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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Close results prove that in BC politics every vote counts!

At a time of steadily declining voter participation where now even the most innocuous comments by politicians and their staff gets vilified by reporters, (public eye online) is it any wonder that the majority of British Columbians are now completely disengaged from the political process?

But as fewer and fewer people vote , those that do are finding their vote counts more than ever. Just take the recent election here in British Columbia. Not one but two results have been overturned by careful recounts by Elections BC. And it is even more significant that the margins of victory were very, very small indeed.

The most high profile result is that Independent Vicki Huntington has defeated Liberal and BC’s current Attorney General by 32 votes. On election night he was leading by only three votes. The matter could very well go to a judicial recount but it looks like for now that Vicki Huntington is the first Independent to be elected an MLA here in BC since the 1940s.

As I referenced in my previous column, (Check here) Huntington’s election is a clear demonstration that voters want MLAs who are able to represent the concerns of their constituents rather than just that of the Premier’s Office. Most interesting of all, for me at least, is the fact that both the Green and even most of the NDP vote collapsed in Delta South and went over to Huntington. This shows me that many Green and NDP voters are not actually that enamoured with either party but are looking for something that allows them to voice their concerns to Victoria.

In the recounts there was also a bit of good news for Premier Gordon Campbell. In its official recount Elections BC stated that BC Liberal Donna Barnett had defeated incumbent BC NDP MLA Charlie Wyse in Cariboo-Chilcotin by 88 votes. Wyse had just squeeked in the previous election and had led on election night. He has now graciously conceded defeat to Barnett who will now be joining her Liberal colleagues for a swearing in ceremony on June 8th.

Even in cases where elections weren’t overturned there were many ridings where candidates won or lost by only about 500 votes. Here in Victoria, where I live, Liberal cabinet ministers Murray Coell (Saanich North) and Ida Chong (Oak Bay Gordon Head) hung with only about 500 votes. I had met with Ida Chong during the election campaign and she was extremely worried that supporters in her constituency were taking her re-election for granted. It turns out she was right.

I think the close results were both a bit of a shock and a wakeup call to Murray Coell. He is no longer the MLA of a safe riding but a swing riding and thus will have to put considerably more efforts into securing the support of his constituents if he wants to be re-elected in 2013.

On the other hand was the result in Saanich South where former television and radio personality Robin Adair came within 500 votes of taking Saanich South for the Liberals. It was a tough loss for Mr. Adair but he did reduce the NDP’s margin of victory in half from the previous provincial election.

Both on a provincial basis and on a constituency basis the challenge is clear to somehow reengage the voters. To do that MLAs have to be allowed to do their jobs. For that to be accomplished the Premier’s Office is going to have to relinquish some power and control. The media is also going to have to stop reporting on minutiae and politicians themselves and are going to have to learn to say enough is enough when it comes to the petty condemnation that comes with every minor indiscretion and miscue.

This column has also been posted on Vancouverite and the Western Standard's Shotgun blog.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who can be reached via his website at www.bclobbyist.com or on twitter at bclobbyist

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