Someone’s job on the campaign is to count. You need 44 seats for a majority government, 45 to govern without deadlock, 46 to breathe easier.
In an 87 seat Legislature, getting to 44 is really hard. Last election, the BC Liberals hit the wall at 43, the NDP were stopped at 41, but catapulted to 44 thanks to their erstwhile partners, the Greens.
To get to 44, you obviously look at the battleground – those ridings that were decided by slim margins last time, or for some reason, are ‘in play’ this time – maybe because of the candidate mix or due to the way the issues are playing out.
In 2001, the BC Liberals won 77 out of 79 seats. Victoria-Beacon Hill and Victoria-Hillside where the last two to come in, during the recount. Though they elected BC Liberals, they were the 76th and 77th best seats. By 2005, those seats were underwater and they remain top 5 NDP seats today. The point is that the overall number of seats won will mostly follow the ‘depth chart’. Win 52 seats and your 52nd best seat becomes a win. The votes have to go somewhere.
The following table looks at 84 of the 87 seats that elected either an NDP member (orange) or a BC Liberal (blue). This is the main stage.
The table is sorted by NDP strength. The #1 riding (Mt. Pleasant) is where they had the largest vote percentage gap versus the BC Liberals. The weakest NDP riding was Peace North. Where the 41st best NDP riding (Courtenay-Comox) and 42nd best NDP riding (Coquitlam-Burke Mountain) meet up was the dividing line between winning and losing in 2017.
You can see each riding’s rank in 2013 and 2017 side-by-side. Some ridings moved up the NDP depth chart, and others fell. The difference is noted in the far-right column.
(** There was a boundary redistribution between 2013 and 2017. Therefore, the 2013 ridings are actually the 2017 boundaries with results from 2013 transposed. That’s why Surrey-Fleetwood reports as an NDP riding (2013) when in fact the BC Liberals won. All things being equal, Peter Fassbender would have lost in 2013 had he run on those boundaries. He won in a nail biter and, to his credit, he agreed to run again in the Fleetwood seat when he knew it would be tough.)
Ten of the twelve closest seats that elected NDP MLAs in 2017 flipped from the BC Liberals. This is not uncommon – how else are you going to gain seats? It does illustrate the battleground. Nine of ten of these NDP wins were in the Lower Mainland. The BC Liberals flipped two NDP seats – Skeena and Columbia River-Revelstoke – both in the Interior.
While the popular vote was essentially tied between the two parties, the Lower Mainland turned against the BC Liberals while the Interior turned further against the NDP. Unfortunately for BC Liberals, there are a lot more seats in the Lower Mainland. The Island’s impact was felt with Courtenay-Comox and the election of three Greens.
When you look at the far-right column, you will see how some ridings changed on the depth chart. Nine ridings moved more than 10 spots ‘up’ the NDP rankings. They included three of the Richmond ridings, three South Surrey ridings, Langley, Pt. Grey, and New West. The NDP only won 2 of 9 of these seats, but, this time, the NDP sees Richmond, Langley, and Cloverdale as a battleground.
On the BC Liberal side of things, ten ridings moved up its depth chart – all in the Interior.
Overall, just over half of the seats in this table stayed within plus or minus five spots from the 2013 results, and, three-quarters stayed within ten spots. Nineteen seats, listed above, had the most volatility – less than a quarter of all seats.
Some seats evolve over time. Vancouver Pt. Grey was BC Liberal from 1996 to 2013, but now appears firmly in the column Mr. Eby and the NDP. The NDP used to win Prince George, but now, it appears to be solid BC Liberal turf. These trends reflect the changing nature of electoral coalitions The NDP have given up support in the Interior in successive elections, in part due to positions on natural resources, but was more than offset by the BC Liberals weakness in the most urban ridings in 2013 that extended to the suburbs in 2017.
This election, it’s clear from this table which seats the NDP and the BC Liberals have circled to get to 44 and above. On a separate list, there is the much smaller Green battleground.
What makes the task challenging for the NDP is that the lowest hanging fruit in the Lower Mainland are seats they have seldom won and, until recently, were not competitive. For the BC Liberals, their target seats are those that they held up until 2017.
We will see in late November, when all the mail-in ballots have finally been counted, which ridings follow the depth chart, which ones are the exceptions, and where the dividing line will be drawn.