Monday’s by-elections can be viewed as a win for the governing Liberals. They held two seats and won a third from the Conservatives. In answer to my November 20th post, the voters in South Surrey-White Rock gave like Santa to the Liberals and passed out votes like Scrooge to the Conservatives.
By-elections are a great opportunity to send a message. If the government is screwing up, why not vote against them and shake it up? Evidently, there’s not a lot of voter anger in South Surrey-White Rock.
In Monday’s by-elections, the only riding where the Liberal popular vote actually went up was South Surrey-White Rock, which was the only place the Conservative vote went down.
Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives can take some consolation that they reduced the margin-of-victory in Scarborough-Agincourt from 13.9% to 8.9%, and they scraped themselves off the basement floor in Newfoundland, though they haven’t found the stairs yet. In Saskatchewan, like Alberta, they ran up the score, which is nice, but not very meaningful. As for the Liberals, I doubt they are too concerned about the ridings where they slipped. In all three cases, the result looked inevitable, and tough to motivate voters in that case.
South Surrey-White Rock should sting a bit for the Conservatives. This was a safe seat in 2011 and for decades before that. In 2011, a backbench Conservative MP edged the Liberal 53% to 19%. That’s a remarkable turnaround in six years.
The notion of a Liberal win was unthinkable in the summer of 2015. Liberal strategists had a hard time believing the numbers they were seeing from that riding, against Dianne Watts no less. They almost beat her despite sacking their candidate halfway through the campaign. The Liberals had no history of winning there. They couldn’t even win in Surrey during Trudeaumania I when they took two-thirds of the seats in BC – and the Liberal candidate was “nursery man” Bill Vander Zalm. Trudeaumania plus the Zalm? How could they lose?
So, there has been a change in South Surrey-White Rock and it remains to be seen if it will be a sea change. Liberals may have a bit of deja vu when it comes to winning federal by-elections in BC. In 1998, a Reform MP resigned in Port Moody-Coquitlam and, very similar to South Surrey-White Rock, the Liberals ran a popular mayor, Lou Sekora, while the Reform Party ran a parachute candidate from Langley. Sekora won in a riding the Liberals had not held in a long, long time. In 2000, a young whippersnapper by the name of James Moore defeated Sekora and went on to hold the seat for 15 years.
Let’s not forget about the NDP. In Monday’s by-elections, their share of vote dropped in all four races. While none of these seats were NDP targets, they certainly did not demonstrate any grassroots enthusiasm for the new NDP leader.
Congratulations to Gordie Hogg and the Liberals. We’ll see if success in South Surrey-White Rock is fleeting or not. Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives did not collapse, on the contrary, they made some incremental progress. But where it mattered, they could not rally their base to withstand a vigorous effort by the Liberals. Now that the government is in the back nine of its mandate and showing its resilience, Scheer will not be able to count on the government losing the election – he will have to try to find a way to win it. A tall order for any Opposition.