BC election 2013

British Columbia’s general election is today.

All indications are that the NDP will defeat the incumbent Liberals, in power since 2001, by a wide margin, although the race has tightened during the campaign. BC’s First Past the Post electoral system has a history of periodically producing anomalous results, but a near-total wipeout of the losing party no longer seems as likely as it did when the election was called. The last time the NDP won a BC provincial election was in 1996, when it was the beneficiary of a plurality reversal: it lost the vote to the Liberals, 39.4%-41.8%, but won the seats, 39-33. The only other time the NDP won an election was 1991, when their 41%-33% vote lead translated into a whopping 51-17 lead in seats. Today’s result could be similar.

The Greens, who won their first seat in federal politics in a BC riding (district) in 2011, have some shot at picking up their first provincial seat. The Green Party has won as much as 12.4% of the vote in a provincial election; that was 2001, when the Liberals defeated the NDP in a landslide. In 2005 and 2009, the party’s votes declined to 9.2% and then 8.1%.

As the election has tightened, the Greens’ odds of winning a seat may have declined. The BC Greens leader says her party has a chance at 4-5 seats on southern Vancouver Island, and that she will resign if she does not win her own seat. She is running against an NDP incumbent; given the strong NDP winds blowing this year, her odds would seem not so good.

The Liberal Party ran an ad in the Victoria Times-Colonist that has created some controversy. It praises the Greens for their environmental leadership, apparently hoping that a strong Green vote in the region will allow the Liberals to win some three-way races. NDP leader, Adrian Dix, responded to the ad by saying:

They will say anything, they will do anything. What the Liberals are saying is our path to get to power is for you to vote Green. I say the way to change the government, to get a new and better government, is to vote NDP.

The Green candidate in the Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding also had an interesting response to the ad, saying that if his campaign could afford a full-page ad, it would say the same thing about their environmental leadership and the NDP’s “flip-flopping”. Moreover,

What it would acknowledge is Ida [Chong, the Liberal incumbent] is certainly not in the lead … she’s not even second in this riding.

That’s a great example of the expectations game in FPTP elections: if you can convince voters that a given candidate is in third place, you might be able to promote strategic defection your way. The district in question was won by the Liberal with a margin of only a few hundred votes in 2009, without the presence of a strong Green challenge.

The other small party to watch is the Conservatives, who long have been scarcely a factor in the province’s politics. The last time the party placed as high as third was in 1979, with 5.1%. The now defunct Reform Party, which was a Western splinter from the Conservatives that later re-merged with it, was third with 9.2% in 1996. ((And probably a factor in the plurality reversal that year, though I have never looked at riding-level results to see to what extent.))

The BC Conservatives could have a chance at a seat this time. As the Tri-City News notes about the contest in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain :

If there is one thing Shane Kennedy is hoping voters remember when they head to the polls next week, it’s this: they needn’t cast a ballot for the NDP to get rid of the Liberals.

A bit deeper into the story is this interesting policy note:

He agrees with the Liberal’s stance on bringing the Northern Gateway pipeline to B.C. but said the money it generates for the province should be used to fund green industry.

Kennedy is also quoted as advocating more bus service for the area, so we have both local and provincewide–and not necessarily obviously “conservative”–positions being advocated in attempt to secure the seat.

Nonetheless, as with the Greens, the overall tightening of the race probably works against any BC Conservative candidate.

Good headline: “BC Conservatives woo voters with liquor.”

16 thoughts on “BC election 2013

  1. You write that the NDP only won elections in 1991 and 1996, but they also won in 1972. Dave Barrett’s government was short-lived (an early election was called in 1975 and the NDP lost) but it was extraordinarily productive and many of the reforms and programs introduced on Barrett’s watch are still with us. This period was the subject of a recent award-winning book, “The Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in Power, 1972-1975” by Geoff Meggs and Rod Mickleburgh.

  2. BC: where a 39% sub-plurality is enough to elect a government for five years (absolute majority of seats, no upper house) but a 57% super-majority isn’t enough to change the voting system.

    Almost as much unrestrained glee here as watching the British Tories squirm as UKIP splits the right-wing vote across the south of England.

  3. Well that was surprising! Once again, the polls in a Canadian election were off, and the incumbents do much better than expected.

  4. The Green Party won the Oak Bay-Gordon Head seat, with 40.1%. It was not close, with incumbent Liberal Ida Chong having only 29.7% and the NDP candidate at 28.3%.

    In Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, the Conservative candidate’s efforts to paint himself as a viable non-Liberal alternative to the NDP failed miserably. The results were: Lib 50.7, NDP 36.7, Green 5.8, Conservative 5.4.

    Province-wide, it was another miserable election for the Conservative Party, which won 4.8%. Liberals won 44.4%, NDP 39.5%, Green 8.0%.

    The Conservatives came in second in only one riding, Peace River South in the interior of the province. And it was not close (Lib 46.4, Cons 27.3, NDP 21.2). The Greens had a second place finish in Victoria-Beacon Hill, the riding their leader, Jane Sterk, contested, but it was not a close race (NDP 48.7, Green 33.7, Lib 17.1). In Saanich North and the Islands, the same area in which the Greens have their one federal MP, the NDP candidate won a genuine three-way race, but the Green candidate was third; the top three candidates’ vote percentages were 33.19-33.01-31.86.

    (Results via the Vancouver Sun)

  5. I am struck by the degree of malapportionment in BC. For instance, the Peace River South winner’s 46.4% was only 3,904 votes, whereas the difference between first and third in Saanich North was over 4,000 votes!

  6. Its been explained to me that BC politics seems complicated, but is actually pretty simple: everyone gangs up against the NDP, but the particular vehicle used tends to change, and a few NDP provincial governments have slipped in through the cracks when the main anti-NDP vehicle has been changed out.

    It will be interesting to see if federal politics follow the same pattern, now that the NDP got into second place. I think it will for at least a few elections.

  7. The federal Liberal party hate the Conservatives more than they hate the NDP. They think Trudeau fil will get them a majority government, and they could be right (though Harper and Mulcair will run rings around him in debates), but their members aren’t going to stand for vote splitting on the center and left for much longer. If Justin doesn’t deliver, I’d expect a NDP-Liberal Alliance to be on the mouths of every member of the party by the next morning.

    However, that’s all irrelevant to the BC Liberals, who aren’t affiliated with the federal party and who have more in common with Harper’s Conservatives. They wiped out the Socreds in the late 80s and early.90s to become the right wing party by Duverger’s law.

  8. Right. I missed 1972, when the NDP won more than two thirds of the seats on just 39.6% of the votes.

    So that makes three elections in which the NDP has won a parliamentary majority, never with more than 41% of the vote and once with the second highest percentage. That’s quite a record: infrequent beneficiary of FPTP, but quite a beneficiary when it happens!

    This time they were projected to win a much larger plurality of the vote, but lost despite a vote percentage about on par with what was sufficient to win those three previous times. In fact that’s now three straight elections in which a vote percentage in the 39-42 range has not been good enough. BC politics seems to have changed to a significant degree since the Liberals consolidated the right-wing vote in the 1990s.

  9. The provincial NDP in BC seems to be consistent in polling in the high 30s or low 40s, so can be kept out indefinitely as long as everyone else is willing to get behind one other party or coalition.

    And this situation isn’t really that unusual, there have been other party systems where the main opposition party was kept out of office for decades with voters backing one other center-right party or a coalition of parties. At the national level, Italy (PCI), Japan (JSP), and Mexico (first PAN on the right and then the PRD on the left) come to mind, also the SPD in pre-WWI Germany. In the UK, there were attempts in the first half of the century to unite the Conservatives and the Liberals and build a similar anti-Labour coalition. The only unique thing about BC is that this persists after experiencing a few NDP governments, formed when the right was split, that really haven’t been so bad.

  10. It wouldn’t be unprecedented to see a name change away from a federally.affiliated name. The Yukon PC Party changed its name to the Yukon Party in 1991 to avoid association with Brian Mulroney. And

  11. And while I’m not sure, the Saskatchewan Party may have had ‘unite the right’ ideas in it’s establishment (this being the era of the Reform-PC battle, with Reform dominating on the Prairies). While technically a new party, for all intents and purposes the SK Party is just the PC Party renamed, with some former members if the Liberals right flank. Whether Reform’s dominance had a part in the change, I don’t know.

  12. Yes, the Saskatchewan Party is a merger of the provincial Liberals and Conservatives. I saw one editorial on the BC Liberals possible name-change process that urged them not to follow this sort of precedent and call themselves the BC Party. I would tend to agree.

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