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.

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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.

Tonight’s by-elections will be indicator of Trudeau government’s resilience

There have been seven by-elections in Canada in 2017 so far, with four more to come today (December 11th), including a hotly contested race in South Surrey-White Rock.

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Will Justin Trudeau and Gordie Hogg be cheering tonight?

Are there any trends?  Any signs that may predict outcomes tonight?

First, you have to look at Alberta separately.  Three Conservative titans resigned their seats – Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Hon. Jason Kenney, and Hon. Rona Ambrose.  One might think the loss of those candidates would depress results in a subsequent election.  Wrong. The Conservatives scored over 70% in each seat, surpassing already strong 2015 numbers.

Conservative vote in Alberta byelections
2015 2017 DIFF
Calgary-Midnapore 66.7% 77.2% 1.16
Calgary-Heritage 63.8% 71.5% 1.12
Sturgeon River-Parkland 70.2% 77.4% 1.10

Moving on to Quebec where there have been two by-elections, it’s a very different story.  The Liberal Party held most of its vote in St. Laurent (Stephane Dion’s seat), and in October, doubled its vote in Lac St. Jean to take a Conservative seat held by Denis Lebel.  Unlike Alberta where support for the Blues was amped up, les bleus went the other way in Lac St. Jean, dropping from 33.3% to 25.0%.  Les oranges dropped in Lac St. Jean from 28.5% and second place to 11.7% and fourth.

Liberal vote in Quebec byelections
2015 2017 DIFF
St. Laurent 61.6% 59.1% 0.96
Lac St. Jean 18.4% 38.6% 2.10

Finally, there were two by-elections in Ontario in 2017.  In both cases, the Liberals only retained about 90% of their 2015 vote, but nevertheless held a majority.

Liberal vote in Ontario byelections
 2015  2017  DIFF
Ottawa Vanier 57.6% 51.3% 0.89
Markham-Thornhill 55.7% 51.4% 0.92

Overall, it’s a pretty good result for the governing Liberals thus far.  Holding on to their own seats while taking one in Quebec from the Conservatives.  Running up the scoreboard in Alberta does little for the Conservatives.  Their numbers in the 2015 election were already through the roof – the Harper Conservatives had 375,000 more votes than the provincial PCs and Wildrose combined.  The Conservatives are in danger of becoming ‘Alberta Island’ if its numbers drop in the rest of Canada but increase in Alberta.

Here are the 2015 election results for the four by-elections:

2015 results LIB CPC NDP
Bonavista-Burin-Trinity 81.8% 10.1% 7.3%
Scarborough-Agincourt 51.9% 38.0% 7.9%
Battlefords-Lloydminster 16.5% 61.0% 17.6%
South Surrey-White Rock 41.5% 44.0% 10.4%

Bonavista and Battlefords both appear very comfortable for the Liberals and Conservatives respectively.  It will be interesting to see if Battlefords-Lloydminster follows a similar pattern as the Alberta by-elections.

Scarborough-Agincourt is tighter and will be the first real test of Jagmeet Singh and whether he has any game in the Toronto outskirts.  You would think the NDP could do better than 7.9%.  That could help Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, and a win there would be huge, but they are certainly downplaying expectations.

I looked at South Surrey-White Rock in detail a few weeks ago.  A strong candidate for the Liberals and lesser-known candidate for the Conservatives is the reverse scenario compared to the 2015 election.  With a thin margin, the Liberals could prevail this time on the candidate match-up alone – everything being equal.  Two years into a mandate, you would think this would be a vulnerable time for any government.  Given the prolonged controversy over small business taxation in the summer and early fall, one might also think that that issue would hurt the Liberals in the upper-income, professional enclave of South Surrey-White Rock.  We won’t know until the polls close if it did – and if Hogg does win, one can ask, “What was that all about?” – a big national issue that had no teeth.

I was surprised that the Conservatives reached back to 1993 to attack Hogg on an issue that had been dealt with conclusively in his provincial by-election win in 1997, when his main opponent was a BC Reform candidate.  That appeared to be the move of a campaign running out of steam.

A Liberal win tonight in BC – and in Scarborough – will be an impressive show of strength by a mid-term government.  Not a guarantee of future success, but a sign of resilience, and an indicator of the magnitude of the challenge facing Andrew Scheer.  His pathway to winning the next election will be made more difficult not by the actual reality of a by-election loss, but by the perception of that loss among his own supporters (I’ve been there).  He’s going to have to demonstrate how he can build his party’s market share beyond Alberta and its diminishing strongholds across the country.  But hey, low expectations can be very beneficial (I’ve been there too).

Jagmeet Singh will also take away some lessons tonight.  He hasn’t been on the job long, but he did enjoy considerable positive publicity in the lead up to his election.  Can he translate that into votes?  You would think the NDP should get a little bump with Singh in place.

Tonight’s results will be another marker on the road to 2019 and, so far, the electoral road has looked fairly smooth for the Trudeau Liberals.

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.

 

 

 

 

Interpretations of the Calgary-Greenway By-election

Yesterday’s provincial by-election in Calgary-Greenway has contradictory interpretations.

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Interpretation of Calgary-Greenway is not straight-forward

It was a four-way race ranging from 27.7% for the winning PC candidate to 20.2% for the fourth-place NDP.  It’s rare to see four candidates place above 20%.  I could not find one such example in the 2015 federal election, unless you count Nanaimo-Ladysmith where the four-way race had the 4th place Greens at 19.7%.

In Calgary-Greenway, when only 7.5% separates 1st and 4th, it’s hard to see it as Earth-shaking.  Nevertheless, the PCs won and a win is a win.  Therefore, interpretation #1 is that the PCs are alive, that they must still be reckoned with, and the NDP’s relegation to fourth is a sign of their demise.

Interpretation #2 is that the Centre-Left (NDP/Liberal) has made major gains in this riding since 2012 and further reduced the PC-Wildrose combined vote from 2015.  In 2012, the NDP-Liberal vote in this riding was a combined 15.5%; in yesterday’s by-election it was 42.8%.  It rose from 36.2% in 2015 and given that that was solely the NDP vote, one can see how the NDP benefit from no Liberal in the race.

Table 1: Popular vote of parties in 2012 General Election (GE), 2015 GE, and 2016 by-electionScreen Shot 2016-03-23 at 10.42.06 AM.png

As Table 1 shows, the NDP was actually five times higher than its 2012 vote and the Liberals have doubled from 2012.  There is a lot of talk about PC-Wildrose cooperation, but the centre-left should probably be viewed in the same way.  Not that there is an imminent merger, but there is a competition for like-minded voters.  The Liberals bothered to show up to the by-election after missing the 2015 GE and their impact was significant.  That may be in part a result of local candidate influence, but I’m not sure how many saw the Liberals competing to win the seat.

Table 2: Raw vote of parties in 2012 GE, 2015 GE, and 2016 by-electionScreen Shot 2016-03-23 at 10.42.15 AM.png

The 2012 GE and 2016 by-election are interesting comparisons because the overall number of voters is very similar.  It shows the overall reduction in votes for the PCs and Wildrose (centre-right) and the significant increase for the NDP and Liberals (centre-left).  Let me nail this point a little harder in Chart 1 below:

Chart 1: Combined popular vote of PC-WRP (blue) and NDP-Lib (red)Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 11.02.12 AM.png

Unlike the recent BC by-elections in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain and Vancouver-Mt. Pleasant, turnout in Calgary-Greenway as a percentage of the previous election was relatively high, and as noted, about the same as the 2012 GE.  The by-election turnout was about two-thirds of the 2015 GE turnout while the BC by-elections were about 40% of the previous GE.  That indicates a higher interest and engagement in the outcome and its possible impact on the next election.

If I was a PC or Wildrose strategist, I would interpret this result with some nervousness.  The pool of centre-left voters in this by-election was almost evenly split.  The voter pool that existed in 2015 massively went toward Rachel Notley’s NDP.  This is basically the Justin Trudeau/federal NDP vote bloc.  The Stephen Harper vote bloc was much larger provincially, but is also split.  A consolidated centre-left offering (whereas those voters group behind one strong alternative) appears still able to defeat a split PC/Wildrose offering.

In reality, it is more complicated than described above.  Voters move around between parties with more fluidity – a Liberal may never consider NDP and a PC may never consider voting Wildrose, and vice versa.  But the by-election does show that the situation has become more, not less murkier as a result of Tuesday’s outcome.  It’s too early, much too early, to write off the Alberta NDP.

Finally, it must be noted that – probably for the first time in Canada – there was a competitive four-way race between four South Asian candidates.  This may well have created a dynamic that disrupted prevailing provincial political currents.  I’m not close to the ground so I defer to others and invite comments.  Regardless, the fact remains that the market share for the Centre-Left in this riding has increased sharply since 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.