Like every other observer of Canadian politics, I was shocked at the outcome of last night’s provincial election in British Columbia which saw the B.C. Liberal Party re-elected to a fourth consecutive term in office.
This re-election is even more shocking than when the Wild Rose Party failed to unseat the Conservative Party in Alberta last year.
Now before I go any further, I should explain that the B.C. Liberals haven’t had any affiliation with the Liberal Party of Canada in 25 years and after the collapse of the Social Credit government in 1991, conservative voters have coalesced around the B.C. Liberals who came to power in 2001 under the leadership of Gordon Campbell.
Campbell and the Liberals were re-elected in 2005 and 2009. But they would fall out of favor with the public shortly after the ’09 election when plans were announced to adopt the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) of 12%. The HST, which is in effect in Ontario and the Maritime provinces, married the existing provincial sales tax with the federal Goods and Services Tax (GST). The B.C. Liberals had not campaigned on the HST and had publicly opposed it.
Some conservative voters in B.C. began turning to the long moribund Conservative Party which hasn’t had a seat in the provincial legislature since the 1970s. Former Tory MP John Cummins was elected party leader in 2011.
Campbell’s popularity fell so precipitously that he resigned as Premier and Liberal Party leader late in 2010. He would be succeeded by Christy Clark. Although Clark would eventually abandon the HST, the B.C. Liberals never regained their popularity and were widely expected to fall to the socialist New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Adrian Dix. (I should mention that I was acquainted with Dix when he was a party organizer and worked with him during the 1990 Ontario election while I was still living in Thunder Bay).
Dix and the NDP led Clark and the Liberals by 20 points prior to the beginning of the election campaign a month ago. Although the Liberals had closed the gap, the NDP still had a 9 point lead in the polls.
Well, not only were the Liberals re-elected, they increased their seat total from 45 to 50 while the NDP went from 36 to 33 seats. Although the Green Party would elect its first member to the B.C. legislature, the Conservatives were again shut out.
However, Clark lost her seat in Vancouver to NDP candidate David Eby. What will happen is that one of the Liberal MLAs will give up his or her seat (in exchange for some patronage appointment) so that Clark can run in a by-election.
So what happened? Why were the polls so wrong? There was Dix’s disappointing performance during the leader’s debate. Was it Dix’s flip-flop on the extension of the Kinder-Morgan Pipeline? If one looks at the riding by riding results, the Green Party significantly cuts into the NDP vote especially in the Lower Mainland. O do voters still have long memories about the NDP’s reign in power from 1991 to 2001 and Dix’s role in forging a memo to NDP Premier Glen Clark in 1998? Or did the NDP just really underestimate Christy Clark? Whatever the reason, the NDP is where it was before – on the outside looking in.
As for the Conservatives, they just weren’t ready for prime time as four of their candidates were forced to drop out of the race for various incendiary statements. This probably kept most conservative voters in the Liberal fold this time around.
I predict that the B.C. Liberals newfound popularity will be shortlived and return to single digits in the polls, the NDP will be looking for a new leader, the Greens will spread their seeds while the Conservatives will try to find a foothold.
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