Pondering a Nanaimo By-election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially ones that travel by bathtub.♦

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Electoral Wipe-Outs and the Aftermath

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

But how bad will it be?  And then what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben there, done that

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

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Kelowna West MLA-elect Ben Stewart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilkinson Win by the Numbers

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

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

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BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson (CBC.ca)

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

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

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

Table 1: Results by ballot (weighted)

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

Count 1

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

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

Table 2: Raw votes by Ballot

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

Table 3: Vote efficiency (1st count)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table 4: First count by region (weighted vote)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Count 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Count 4

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

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

Where would Stone’s points be allocated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Count 5

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

Overall, the answer was clear – overwhelmingly to Wilkinson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keys to Victory

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

  • Efficiency

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

  • Interior Base

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

  • deWilkinson deal

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

  • Wilkinson was a Stone’s throw to second

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

  • No Lee-way for Watts

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


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

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

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

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

Addenda

Update: February 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Update: February 8

Some more calculations to add to the mix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table 19: Candidate raw vote increase per ballot

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

Table 20: Candidate share of point increase per ballot

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

The Trudeau Liberals unwrap a new seat

Monday’s by-elections can be viewed as a win for the governing Liberals.  They held two seats and won a third from the Conservatives.  In answer to my November 20th post, the voters in South Surrey-White Rock gave like Santa to the Liberals and passed out votes like Scrooge to the Conservatives.

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That present is from South Surrey-White Rock

By-elections are a great opportunity to send a message.  If the government is screwing up, why not vote against them and shake it up?  Evidently, there’s not a lot of voter anger in South Surrey-White Rock.

In Monday’s by-elections, the only riding where the Liberal popular vote actually went up was South Surrey-White Rock, which was the only place the Conservative vote went down.

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Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives can take some consolation that they reduced the margin-of-victory in Scarborough-Agincourt from 13.9% to 8.9%, and they scraped themselves off the basement floor in Newfoundland, though they haven’t found the stairs yet.  In Saskatchewan, like Alberta, they ran up the score, which is nice, but not very meaningful.  As for the Liberals, I doubt they are too concerned about the ridings where they slipped.  In all three cases, the result looked inevitable, and tough to motivate voters in that case.

South Surrey-White Rock should sting a bit for the Conservatives.  This was a safe seat in 2011 and for decades before that.  In 2011, a backbench Conservative MP edged the Liberal 53% to 19%.  That’s a remarkable turnaround in six years.

The notion of a Liberal win was unthinkable in the summer of 2015.  Liberal strategists had a hard time believing the numbers they were seeing from that riding, against Dianne Watts no less.  They almost beat her despite sacking their candidate halfway through the campaign.  The Liberals had no history of winning there.  They couldn’t even win in Surrey during Trudeaumania I when they took two-thirds of the seats in BC – and the Liberal candidate was “nursery man” Bill Vander Zalm.  Trudeaumania plus the Zalm?  How could they lose?

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So, there has been a change in South Surrey-White Rock and it remains to be seen if it will be a sea change.   Liberals may have a bit of deja vu when it comes to winning federal by-elections in BC.  In 1998, a Reform MP resigned in Port Moody-Coquitlam and, very similar to South Surrey-White Rock, the Liberals ran a popular mayor, Lou Sekora, while the Reform Party ran a parachute candidate from Langley.  Sekora won in a riding the Liberals had not held in a long, long time.  In 2000, a young whippersnapper by the name of James Moore defeated Sekora and went on to hold the seat for 15 years.

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Lou Sekora: lost to a young whippersnapper

Let’s not forget about the NDP.  In Monday’s by-elections, their share of vote dropped in all four races.  While none of these seats were NDP targets, they certainly did not demonstrate any grassroots enthusiasm for the new NDP leader.

Congratulations to Gordie Hogg and the Liberals.  We’ll see if success in South Surrey-White Rock is fleeting or not.  Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives did not collapse, on the contrary, they made some incremental progress.  But where it mattered, they could not rally their base to withstand a vigorous effort by the Liberals.  Now that the government is in the back nine of its mandate and showing its resilience, Scheer will not be able to count on the government losing the election – he will have to try to find a way to win it.  A tall order for any Opposition.

Will voters be in a giving mood in South Surrey-White Rock by-election?

A federal by-election has been called for December 11th in South Surrey-White Rock, which will provide an interesting read of the political thermometer two years out from a general election.

Traditionally, this area has been inhospitable to Liberals.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time the South Surrey-White Rock area had a federal Liberal MP – not in my lifetime.  They took a pass on Trudeaumania (and candidate Bill Vander Zalm!) in 1968, electing an NDPer. At that time, Surrey and White Rock were encompassed in one riding – how times have changed.  Since 1974, the Conservatives have owned the riding.  Voters were Scrooge-like toward my old friend Reni Masi (later elected as MLA) who ran twice as a Grit in the area, but gave like Santa when it came to voting for Progressive Conservative Benno Friesen.

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On December 11th, will South Surrey-White Rock voters continue to be Scrooge-like toward the Liberals?  Or give like Santa?

Gordie Hogg tried in 1993, unsuccessfully, as a Chretien Liberal, losing to upstart Reformer Val Meredith.  MLA Wilf Hurd resigned his seat to try it on as a Fed Lib in 1997 and lost; Hogg then took Hurd’s seat in the Legislature and served for 20 years.

Will this time be different?  After a brief two-year stint in Ottawa, Conservative Dianne Watts resigned her seat to contest the BC Liberal leadership.  If successful in her quest, she will be on a very short list of people who have served as Mayor, MP, and MLA.  In the meantime, Gordie Hogg may do the same if elected on December 11th, becoming the first to do so since (I think) Gerry McGeer, the former mayor of Vancouver, who accomplished that feat, plus senator.

The Liberals are bullish and must be encouraged by not only Hogg’s candidacy, but a strong turnout for PM Justin Trudeau last week in White Rock.

Let’s take a look at 2011 and 2015 numbers for BC and  South Surrey-White Rock:

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The Conservatives hung on in 2015 – barely.  Despite Dianne Watts’ profile as longtime mayor of Surrey, the Conservative vote dropped from 52.9% to 44%.  Taking a closer look, however, it appears that Watts ran ahead of the curve, salvaging the seat.  In 2011, the Conservatives ran 1.16X the BC popular vote, whereas in 2015, they were 1.47X ahead.

The Liberals were shot out of a cannon in 2015 compared to 2011.  The Liberal vote in BC increased 2.63X, but in South Surrey-White Rock, the gain was only 2.18X.  Had the trend been replicated there, Judy Higginbotham would be the MP.  There are extenuating circumstances – Judy wasn’t supposed to be on the ballot.  The longtime Liberal warrior jumped in when the initial candidate was ejected mid-campaign for a since-forgotten gaffe.  Arguably, the Conservatives benefited from that bit of luck.  At the outset of the campaign, it must have looked like they would cruise to victory with Watts and, by the end, they were in an unexpected fight of their life.  It’s one of the few toe-holds they have left in Metro Vancouver.

With the Liberals leading the Conservatives by about five points in the BC popular vote in 2015 but losing this seat, it stands to reason that the Liberals need to be as popular relative to the Conservatives in BC now in order to win the by-election, and trust that Gordie Hogg’s profile in the area lifts them a few additional points over former MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay, who has parachuted in.

The NDP is not a factor here.  I’m sure that strategists at Big Orange are devising ways to drive up Justin’s negatives in the by-election to aid the election of a Conservative.

The latest public polls (caveat emptor) are contradictory regarding federal party standings in BC.   Angus Reid has a four-point CPC lead; Nanos has a six-point Liberal lead; and Abacus has an 11-point Liberal lead.

Then there is turnout.  The 2015 general election had a 75% turnout.  It was a high turnout election to begin with, but in South Surrey-White Rock, they have voting circled in their calendars – it’s an event.   I would expect a drop in turnout like any by-election but not as steep a drop as other places.  Older people will disproportionately vote in a by-election compared to a general election (I have no data at my fingertips to back up this claim, but I think it’s true).  That should give the Conservatives a bit of help.

The Upshot:

The Conservatives had a stronger candidate in 2015 relative to 2011, and the Liberals had candidate trouble.  The Conservatives over-performed; Liberals under-performed.

The Liberals have recruited a strong candidate in 2017; the Conservatives have a good candidate but she is not personally well-known in the riding.  Advantage: Liberals.

The atmosphere in BC is the wildcard.  The Conservatives have a new leader in Andrew Scheer – are they better or worse off than 2015?  Likely worse off as Scheer is not very well-known or defined.  CPC has to make the by-election ballot question about the Liberals and Trudeau, not about local representation.

To that end, just how damaging are the Morneau-small business tax changes?  This riding should feel this issue more than most – it’s full of upper income, white collar professionals with a small ‘c’ conservative tilt.  Many of the people who voted Liberal last time in South Surrey-White Rock are the type of voters that Scheer needs to attract.  If anything, this by-election is a litmus test as to whether that issue – which dominated federal political headlines in August-September, has any teeth at the ballot box.

In three weeks, we’ll know if the voters are feeling like Santa or Scrooge when it comes to the mid-term government.  For the Liberals, this is a seat they never win so they have little to lose so long as they manage expectations.   For the Conservatives, it will be tough loss for a new leader, on the heels of losing a Quebec seat to the Liberals recently, though also an opportunity for momentum for a new leader trying to get established.  Right now, the Conservatives look like they have their work cut out for them.

 

 

 

 

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.