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Election fallout

Three notes from the final 2020 election results.

The NDP’s Lower Mainland fortress

It’s not just the seat count, but the way the NDP won them.

Look at some of the NDP's vote shares: 63.41% in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows; 60.25% in Burnaby-Lougheed; 54.94% in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain; 59.87% in North Vancouver-Lonsdale. It’s one thing for the NDP to win blowouts in longtime strongholds like Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, but all these ridings went BC Liberal as recently as 2013.

It’s a stark illustration of how comprehensively the NDP has outflanked the BC Liberals in the province’s most populous region. Yes, the pandemic played a major role, and not wanting to rock the boat probably pushed the NDP over the top in some other close races. But this trend had been evident for at least two elections.

BC Conservative vote split didn’t decide the election – but did shift a few seats.

Many a BC Liberal is still traumatized by 2017, after missing a fourth consecutive majority government by less than 200 votes in Courtenay-Comox – especially given the BC Conservative candidate won 2,201 votes. (A similar 2017 result occurred in Maple Ridge-Mission, where BC Liberal incumbent Marc Dalton lost to the NDP by 120 votes—with a BC Conservative taking 850.)

It’s too simplistic to just take all BC Conservative votes and lump them into a hypothetical “proper” BC Liberal share– not every single one of those votes is transferable, so to speak. That said, it’s likely that as many as three-quarters of BC Conservative voters would otherwise vote BC Liberal. (The others would either vote for another party, or most likely, simply not vote at all.)

With that in mind, the final results show BC Conservative candidates probably played a decisive role in electing NDP candidates in four ridings: Vernon-Monashee, Abbotsford-Mission, Chilliwack, and Langley East. All four ridings were held by BC Liberals going into the snap election.

In Chilliwack, BC Conservative candidate Diane Janzen had wanted to run for the BC Liberals, and had built a substantial amount of local support. Andrew Wilkinson instead chose to reappoint John Martin, so Janzen flipped colours and took nearly 3,000 centre-right votes. Langley East is also instructive, where the NDP and BC Conservative candidates raised eyebrows by sharing two ad wraps in the local newspaper.

With no BC Conservative candidate, a handful more NDP wins would have been closer, including Richmond-Queensborough, Boundary-Similkameen, and Parksville-Qualicum – but in these, the final result would likely not have changed, as these would need close to 100% of the BC Conservative vote to instead go BC Liberal. (And in some cases, even that would not have been enough.)

One other riding, Chilliwack-Kent, warrants an asterisk. BC Liberal incumbent Laurie Throness was ejected by his own party midway through the campaign, but not soon enough to be removed from the ballot. Independent candidate Jason Lum, widely perceived to be competing for the same votes, ended up finishing a surprisingly close third after Throness and now-NDP MLA Kelli Paddon – who one assumes will be advised to rent, not buy, in Victoria.

It’s worth noting that vote splitting also likely cost the NDP one seat as well. In Fraser-Nicola, Aaron Sumexheltza lost to incumbent Jackie Tegart by 282 votes – but former NDP riding president Dennis Adamson ran as an independent to protest NDP HQ appointing Sumexheltza as candidate, and took 438 votes. And there are some in the NDP who view any and all Green votes as “splits,” but that wasn't accurate even 10 years ago - internal Green numbers indicated their votes came even more from otherwise BC Liberals, and even more so from people who wouldn't otherwise vote at all. It it was a myth then, it's even less true now.

In a parliament where the NDP have 29 more seats than the official opposition, vote splitting may have added onto the dogpile, and once again swayed some individual races, but didn’t play a decisive role overall.

BC Greens lose Lower Mainland beachhead

The final count also reversed one more crucial result. BC Liberal incumbent Jordan Sturdy held on to West Vancouver-Sea to Sky by 41 votes, barely edging out Jeremy Valeriote of the Greens. (The result is so close, it will be subject to a mandatory judicial recount.)

While every seat is important for the BC Liberals – especially in the Lower Mainland – this result was perhaps even more significant for the Greens.

After Valeriote seemed to win (and the party believed he would hold on), the loss must sting. Not just because it reduces their prospective caucus by a third, but Valeriote represented the Greens’ white whale: a beachhead in the Lower Mainland.

Green seats are few and far between in Canada, but once established, they have tended – but obviously not always – to remain Green, or at least viable contenders. A presence in the Lower Mainland is a desperate need for the Greens; had Valeriote hung on, his win might have been almost as significant as Andrew Weaver winning the first-ever provincial Green seat in 2013.

Even with two seats, the Greens (still) retain official party status, which is crucial. One of the concessions won by the Greens in negotiations with both the NDP and BC Liberals in 2017, the threshold was lowered from four MLAs to two.

Being an official party – as opposed to two officially independent MLAs who happen to work together – is huge. Official parties are given more questions in Question Period, and spots on committees. But what really matters is it means more money.

Yes, it does include a healthy pay hike for party leader Sonia Furstenau and House Leader/Whip/Etc. Adam Olsen. But it also means a significantly bigger budget for staff, and an allowance for (small) office space in Vancouver.

They should take it – and laser-focus their Lower Mainland presence on two or three winnable seats. For the party to survive long-term, it simply must put down roots outside Southern Vancouver Island.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca