Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Provincial by-elections in BC

Moving away from the Alberta elections for a moment, I am obliged to make a post about two provincial by-elections being held tomorrow in British Columbia. Two ridings, Chilliwack-Hope and Port Moody-Coquitlam were vacated last year, and they will finally be filled tomorrow.

Like Alberta, the province of British Columbia is undergoing a political transformation. The governing right wing provincial Liberal Party's grand coalition of social and economic conservatives and urban moderates is beginning to crumble. Former Premier Gordon Campbell resigned last year as one of the least popular Premiers in the country. He was replaced by Christy Clark, who represents the urban moderate wing of the party. Immediately after becoming the new premier, Clark had to face the infamous HST referendum last summer, which called for the abolishment of the unpopular tax reform brought in by the Campbell government. Much to her chagrin, the referendum passed, indicating the level of unpopularity now facing the governing party.

British Columbia has long had a two party system, with the left wing NDP competing against a party opposing it. That party is currently the Liberals, but as mentioned, that coalition is crumbling under the weight of the BC Conservative Party. Long in the wilderness, the Conservatives have been buoyed by the election of former MP John Cummins as their new leader. This has made the party a legitimate option for conservatives in the province who are dissatisfied with the governing Liberal Party. Recent polls have shown the Liberals and Conservatives about even in support, in the low 20s, well behind the NDP which is polling in the mid 40s, only slightly higher than in the last election. But with a divided right, the NDP looks destined for a large majority.

Anyways, this leads us to the by-elections tomorrow. Both ridings were won in the last election by the Liberal Party. With the Liberals now polling as low as they are, it is quite possible that they could lose both seats.

Chilliwack-Hope poll map from 2009

Chilliwack-Hope is located in the western Fraser Valley region of BC. It consists of the southern and eastern parts of the City of Chilliwack, as well the communities of Kent, Hope and Harrison Hot Springs.

Chilliwack-Hope is a fairly conservative riding. It has never elected an NDPer to either the British Columbia Legislative Assembly or to the federal House of Commons. Having said that, the NDP does have some pockets of strength in the riding. The NDP is particularly strong in the north half of the riding, where they won all but three polls in the last election. However, the north half of the riding is sparsely populated, and its only major population centre is the town of Hope. The southern half of the riding is very strong for the BC Liberals. In the last provincial election, all but 3 polls there went to the Liberals. Federally this division also exists, just replace the Liberals with the Conservatives.
Location of Chilliwack-Hope

MLAs since 1894:
T.E. Kitchen, Opp. (1894-1898)
C.W. Munro, Prog./Liberal (1898-1909)
S.A. Cawley, Cons. (1909-1916)
E.D. Barrow, Liberal (1916-1928)
Wm. Atkinson, Cons. (1928-1933)
E.D. Barrow, Liberal (1933-1937) 2nd time
L.H. Eyres, Cons./Coalition (1937-1952)
W.K. Kiernan, Soc. Cred. (1952-1972)
H.W. Schroeder, Soc. Cred. (1972-1986)
Jn. Jansen, Soc. Cred. (1986-1991)
Rbt. Chisholm, Liberal (1991-1996)
Barry Penner, Liberal (1996-2011)

Many are suggesting that thanks to vote splitting, the NDP could win this riding for the first time in its history The party received 33% of the vote here in the last election. The Liberals won the riding with 53% of the vote. The Conservatives were third with 7%. The NDP is running Gwen O'Mahony, a health advocate. The Liberals are running Laurie Throness, a former political staffer for former MP Chuck Strahl. The Conservatives are running John Martin, a criminologist.

I have no idea who is going to win, but I think it does look good for the NDP. They have a base of about 1/3 of the vote here, and will probably get a bit more than that. If you take into consideration recent polls, where the Liberals are down over 20 points from the last election, while the Conservatives are up by the same amount, it means those two parties should indeed split evenly in this particular riding, at about 30% each, giving the NDP the win. However, I don't think that will happen. The riding is less supportive of the type of populism that is espoused by the BC Conservatives. We saw this last year when the riding rejected the HST abolishment referendum. So, my gut feeling is the Liberals will edge out the NDP by a narrow margin, perhaps around 38-36. This leaves the Conservatives with the bulk of the rest, around 26%.

Chilliwack Hope candidates

Port Moody-Coquitlam

Port Moody-Coquitlam poll map from 2009.
Port Moody-Coquitlam is located in BC's lower mainland. It consists of the City of Port Moody, as well as the villages of Belcarra and Anmore, and the northwestern corner of the City of Coquitlam.

This riding is more of a bellwether riding, having supported the NDP in the past. The Liberals however have held it since 1996. Federally, the riding spans two ridings, Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam and New Westminster—Coquitlam. Two ridings are divided by the Burrard Inlet. Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam is held by the Conservatives, and New Westminster—Coquitlam is held by the NDP. The Burrard Inlet also divides the riding politically. The north side supports the Liberals, while the south side supports the NDP. There are less people living on the north side however, but the Liberals do so strong there that they are able to win the riding by getting over 70% of the vote in many polls. The NDP were only able to win one poll in this area, and tied another. South of the Inlet, the two parties are more even. The same patterns exist on the federal level, and are reinforced by having opposing members of Parliament. The Tories nearly swept the area north of the Burrard Inlet, while the two parties are more competitive on the south.

Location of Port Moody-Coquitlam in the Greater Vancouver Area.
MLAs since 1966:
David Barrett, CCF/NDP (1966-1975)
G.H. Kerster, Soc. Cred. (1975-1979)
S.M. Leggatt, NDP (1979-1983)
M.W. Rose, NDP (1983-1991)
Ms. Barbara Copping, NDP (1991-1996)
Ms. C.J. Clark, Liberal (1996-2005)
I.J.S. Black, Liberal (2005-2011)

The NDP has a much better chance of winning this riding than in Chilliwack-Hope. The Liberals won it in the last election with 52% to the NDP's 40%. The NDP is also running a star candidate in that of former Port Moody mayor, Joe Trasolini. The fact that he is the former mayor of the city means that Trasolini will play better in the north side of Port Moody which went overwhelmingly Liberal last time. The Liberals are running Dennis Marsden, a credit union branch manager. The Conservatives are running Christine Clarke, the Director and Chair of Advocacy for the Canadian Skin Patient Alliance. The fact that her name is similar to the Premiers' has not been ignored. Add to the fact that this used to be Premier Clark's riding.

There was a poll conducted in February that showed the NDP and the Conservatives neck and neck in this riding at 40% and 39.5% respectively. The Liberals were far behind at 18.5%. My guess is that the NDP will walk away with about 45% of the vote, the Conservatives at 37%, leaving the Liberals at 18%. 

Port Moody-Coquitlam candidates

Edited to add:

Liberal expectations are low going into these by-elections, but I have to think that it would be a huge set back if they lost both. Some are suggesting an NDP win in Chilliwack-Kent would be good news for the Liberals, as they would show the dangers of vote splitting. However, a third place finish in either race would be a disaster. A win for the Liberals would be holding on to just one seat.

For the NDP, they have to win at least one of the by-elections to keep their momentum going. Losing both wouldn't be very good for them. The same goes for the Conservatives, they have to win one, or come in 2nd in both (ahead of the Liberals) to show they are a credible right wing alternative to the Liberals. There are certainly high stakes in these two by-elections for all three parties.


  1. Take it from me, the NDP will win in Chilliwack-Hope and the BC Liberals will be an embarrassing third.

  2. Was there any individual riding polls for Chilliwack-Hope? I couldn't find one. It's certainly possible the Liberals will finish third, but the riding was against the HST vote. Doesn't that show some faith in the government?

  3. Never trust DL - never.

    Nice presentation Earl! Where did you get the poll-by-poll maps?


  5. Looks like DL can be trusted, after all, Volkov.

  6. Except he said the Liberals would finish 3rd.

  7. Hey Earl,

    Are you planning on posting a poll by-poll map of the by-election results?

  8. I would like to, they certainly will be interesting. They might not be available for a while though.

  9. Understandable, I suppose we'll have to wait until the final poll-by-poll results are available. I'll look forward to the maps though.