancouver-Quadra, and BC’s Iona Campagnolo who was president of the Liberal Party of Canada.   “A Liberal is a Liberal is a Liberal” was a mantra I heard at my first political convention in 1985 as a keen 16-year old.

When Bill Vander Zalm called the October 1986 election, Art Lee fielded a team of candidates across the province. There was no TV leaders debate and little money so it was hard for Lee to make an impact. Rather, Vander Zalm’s charisma trumped NDP Leader Bob Skelly’s opening press conference flutter. The Liberals were squeezed out, but doubled their vote to about 7%. Hopes for a seat were dashed as they were shut out of the Legislature. Art Lee stepped down. On election night, BCTV cruelly reported that Art Lee was going to win his seat. Bedlam erupted at Liberal HQ. Out in Maple Ridge where I was stationed, we piled into cars and headed in for the ‘party’. Somewhere around the Sperling interchange, CKNW reported that someone had made an error and Art Lee was 5th! Cheers turned to tears at the Liberal election night party at the Plaza 500. I ran into my new friend Christy Clark there. We had joined the SFU Young Liberal Club that month.

By the time the BC Liberals got around to choosing a new leader on Hallowe’en Day 1987, there was only one candidate – Gordon Wilson. A political unknown to most, he had at least been elected to local office on the Sunshine Coast and put up a respectable showing there in the 1986 election. He was an outsider to the Vancouver-centric Liberal Party in BC. Yet he showed up and took on the mantle.

The focus for Liberals in BC during that time was federal politics with an election looming in 1988. While Wilson sought to get established, the Vander Zalm government started its meltdown. Ministers and MLAs would resign from cabinet and/or resign their seats. Around this time, a group of free enterprise supporters, mostly Liberals I think, sought to encourage Jack Poole (Chair of the 2010 Olympics) to take over the BC Liberal leadership as a response to the Social Credit implosion. While this is truly a story for another day, Poole would go through a due diligence effort, assisted by former leader Gordon Gibson, but ultimately decided not to seek the leadership. Gordon Wilson, who had reluctantly cooperated with the Poole potential candidacy, ventured forth unfettered when Poole left the scene. No one gave him much of a chance.

Wilson’s leadership in 1989 and 1990 could be described as persistent and tenacious, but also was met with setbacks. Byelection results were disappointing while the party was in a constant financial crisis. Federal politics intervened again as Jean Chretien succeeded John Turner in June 1990 after a lengthy leadership campaign.   One issue where Wilson and Chretien had common ground was over the Meech Lake Accord. Wilson was as a strong critic and aligned with Manitoba Liberal leader Sharon Carstairs and Newfoundland Premier Clyde Wells on the issue. This was a very divisive issue within the Liberal Party of Canada, but Wilson made a name for himself on this issue. However, the relationship with the Chretien team would become increasingly uneasy.

I was part of a group that believed, for some years, that the Party should split into separate federal and provincial political parties. The “BC Liberal Party” needed to be strictly provincial and put BC first on issues. During the Turner years, the party membership did not want to make the move, in part out of respect for Turner. However, by 1991, the provincial wing believed it was in their political interests, and the federal wing believed it was in its financial interests. At a convention in Spring 1991, the parties decided to split. This was a defining moment in BC political history. Had this not happened, the BC Liberal Party could not have emerged as a “big tent” political party. It was hard enough to attract non-Liberals to the BC Liberal Party in the 1990s, but it would have been impossible if the provincial party was not independent.

There is no greater boost for an opposition party than an imploding government. With many Socreds absolutely ruling out going to the NDP, and some NDP voters open to a liberal option (as they would never go Socred), the opportunity presented itself.

A core group of party supporters decided to give it one last push. If we couldn’t break through this time, there was no hope for the BC Liberal Party ever. We had no money and not much of an organization. But we did have a leader who was quick on his feet and would work day and night to succeed, and we started to draw some candidates that helped with credibility. My volunteer job was to find candidates with my pal Christy. There were good, young candidates in some places, like Speaker Linda Reid who was elected 25 years ago and ever since, and Gary Collins who won in Fort Langley. But we had many gaps, so when it came to candidate recruitment, I would find them, Christy would close them. During this time there was an epic road trip, borrowing Clive Tanner’s van, to Prince George, the Cariboo, Kamloops, and the Okanagan. Again, this is truly a story for another day.

We ended up with candidates in 71 of 75 ridings (I’m still mad about Prince George). That was enough to argue that Gordon Wilson should be on the debate. Of course, we were shut out of the debate because the NDP and Socreds didn’t want us there. So we launched a protest and had picketers in front of the CBC building. The pressure built and the network capitulated. We could not have asked for a better scenario – to have to fight to get on the debate and then to win the fight.

On debate night, party president Floyd Sully invited me to go to the CBC studios with him and be part of the team with Gordon Wilson. We showed up in his dressing room. I will never forget how calm he was. He was walking around, shirt off, listening but focused – his mind was elsewhere. Very calm. He had experience as an actor, which likely helped his preparation. I’m sure we were chattering away with miscellaneous advice that was completely off point and I’m sure he disregarded it. His media aide, John Stewart, prepared for the onslaught as there was a much bigger media hoard back then. Though the media didn’t know then that Gordon Wilson would be the story of the night and the election.

We watched the debate in the dressing room while it took place down the hall with no audience. When Premier Rita Johnston and Mike Harcourt were squabbling back and forth, Wilson nailed them: “This is a classic example of why nothing ever gets done in the Province of British Columbia”. Boom! I don’t think the media realized the impact of that line but they did realize that Wilson had made an impact. We were giddy in the dressing room. Floyd and I sprinted down the hall to the studio. I remember passing Mike Harcourt in the hall, “Hey, how are you” I think he said. Disciplined, cheerful, seemingly unruffled. Rita Johnston didn’t look too happy. Wilson was surrounded in the studio. He would never turn down a media interview after begging for attention for years. We were excited.

I had had this feeling once before when I helped the Manitoba Liberals in the 1988 election – the feeling of everything coming up roses. Sharon Carstairs had risen from one seat to almost win the election, settling for 20 and preventing Gary Filmon from forming a majority. Could this be the same? It was definitely on my mind that we could get on a roll, big time. There wasn’t a lot of time left in the election either.

Floyd and I thought we should head back to Party headquarters at 210 West Broadway. The office was closed so we walked in and our six-line switchboard was lighting up like a Christmas tree. We took calls, offers of help, crazies, you name it. We had finally been noticed.

An interesting thing about the 1991 campaign was that BCTV commissioned and ran nightly polls. While it continues to lead the ratings now as Global, back then it really dominated. Tony Parsons would come on at 6pm and they would announce the new numbers in their daily poll. The poll was probably a methodological disaster, but once the debate happened our numbers spiked. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Each good poll begat higher polling numbers the next time. As we rose, the Socreds became doomed. The Socred coalition was built on winnability. It became clear within days that the Liberals would be the party that would challenge the NDP.

As we headed into Thanksgiving weekend, there was a real likelihood we could win. The momentum seemed unstoppable. I remember talking on the phone with Clive Tanner, who was running in Saanich North & the Island and would win decisively. We speculated about forming government. At that point, Clive, who was in the bathtub, contemplated electrocuting himself.

The NDP appeared to get a grip and turned their guns on us. Glen Clark showed his fangs and attacked our platform. A hastily organized press conference where Gordon Wilson and Floyd Sully (who had run and served as Finance critic) costed our platform was necessary. Vaughn Palmer provided a dose of the first scrutiny our campaign had had. Up until the final week, no one thought we had a chance so no one cared if our plan made sense or who our candidates were. I think I can safely say that many of our candidates would not have survived a modern-day social media screening process.

Around that time, I was driving up Kingsway in Vancouver and came across Glen Clark’s campaign office. I walked in to collect some brochures. I was greeted by a receptionist (best practices) and was quickly identified as “undecided”. I was directed to a table of brochures and within 20 seconds I had Glen Clark interrogating me. “Hey, how are you? Undecided? Want a coffee?” Here he was in a safe seat and he was working for every vote. Of course, I folded like a cheap lawn chair from Zellers. I confessed my true identity and Glen switched gears to quiz me on Floyd Sully, who he debated on finance issues. “What’s he like? He seems intense.” Etc. In any event, that gives a glimpse how hungry the NDP were.

We had come from zero to somewhere. By the time Election Day arrived, I don’t think we thought we were going to win. But I did think something would happen, but how much, I didn’t know. I would have been happy with four seats. That was always our dream, to just get a toehold. It’s quite something to look at history and conventional wisdom then use your eyes and ears to understand what’s happening right in front of you.

In the final week of the campaign, Christy and I transitioned over to the Sunshine Coast to help the leader with his local campaign. He had to win and we were there to help. On October 17th at 8pm, we watched the first tranche of early results in Sechelt where it looked like we would be Opposition and would eclipse the Socreds. Gordon Wilson was up in Powell River. By the time the votes were all tallied up, we won 17 seats and 33% of the vote. We won historically liberal seats on the North Shore and west side of Vancouver, but we also took Saanich North, Richmond, South Delta, South Surrey, most of the Fraser Valley, and Kelowna. Places where Liberals had no business winning, usually.

It was clear that it would be quite a party that night. While Wilson flew down to Vancouver to address supporters, a crew of us from the Sunshine Coast were taken on a chartered boat over to Horseshoe Bay. It was a calm, warm night, cruising on moonlit waters before everything would change.

Volunteers from West Van picked us up in station wagons and drove us to the Villa Hotel in Burnaby. It was electric. My best friend Iain, who is a big guy, was drafted to bring Wilson into the room with another big guy, Jim. Peter Gzowski would comment on the “two gorillas” that brought the skinny, bookish professor, Gordon Wilson, into the frenzy.

There was a grumpy old guy named Dick Kirby who was from Oak Bay. He was the most hard-working, dedicated volunteer you would ever find. I will never forget walking into that ballroom and seeing Dick and everything we had worked for was in his eyes. When you are part of an underdog team that overcomes the odds like that, it is a really special bond. But when you add in the unselfishness of a guy like Dick Kirby, it is a joyful moment.   I will never forget that.

That’s where the story should end. It’s a good story.

Euphoria doesn’t last. Hard political choices are ultimately made. Organizations that can skate by for 28 days cannot sustain years of grinding unless they change. The BC Liberals had to decide what it wanted to be if it wanted to govern. It would go through a tough process between 1991 and 1993, when it elected Gordon Campbell to succeed Gordon Wilson. It would go through another tough process between 1993 and 1996 when it failed to win. It would go through a brutal five-year process from 1996 to 2001 when the NDP tanked, but waited until the fifth year of the mandate to go to the polls. It was a long decade. During that time, a modern political party was built one meeting at a time, one chicken-dinner fundraiser at a time, one local parade at a time, one vote at a time. The old saying comes to mind – the worst day in government is better than the best day in opposition. The hard work paid off with the greatest election win in BC history when the BC Liberals won 77 of 79 seats in the 2001 election.

Since 1991 the Party has changed and evolved. It has become a successful, modern political party that has taken a big-tent approach. Gordon Wilson created the opportunity. Gordon Campbell built the foundation, in painstaking fashion, and cemented it as the free enterprise coalition through eight grinding years in Opposition and three successive winning elections. Christy Clark renewed it and earned her own term, tapping into the 1991 experience, knowing that conventional wisdom can be defied, that the ultimate connection for leaders is with the voters, not the intermediaries, and that believing in oneself and the team around you is essential.

All three BC Liberal leaders – Wilson, Campbell, Clark – also teach us that it’s bloody hard work to create, build, and renew. I’m honoured to have served all three. And I’m honoured to have worked alongside those beyond the headlines that made it possible. It’s been quite a journey.

Update:

This blog post was cited by Nicole Garton in her well-researched article “The Big BC Shift”  which walks through the evolution of BC politics.  A good read for those interested in BC politics, which I assume is you since you are reading this.

Footnote:

Former MLA Wilf Hurd, who was elected in 1991, recently put an anthology of recollections together that marked this historic election and how it happened – “On the Edge of the Ledge – Rise of the BC Liberal Party 1986-1991”. Vaughn Palmer reviewed it here.

John Dyble: Quiet Strength at the Heart of Government

John Dyble’s pending retirement wasn’t front page news, which is the last place he would want to be anyway.

For five years, John has been Deputy to the Premier and Cabinet Secretary – the head of the BC Public Service.  It’s an incredibly demanding job.  On a day-to-day basis, there are 18-19 ministries that must have oversight along with crown corporations, like BC Hydro and ICBC, that are among the largest companies in the Province.  Managing the cabinet process alone is a daunting task – as Cabinet Secretary, he was responsible for flowing the agenda of government through the cabinet committee process to the Cabinet Table.  Then there’s the constant public scrutiny and the persistent howls of stakeholders.  Overall, the job looks over  a $50 billion-plus enterprise, led by a humble, dedicated, career public servant.

There are no 7-figure salaries or major bonus packages for guys like John Dyble.  He could run circles around many in the private sector, but he, like many in the public sector, do what they do because of their commitment to public service.

I recall the time that John was hired by Premier Christy Clark.  Following her leadership win in 2011, there was a brief transition period where a cabinet had to be constructed, a caucus had to be consulted, and senior appointments had to be made.  Most importantly, the question of who to lead the public service.  John was an inspired choice that complementedjohn_dyble_large the Premier’s leadership abilities.  The Premier needed to bring her party and caucus together after coming from the outside to win.  She needed stability, competence, and strong execution at the centre of government to provide her with the ballast needed as she set out to establish new direction.    John had a reputation of getting things done whether it was Transportation, Forestry, or Health Care.  He was highly regarded by his peers.  That he had been a Deputy Minister to Kevin Falcon recommended him further.  Kevin was a very able minister who had a busy agenda – he didn’t stand pat.  That a deputy could keep pace with Kevin is noteworthy, let alone the accomplishments that took place.  John’s appointment was an important signal that the Premier would choose the best, regardless of who he or she had worked with.  After all, John has never been a partisan – he served NDP and BC Liberal governments and found creative and effective ways to meet the public policy goals for the government of the day.

When the Premier interviewed John for the role, he met with me afterward.  Holed up in a downtown hotel, John and I talked at some length as the sun went down.  Our conversation literally got darker until I basically couldn’t see him in his chair.  That was the last time I was ever in the dark with John Dyble.  We had a great relationship where, as the Premier’s first Chief of Staff, I had complete confidence in his ability to handle his side of the ledger, and he let me handle my side but we kept each other in the loop and pushed back at each other, respectfully, when necessary.

A key part of John’s legacy has been the disciplined management of government.  Perhaps not fully appreciated at the time, the Premier’s leadership platform called for running a tight ship.  Her fiscal plan received top marks from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.  She spoke, bravely, during that leadership campaign about the need to wrestle health care spending increases to the rate of economic growth – so that we could afford quality public health care, and other critical services, into the future.  Over the past five years, Premier Clark – and her Finance Ministers – have met and exceeded expectations in terms of balancing the budget and setting a course for lower debt/GDP and ultimately creating a sturdy platform by which BC now leads the country in economic growth.  That takes discipline from the top.

Earlier in the Premier’s mandate, the Jobs Plan was launched.  This process brought laser-like focus to economic development within government.  The implementation of the Jobs Plan, and the buy-in it received across government, required a lot of heavy lifting.  The LNG strategy was another example of how John could harness the public service to ensure focus behind a critical policy goal.  These don’t even begin to record John’s accomplishments on the job.

The Premier’s Office is a lean operation.  It is not like the federal government’s Privy Council Office nor the “Cupcakes” of previous BC governments, where there was a more centralized policy approach.  BC’s public service is quite decentralized, therefore, those directing traffic at the centre are stretched.  In physical terms, the 2nd floor of the West Annex is where that happens and it is not a large workspace – kind of shocking actually how much goes through that floor considering the magnitude of their responsibilities.  Despite these modest resources, John and his team have proven adept at reaching public policy goals.  Compare BC to other provinces over the past five years.

The job is a gruelling one, made even more challenging by health issues that John has combatted.  He’s tough and resilient, qualities that are very appealing to the Premier.  But he’s not your showy “Tough Guy” tough guy; he’s quiet and leads by example – humble.

With the recent retirement of both Peter Milburn as Deputy Minister of Finance and Dan Doyle from full-time role as Chief of Staff, John Dyble’s departure marks an end to an impressive trio of Transportation Men who helped guide government from 2011-2016.  All three having served as Deputy Minister in Transportation, all three playing different but critical roles for Premier Clark.  Collectively, they have made an outstanding contribution.

And individually, John Dyble’s accomplishments stand well on their own.

 

 

 

A deeper dive on BC By-election turnout

My post on by-election turnout earlier this week was picked up in the Vancouver Sun and Globe & Mail, proving that there’s a lot of interest in apathy.

In my earlier post, I stopped at 2004 in terms of comparing turnout to past BC by-elections.  Because I couldn’t help myself, I have now gone back to 1981 to see how engaged BC voters have been when it comes to mid-term voting.  If you’re not a political junkie, avert your eyes.  This is really geeky stuff.

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Bill Bennett was successful in electing a government member in the 1981 Kamloops by-election.  It hadn’t happened since 1966 and it hasn’t happened since, unless the candidate’s name was Christy Clark.

This week, turnout in the two by-elections was less than 22% of eligible voters.  Put another way, the turnout was only 39% and 41% of the voters who voted in the 2013 general election.  In Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, less than 8,000 voted in the by-election compared to about 20,000 in 2013.My review of 15 by-elections between 1981 and 1999 shows a much higher turnout by comparison.

Only one by-election had less than half the voters of the previous general election – that was in Vancouver-Quilchena in 1994 when Gordon Campbell was elected to the Legislature for the first time.  He won in a cakewalk so arguably voters didn’t see a lot of reason to vote.

Table 1: Turnout in by-elections compared to preceding General Election.  Asterisks (**) indicate a two-member seat.  Until 1991, BC had some riding that had two members with voters having the choice to vote for two MLAs on their ballot.

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The other 14 by-elections saw a turnout of at least 63% of the previous general election.  Most of these races had a compelling storyline.

1981 Kamloops – The Socreds fought to hold their seat at a time when the margin in the 57(!) seat BC Legislature was razor-thin.  1984 Okanagan North – the then-unpopular Socreds succumbed to the NDP in a strong Socred seat.  The Socreds regained the seat in 1986.  Both of these by-elections had a turnout rate of about 80% of the previous election.

During the Vander Zalm years, there were six by-elections created by the departure of four Socreds and two NDPers.  The NDP took all six by-elections.  Turnout was high relative to current-day by-elections.  At the height of Vander Zalm’s unpopularity, almost as many people voted in by-elections in the Cariboo and Oak Bay as voted in the preceding general election.  They showed up with their pitchforks!

Turnout was at 65% to 70% of the previous election in three Fraser Valley by-elections between 1994 and 1997.  While the governing NDP did very poorly, they were not really at issue in these by-elections.  It was a brawl-for-it-all for the Free Enterprise mantle between the BC Liberals and the Socreds (1994), and the BC Liberals and Reform (1995 and 1997).  There was a lot at stake and voters, for the most part, turned out.

The Parksville-Qualicum 1998 by-election was more of a BC Liberal-NDP fight with Judith Reid eclipsing former (and future) MLA Leonard Krog.  This by-election was a verdict on Glen Clark at the time and had a turnout that was double of this week’s Coquitlam by-election.  Pitchfork time again.

In 1999, it was another BC Liberal-Reform fight when Bill Vander Zalm mounted his political comeback.  The BC Liberals rallied to win 2:1, with about twice the turnout of this week’s Coquitlam by-election.

The 1981-99 era had a lot of by-elections with high stakes and high turnout.  Even the low stakes by-elections had higher turnouts.  Why is it different now?  Perhaps voters are harder to get in a distracted world.  Media sources are more fragmented.  Voters are not herding toward BCTV (sorry Keith) like they used to, nor are they all opening the door in the morning to retrieve the morning Sun and Province like days gone by.  Fragmentation aside, the mainstream media seemed to great the by-elections with a collective yawn this time.  With less media interest, there is inevitably less chatter about politics at coffee-time and over the backyard fence and, ultimately, less turnout.

This all serves to reinforce my view in the earlier post that, unlike the Zalmy 1980s and Parksville in 1998, this week’s by-elections were not pitchfork-carrying affairs.  Low turnout indicates a lack of urgency and lack of consequence.  The turnout, and margin of loss, in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain was lower than in the neighbouring Port Moody-Coquitlam 2012 by-election.  The BC Liberals regained that seat, so there’s no reason to suggest they can’t do the same next year.  We’ll see.

 

 

 

Turnout goes underground in BC by-elections

Tuesday’s by-elections were remarkable for one key factor – rampant apathy.  It was fitting that the by-elections took place on Groundhog Day – the voters were underground.

apathyCompared to the turnout in the preceding general election, both Coquitlam-Burke Mountain and Vancouver Mount Pleasant had the lowest turnouts of any BC by-election since 2004.

In both ridings, less than half that voted in 2013 showed up to vote in the by-election.  In Coquitlam it was 39%, in Mt. Pleasant 41%.  That’s not 39% turnout, that’s 39% of the turnout of the last election so the overall turnout was barely 20%.

Compare that to turnouts in other by-elections, again, comparing to the previous election:

  • Vancouver Fairview (2008):  44%
  • Vancouver Burrard (2008): 49%
  • Port Moody-Coquitlam (2012): 60%
  • Vancouver Pt. Grey (2011): 70%
  • Surrey-Panorama (2004): 77%
  • Westside-Kelowna (2013): 77%
  • Chilliwack-Hope (2012): 85%

Voters, especially BC Liberal voters, just didn’t seem motivated to vote.  Why?  There was not a lot of media attention and there was not a lot at stake – the government is not going to fall.  It is not unlike the 2008 by-elections where there was not a lot driving the public debate and thus turnout was low.  I lived through the 2012 by-elections, which were critical in terms of clarifying the free enterprise option for the 2013 election.  As poorly as the BC Liberals fared relative to the preceding election, they fared well enough to survive another day and helped to ultimately resolve matters with many potential BC Conservative voters.

Say, what do Jenn McGinn, Gwen O’Mahoney, and Joe Trasolini have in common?  They were NDP MLAs elected in by-elections one year prior to a general election.  In all three cases, they were defeated in the general election.  When turnout returned to its usual levels, BC Liberals prevailed at the polls.  That’s not to assume it will happen in 2017 in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, but it will be a much different fight with many more voters voting.

Let’s take a closer look at the by-election results in Coquitlam:

In 2013, the BC Liberals had 49.9% of the vote and the NDP 37.4% – a 12.5% spread.

In the by-election, The NDP won 3,562 votes (46%).  In 2013, their candidate received 7,315 votes, so the by-election candidate scored about half as many votes.

Of course, the BC Liberal dropped further, from 9,766 votes to 2,936 votes (38% of the popular vote).

Compared to 2012 by-election in the neighbouring Port Moody-Coquitlam riding, the BC Liberals did much better.

In 2012, the BC Liberals dropped from 52% to 30% while the NDP gained from 40% to 54%.  The BC Libs dropped 22% and the NDP gained 14%.  In this week’s by-election, the swing was less – the BC Libs dropped 11% and the NDP gained 9%.

As mentioned, the turnout in Mt. Pleasant was also very low with the NDP losing market share dropping about 5 points while the BC Liberals dropped further by about 8 points.  The Greens gained at both party’s expense.

What does it all mean?  By-elections are a tough place to turn out voters and BC’s history shows that Opposition parties usually prevail.  The last time a government MLA won a by-election – who was not the Premier of BC – was 1981 in Kamloops.

When stacked against the by-elections of 2012, the government fared much better in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain.

Congratulations to the NDP and the newly elected MLAs.  A win is a win, no matter how you slice it.  See you in 2017.