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Thursday, April 26, 2012

BC Liberals losing voters to both NDP and Conservatives

It was September of 2011 that I wrote how the rise of the BC Conservatives made the election of the NDP almost certain in 2013. However the two recent provincial by-elections in Port Moody-Coquitlam and Chilliwack-Hope show that the BC Liberals are losing support to both the BC NDP and the BC Conservatives.

Much attention has been focused on Chilliwack Hope where the combined vote of the Liberals and Conservatives was greater than that of the NDP. But what some pundits are missing is the fact that between the 2009 general election and 2012 by election the percentage of people willing to vote Liberal in that riding plummeted from 53.28% to only 31.39% The BC Conservatives meanwhile increased their share of the vote from 7.10% to 25.32%

The fact the BC Liberals are losing voters both left and right is clearly made by the results in Port Moody Coquitlam. In 2009 the BC Liberals took 52.15% of the vote while in 2012 only 30.24% Meanwhile the BC NDP went from 39.8% in 2009 to 54.36% in 2012. In other words the NDP would have won this by-election regardless of whether or not the Conservatives had fielded a candidate. The BC Conservatives increased their vote from 6.59% to 15.40% showing most lost Liberal votes went NDP and not Conservative.

Besides lack of volunteers and money another thing that may have hurt the BC Conservatives in the Port Moody by-election was the name of their candidate Christine Clark. Christine is no relation to Premier Christy Clark but from 1996 to 2005 Christy was the MLA for Port Moody.

I have known both Premier Christy Clark and opposition leader Adrian Dix since we were all 18 and young politicos active in student politics. The two leaders’ styles could not be more different. Dix is a policy wonk who despite growing up in Point Grey became enamored of the NDP and worked first for Ian Waddell when he was an MP and then a young political upstart named Glen Clark; serving first as his Ministerial Assistant and the Political Chief of Staff during Glen Clark’s term as Premier.

Christy Clark is a campaigner who has always worn her political ambition on her sleeve. She grew up in a staunch Liberal household and when Gordon Wilson resurrected the BC Liberals Christy was quickly on board as a lowly research officer. She then went on in 1996 to become an opposition MLA and then from 2001 to 2005 she served in various cabinet portfolios\ including as Minister of Education.

Where Dix was loyal to a fault as Glen Clark’s political right hand man, even going so far as to forge a memo to file to help protect his boss; Christy chaffed under the leadership of BC Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell.

Christy eventually quit the BC Legislature for a failed bid to become Mayor of Vancouver and then landed on her feet as a talk show host at CKNW. Campbell after providing solid economic leadership to the province, for the better part of a decade, became tainted by the BC Rail scandal. He was finally done in by his own hubris when right after the 2009 election he imposed an HST without any consultation with the people of BC.

The fatal mistake Campbell made was in forgetting that BC had recall and referendum legislation that allowed the voters to force a referendum on the issue. So in the political backlash that ensued both Campbell and the HST were doomed.

Cue the return of Christy. She was very much an outsider who had the support of only one sitting MLA (Harry Bloy) when she was elected leader of the BC Liberals and thus Premier of BC. She even ran in Vancouver Point Grey (Campbell’s old riding) in securing her return to the BC legislature.

She was confident that her new style and new team would help BC Liberal fortunes rebound. The problem was that in restructuring her government’s political staff she made the mistake of booting out too many long time federal Conservatives and replacing them with too many federal Liberals. It was after this that the coalition began to fray in earnest.

The other mistake Christy made was in spending too much time on photo ops and media announcements and not enough time on solid governance issues. Her plan was to swoop in as the new leader of the party, quickly call a provincial general election and win a solid mandate from the people. The problem was her popularity after a brief blip upwards began to fall to the point where both the NDP and the upstart BC Conservatives are attracting voters at the expense of the BC Liberals.

Unless things change dramatically, May 2013 will see the election of a BC NDP government with the BC Liberals as the official opposition and the BC Conservatives as the loyal opposition (i.e. third place). As government the NDP will have to demonstrate that they have finally learned from past mistakes if they hope to avoid being more than another one term wonder. Significant tax increases and government regulations will merely cause moderate voters to abandon them and accelerate the rebuilding of the right wing coalition. That coalition will not be rebuilt under the name BC Liberal. Instead they will use the name BC Conservative or even an entirely new name.

It is for that reason that BC Conservative leader John Cummins is very much hoping that his party can surpass the BC Liberals in 2013 and become the official opposition. If that happens then he knows we will more than likely see the election in 2017 of the first BC Conservative majority government since 1928.


Michael Geoghegan is a government relations consultant based in Victoria, BC you can follow me on twitter @BCLobbyist

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