Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Westside-Kelowna by-election today

Back in May, British Columbians shocked the political world by re-electing the right of centre BC Liberal Party after every poll predicted the N.D.P. would be victorious. This surprise election win, much akin to last year’s Alberta election has cast doubt in the methodology of pollsters- but could also be attributed to a large number of undecideds sticking with the “devil they know” at the last minute. Either way, the Liberals won, and with three more seats than they had won in the previous 2009 election. But one of the seats they did not win- was Liberal leader (and Premier) Christy Clark’s riding of Vancouver-Point Grey. In fact, the City of Vancouver one of the few parts of the province that swung towards the NDP, and Vancouver-Point Grey saw the biggest swing (7.25%) to the NDP out of any riding in the province.

Province wide swing map (2009-2013)

This loss in Vancouver-Point Grey meant that while Christy Clark’s party had won the election, and she would remain Premier, she was left without a seat in the legislature. Canadian Parliamentary tradition dictates that a member of her caucus in a safe seat must step down as soon as possible to allow a by-election to occur, so that the leader can win and then take his or her seat in the Assembly. For the record, I believe the last time this has happened in Canadian history is when former Alberta Premier Don Getty lost his Edmonton seat in the 1989 provincial election, forcing him to run in a by-election in a safe seat 2 months later.

And so the search began for Clark to find a suitable riding to run in. Her choice was Westside-Kelowna, a riding which had been won by Ben Stewart with 58% of the vote on the May 14 election. This was the sixth best riding for the Liberals in the election, only West Vancouver-Capilano (67%), Vancouver-Quilchena (64%), Kootenay East (63%), Surrey-Cloverdale (59%) and Peace River North (59%) were better for the Liberals.

The riding has voted for right-of-centre parties for much of its history. Following is a list of MLAs for the area since BC joined confederation. The area was represented by three members from 1871 to 1894 and by two members from 1986 to 1991.

Rbt. Smith, Independent (1871-1878)
Jas. Robinson, Independent (1871-1875)
C.A. Semlin, Independent (1871-1875)
F.G. Vernon, Reform caucus (1875-1878), Government (1878-1882)
J.A. Mara, Reform caucus (1875-1878), Government (1878-1886)
Preston Bennett, Government (1878-1882)
C.A. Semlin, Independent (1882-1886), Opposition (1886-1894) 2nd time
G.B. Martin, Opposition (1882-1886), Government (1886-1894)
F.G. Vernon, Government (1886-1894) 2nd time
Donald Graham, Opposition (1894-1898)
Price Ellison, Government (1898-1903), Conservative (1903-1916)
J.W. Jones, Conservative (1916-1933)
J.A. Harris, Liberal (1933-1937)
C.R. Bull, Liberal (1937-1941)
W.A.C. Bennett, Conservative (1941-1945), Coalition (1945-1952), Social Credit (1952-1975)
W.R. Bennett, Social Credit (1975-1986)
L. Chalmers, Social Credit (1986-1991)
C.J. Serwa, Social Credit (1986-1996)
Mrs. S.K. Hawkins, Liberal (1996-2001)
R. Thorpe, Liberal (2001-2009)
B.R. Stewart, Liberal (2009-2013)

Location of the riding

Westside-Kelowna consists of 2 parts, divided by Lake Okanagan. Over 2/3 of the population of the riding lives on the west side of Lake Okanagan, in an area collectively known as “Westside”. On the west side of Lake Oakanagan, the riding runs from the edge of the Okanagan Indian reserve in the north to the community of Gellatly in the south. Most of the people in the riding of the west side of Lake Okanagan live in the new District of West Kelowna, which was incorporated in 2007. This is a fast growing suburb of Kelowna. The Westside also includes the Westbank First Nation, which is actually home to more White people than Aboriginals.  On the other side of Lake Okangan, the riding makes a small abut into the central part of the City of Kelowna. Less than 1/3 of the riding’s population lives in Kelowna. The two parts of the riding are connected by the William R. Bennett Bridge.

Political geography

Westside-Kelowna 2013 poll map

Politically, both parts of the riding are very Liberal. However, the west side of the riding is much more so than the central Kelowna portion. In May, the NDP won just 5 polls on the west side of Lake Okanagan, 4 of which were in the Westbank neighbourhood of West Kelowna. The Liberals saw their strongest areas along the coast of Lake Okanagan in West Kelowna as well as the area around Shannon Lake. The NDP does much better in the Kelowna portion of the riding. They won 14 polls there in the last election, three of which in the North End, and four in the Central City. Much like on the west side of Lake Okanagan, Liberal support in Kelowna is strongest in polls along the lake.

Westside-Kelowna % swing by poll (2009-2013)

In an attempt to get some sort of idea as to what kinds of areas swung NDP and which areas swung Liberal between the 2009 and 2013 elections, I also created a swing map of the riding. However, after making the map, I can’t see much in terms of patterns. There are some areas that swung heavily Liberal which are right next to areas that swung heavily to the NDP. In general however, the area is slowly swinging to the Liberals. Between 2005 and 2009, the riding saw a 1.2% swing to the Liberals. Between 2009 and 2013, it saw a further 4.4% swing. The Westside has always been a Liberal stronghold, but the Liberals have seen increasing numbers there. In Kelowna, the swing has been more pronounced. In the Kelowna portion of the riding, the NDP won 16 polls in 2005, 15 in 2009 and 14 in 2013. A slow, steady decline, while the rest of Kelowna has seen the Liberals ever increasing their vote.

(JP Kirby has poll maps for all three elections here:


And so, voters in the riding go to the polls today to in the very least replace Ben Stewart. In all likelihood, Premier Clark will win the riding to get her seat in the Assembly. The only thing in that may stop her is the fact that she has no ties in the riding, as she hails from the Lower Mainland, not the Interior- and there may be local anger over losing their local MLA in Stewart. But, voting for any of the other parties wont get him back. It has been the tradition in by-elections for major parties to not compete in by-elections against the leader of another party. However, the NDP has never followed that tradition, and thus will be running a candidate against Clark. They will be running Carole Gordon, a teacher who actually lives in the area. The Conservatives, which won no seats in May are also competing in the riding, hoping to take disgruntled right-of-centre voters away from the Liberals- perhaps in one last bid for legitimacy. They are running local realtor Sean Upshaw. The Greens are notably not running in the by-election, the only party to “respect” the tradition of not running against the leader of another party in a by-election. In addition, there are four independent candidates, and one representing the fringe Vision party. Polls close tonight at 8pm Pacific (11 Eastern).

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