Posts by Rosedeer

Mike is a communications and public affairs consultant based in Vancouver. He is a former Chief of Staff and campaign manager for the Premier of BC. He's a lifelong British Columbian with a passion for his province. Online: @BCMikeMcD and https://www.linkedin.com/in/bcmikemcd

Floor crossings: a tradition as old as Canada itself

The floor crossing of Jenica Atwin from the Green Party of Canada to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals is noteworthy in one respect – it’s the first time a federal Green MP has crossed the floor to another party. It completes a ‘trade’ that happened 13 years ago when erstwhile Liberal MP Blair Wilson from British Columbia crossed to the Greens to become its first MP in Parliament. Atwin becomes the latest in a long line of Canadian politicians who have crossed the floor to sit with a different political party than the one they shared a ballot with in the previous election.

Newly minted Liberal MP

Not so long ago, a Liberal went Conservative. I had never heard of Leona Alleslev, the Member of Parliament for Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, before she switched from red to blue.

(This post updated from September 2018 version)

Most of the time, the end is nigh for that politician. Some are pushed by desperation. Some are motivated by pique. Others for genuine policy and ideological reasons. Some are able to make the change stick, as Alleslev did in the 2019 election when she was re-elected as a Conservative.

Floor crossing is older than Canada itself. Wikipedia informs us that, in 1866, an anti-Confederate politician in New Brunswick switched sides when he did not receive a desired cabinet post. We could go back to WWI when many Liberal MPs left Wilfrid Laurier and joined with the Unionist government under Robert Borden. Or to 1935 when British Columbia’s H.H. Stevens bolted the Conservative barn to form the Reconstructionist Party.

At times, a floor crossing can signal a sea change in politics. Réne Lévesque leaving the Quebec Liberal Party in the 1960s to form the Parti Québécois is one of the most momentous moves in Canadian political history. It led to the election of the first Péquiste government in 1976 and a referendum on sovereignty-association in 1980. Watch the documentary Champions to see Lévesque’s impact and his enduring rivalry with Pierre Trudeau.

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Réne Lévesque: probably the most impactful floor-crossing in Canadian history (CBC)

In 1990, Lucien Bouchard spectacularly left the Mulroney government after the collapse of the Meech Lake accord, forming the Bloc Québécois and taking other Quebec PC and Liberal MPs with him, including Liberal MP Jean Lapierre. Bouchard led the Oui forces to the brink of victory in 1995, and shortly thereafter became Premier of Quebec.

The 1993 election saw the collapse of the Progressive Conservatives to two seats with Preston Manning’s Reform Party dominating Western Canada. After Jean Chrétien continually swept up in Ontario, PC Senator Gerry St. Germain was one of the first to attempt to unify the Conservative parties and changed his allegiance in the Senate from PC to become the first Canadian Alliance senator in 2000. Later, eleven Canadian Alliance MPs left caucus to sit as the “DRC” – Democratic Representative Caucus when they couldn’t get along with Alliance leader Stockwell Day, and included some political heavyweights like the first Reform MP ever elected, Deb Grey. The DRCs would morph into a coalition with Joe Clark’s (second-coming) PC caucus: the PC-DRC. Ultimately, most everyone got back together under the leadership of Stephen Harper after new PC leader Peter Mackay agreed to merge the PCs with Stephen Harper’s Alliance. Harper became the leader of the new Conservative Party and held Paul Martin to a minority in 2004 before winning his own minority in 2006. (Joe didn’t cross, he stayed PC until the end). The key point is that floor crossing influenced the course of events between 2000 and 2004.

In 2018, we saw Maxime Bernier jump out of Air Scheer without a parachute. It caused a rearguard action that hampered Scheer’s Conservatives as they readied themselves to fight the Liberals in the 2019 election. For Bernier, the impact of this Xtreme floor crossing was the sound of hitting political ground zero with an ear-splitting splat.

Some floor crossings reflect the ebb and flow of political tides.  Scott Brison was elected as a Progressive Conservative, but left when that party merged with the Alliance to form the modern-day Conservative Party. Brison became a senior Liberal cabinet minister. One can argue that he represented a shift in Canadian politics where some Progressive Conservatives migrated to the Liberals.  Many politicians, like Bob Rae and Ujjal Dosanjh, sat for one party, then came back to run for another party later, reflecting how they had migrated through the political spectrum.

Provincially, MLAs in both the Saskatchewan PCs and Liberals crossed the floor to the new Saskatchewan Party in 1997, which has governed the province since 2007. The PCs were extinguished and the Liberals are in the wilderness.

In 2002, Yukon NDP MLA Dennis Fentie left his party to join the Yukon Party. A month later he was leader and later that year he became Premier, serving until 2011.

The leader of the New Brunswick NDP from 2011-2017, Dominic Cardy, found himself as a New Brunswick PC MLA in the government of Blaine Higgs. In fact, he’s now the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development and has been heralded for his role in advocating for a strong early response to COVID-19. In Cardy’s case, he didn’t “cross the floor” but nonetheless a rare sighting of a political leader switching sides and his experience going from the political hinterland to inner sanctum likely not lost on Jenica Atwin.

A candidate for the Liberal leadership in Newfoundland famously switched sides afterward. John Crosbie was a Minister of Finance under longtime Premier Joey Smallwood. Crosbie, and other younger Liberal MLAs, like Clyde Wells, chafed under Smallwood’s leadership and left Caucus, sitting as ‘Reform Liberals’. When Smallwood announced his retirement, Crosbie stepped up to run as Liberal leader. Smallwood came back to oppose him and won. Crosbie then left the Liberals to run as a Progressive Conservative, winning, and sitting in the new government of Frank Moores. He would go on to be elected federally in 1976, serve as Joe Clark’s Finance Minister, become a major contender for the 1983 PC national leadership, serve as a heavyweight in Brian Mulroney’s cabinet, and serve as Newfoundland’s Lieutenant-Governor. Quite a career for a party switcher! Clyde Wells stuck with the Liberals and would serve as Premier, famously scuttling the Meech Lake Accord promoted by his old caucus ally, Crosbie.

BC has had three significant floor-crossings that led to a restructuring of political support bases. Leading up to the 1952 election, Conservative MLA WAC Bennett left that party and migrated toward to the Social Credit Party. The leaderless party won the plurality of seats in 1952 and Bennett became its leader (and, ultimately, Premier) after the election. Bennett governed for 20 years.

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Seismic shift in BC politics when three senior Liberal MLAs join Bill Bennett and the Socreds in 1974 (Vancouver Sun)

Then, following his defeat in 1972, his son Bill Bennett, the new leader, recruited former Liberal leader and MLA Dr. Pat McGeer, Allan Williams, and Garde Gardom to join the Socreds, along with PC MLA Hugh Curtis. All four floor crossers would play major roles in Bennett’s government, which lasted 11 years. He also attracted former Liberal leadership candidate Bill VanderZalm to run as a Socred in 1975 too. Then, in the 1990s, there was a two-step process. First, four Social Credit MLAs left the former dynasty in ruins when they turned away from the fledgling BC Liberals under Gordon Campbell, to join the BC Reform Party in 1994. Their defection ultimately benefited the ruling NDP – Glen Clark would win a majority in 1996 while losing the popular vote. Campbell corralled the Reformers after 1996 and remaining Reform MLA Richard Neufeld crossed the floor to the BC Liberals, marking the formalization of a de facto coalition. Neufeld served as BC Liberal minister for seven years and the BC Liberals governed continuously for 16 years.

(A footnote to the 1975 example above is that Frank Calder, British Columbia’s first First Nations parliamentarian, lost his NDP nomination in the riding of Atlin leading up to the 1975 election. Having been first elected in 1949, Calder brought his winning ways to the Socreds and was elected yet again. Four years later, he lost by one vote to the NDP’s ‘Landslide’ Al Passarell. Passarell would later cross the floor from the NDP to the Socreds).

Some floor crossings backfire spectacularly. Arguably, the WildRose defections to the ruling PC’s under Jim Prentice destroyed the political careers of those MLAs, like former leader Danielle Smith, and boomeranged disastrously on the Prentice government. It looked too cute, too orchestrated – the overdog overdoing it. Belinda Stronach’s floor crossing to the Liberals in 2005 helped save the minority Martin government for a time, but arguably galvanized Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in the forthcoming election in 2006.

Some leave and come home again. The most famous example is Winston Churchill going Conservative-Liberal-Conservative. The aforementioned Jean Lapierre left the Liberals to join the Bloc Quebecois upon the election of Jean Chretien as Liberal leader. He returned to the Liberals under Paul Martin and was a senior cabinet minister in his government. Then there’s Joe Peschisolido who was a leading Young Liberal who drifted right and was elected as an Alliance MP then crossed the floor to the Liberals. After a stint out of politics, he was elected again as a Liberal MP in 2015 before his defeat in 2019. Gordon Wilson was Liberal leader in BC from 1987 to 1993. He left, with fellow MLA and wife Judi Tyabji, to form his own party, the PDA, and won his seat again in 1996 under that banner. He was recruited by NDP Premier Glen Clark to join the NDP cabinet in the late 1990s and then ran for the leadership of the NDP, unsuccessfully. Since 2001, he has been out of elected politics, but he did go ‘home’ again in 2013 when he made an intervention in that year’s election campaign in favour of BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark (who once worked for him) and against NDP Leader Adrian Dix (who once recruited him). Never dull in BC.

Some floor crossings weren’t meant to be. BC Liberal MLA John van Dongen left the BC Liberals over unresolvable disagreements. He joined the BC Conservatives, but within months, left them over unresolvable disagreements. Conservative MP Eve Adams defection to the Liberals on the eve of the 2015 election reeked of desperation. Her career was soon over, at least for now. A husband and wife both crossed the floor from the New Brunswick PCs to the Liberals in 2007, but by 2010 they were both out of politics. As noted above, one-term West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country Liberal MP Blair Wilson got into some hot water and would eventually leave the Liberal Caucus to sit as an independent. Just before the 2008 election, he migrated to the Greens to become their first ever MP in Canada. He failed in his bid for re-election, as a Green.

Some cross and never look back, like Scott Brison and John Crosbie. Dr. Keith Martin was elected as a Reformer in 1993 and ran for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance. He crossed the floor to the Liberals in 2004 and served as a Liberal until 2011. David Kilgour was a longtime Progressive Conservative MP. Even though John Turner was his brother-in-law, he stayed as a PC, but after Turner left, Kilgour crossed to the Liberals and continued from there.

Some floor-crossers are peripatetic.  Paul Hellyer was elected as a Liberal MP in 1949 and went on to be Minister of National Defence under Lester Pearson and a major contender for the leadership of the Liberals in 1968, placing second on the first ballot.    He fell out with Pierre Trudeau the following year and tried to form his own party.  He then crossed the floor to the PCs and in 1976, he ran for the leadership of that party.  He would return to the Liberals in 1982 and ran unsuccessfully for a nomination in his old seat in 1988.  He then formed another party, the Canada Action Party, and would try to merge it with the NDP.  At the age of 97, he may have another run in him, but for which party? (fun fact: he’s the longest serving member of the Privy Council)

There’s also the interesting case of Garth Turner. Elected as a Progressive Conservative MP in 1988 and ran for the leadership of the party in 1993. He lost his seat and returned as a Conservative MP in 2006. He defeated Liberal Gary Carr who had himself changed parties having been elected originally as a provincial Tory. Turner then fell afoul of the Conservatives, went independent, flirted with the Greens, and finally joined Stephane Dion’s Liberals before Lisa Raitt ended his political career in 2008.

Countless others have gone to sit as independents only to return later.  Some are sent because they were naughty, others leave because they’re mad but come back once they’re happy. BC MLA Blair Lekstrom left caucus over the handling of the HST but came back after a leadership change.  MLAs and MPs who never leave, and feel that they are team players, can often be annoyed and upset when those that leave are welcomed back.  If handled properly, it can be seen as beneficial to the greater good that they return.  Alternatively, it can be seen as rewarding bad behaviour.

Surrey MP Chuck Cadman was elected as a Reform MP and carried on as an Alliance MP, but prior to the 2004 election, he lost his nomination.  He ran as an independent and won.  In 2005, battling cancer, he was pivotal in keeping Paul Martin’s minority government in power during critical votes, against the wishes of his former colleagues. Liberal MP John Nunziata was bounced from the Liberal fold in 1996 after voting against Paul Martin’s budget. He showed them – he won re-election as an independent in 1997. They showed him – he lost to the Liberals in 2000. Gilles Bernier was a Progressive Conservative MP elected in the 1984 Mulroney sweep, but in 1993, the Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell would not approve his candidacy due to fraud charges (he was later acquitted). Bernier ran as an independent and won his seat. He was appointed Ambassador of Haiti by Prime Minister Chrétien. He managed to miss the 1993 PC wipeout and appointed ambassador. The benefits of going against the grain may have inspired his son, Maxime.

There’s Bill Casey who was elected three times a PC, and twice a Conservative before announcing he would not support the Harper government’s budget. He was bounced and ran as an Independent, winning 69% of the vote in 2008. A clear case of constituents agreeing with his reasons for opposing his party. He would resign his seat later, before returning in 2015 as a Liberal MP – making it four different ways he had been elected – PC, Conservative, Independent, and Liberal.

And, of course, there is Jody Wilson-Raybould. Considered a ‘star candidate’ in the 2015 campaign, and made Minister of Justice, JWR’s shocking confrontation with her then-colleagues over SNC Lavalin gripped Ottawa for months in early 2019, culminating in her departure from the Liberal Caucus. She won re-election as an Independent and appears intent to seek re-election on that basis.

Another ‘star candidate’ from BC, David Emerson, shockingly defected to the Conservatives days after the 2006 federal election effectively marking the end of his career in electoral politics.  The ink was barely dry on the ballots when he reversed course, causing much consternation among his former Liberal supporters. But it provided Stephen Harper with experience and depth in cabinet for two years and demoralized the Liberals, who sat out of power for nine years.  Emerson, like JWR, did not have any roots in the Liberal Party. It is with some peril that political managers recruit candidates from outside the party – those candidates do not ‘owe’ anyone and tend to be untethered to party loyalties. In JWR’s case, the reasons for her leaving the Liberals were front page news for months. It was not unexpected that there would be a break-up (in fact, she was bounced from the Caucus). Emerson, on the other hand, gave no hint he was leaving. He was approached, he agreed. The voters that elected him, and party members that supported him, were caught unaware. There is the old argument – “I can get more done in government than Opposition”, which is a reason provided by Jenica Atwin.

Alberta PC MP Jack Horner crossed over to Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals in 1977, joining the Trudeau cabinet.  There has rarely been a good time to be a federal Liberal in Alberta and this wasn’t one of them.  His constituents did not reward him for his efforts in the subsequent election. Following the Atwin switch, I talked to a grizzled old Prairie Liberal who was shuddering with Jack Horner flashbacks. The ‘betrayal’ of constituents by Horner was not unlike that felt by Emerson’s constituents in Vancouver-Kingsway. Around the time Horner ran into the arms of Pierre Trudeau, Winnipeg’s James Richardson, a member of PET’s cabinet, left the Liberal Caucus never to return, sitting as an independent. He tried to set up his own party then eventually helped found the Reform Party of Canada after he left elected life. My sources tell me his crossing was notable in that he told the Clerk, “I’m sitting over there from now on”. And off he went.

Many, many, many more floor crossings happen in the imaginations of political back roomers.  There is always the threat of a disgruntled MLA or MP taking off.  Most of the time, that representative is governed by some restraint.  The voters elected him or her largely on the basis of their party label.  Imagine you worked hard in support of your party only to find that the recipient of your hard work crossed no-man’s land to sit in enemy trenches?  Many would-be floor-crossers have surely taken a step back when realizing they would have to explain their actions to the volunteers who backed them.

To be accepted by the voters, the conflict usually has to be real and substantive and/or that representative must have a lot of personal credibility.  If it’s opportunistic, and imposed from the top, it’s not likely to go down well with the voters or the supporters of the sending and receiving party.  Not many like a turncoat, especially when they weren’t part of the process.

What floor crossings can demonstrate is the dynamic state of our political system.  In the ‘first past the post system’, parties are always in a state of constant movement.  Parties continually search for a plurality of votes and seats, and attracting someone who represents a set of ideas or representative of a community of interest is a way to grow a party’s base.  A floor crossing can give a tiny party a foothold in Parliament. Parties that fail to unify their members behind a common purpose can disintegrate, with floor crossings one such manifestation.  Unlike the United States, Canadian parties can rise and fall (and rise again).  There is much more fluidity.  Real policy differences – such as Quebec independence – can lead to dramatic changes and fracture coalitions.  Strong leadership glues coalitions together, unifying disparate elements.  When it comes down to it, elected representatives are just people, unbound to their party label.  They have the ability to exercise their free will.

As University of Manitoba Political Science professor Royce Koop puts it, “When an MP crosses the floor, it’s a beautiful reminder that in Canada we cast our votes for candidates, not parties”.

— with files from contributor Jay Denney

Formula for redrawing B.C.’s electoral boundaries fails small communities

Published in Vancouver Sun, May 22 / 2021

B.C.’s electoral boundaries are about to be redrawn, increasing the size of the legislature yet again, while eroding representation in rural areas outside the faster-growing major cities. It’s a losing formula that causes continued bloat in the size of the legislature, while failing those in small communities around the province.

Representation in BC: Let’s take time to think about this

There are two issues at play and, if we untangle them, there is a better solution for the Electoral Boundaries Commission to consider:

• Rural ridings need strong representation. Rural MLAs have multitudes of small communities located far apart, and many have large Indigenous populations. The riding of Fraser-Nicola, for example, has dozens of small communities and First Nations, compared to where I live in Vancouver-Fairview, which is one of 11 ridings in the City of Vancouver. The demands are very different on rural MLAs, and few would argue that the role of rural MLAs should be made harder.

• Representation by population. Rep-by-pop in B.C. was strengthened through the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act in the 1980s, precipitated by the Dixon case that put the focus on voter equality. At the time, some ridings were 12 to 16 times larger than other ridings. Because of urban growth, pure rep-by-pop in our system today would either dramatically increase the geographic size of rural ridings, or dramatically increase the size of the legislature, way beyond the proposed increase to 93.

How do we reconcile these mutually exclusive goals?

Let’s do something we are already doing in regional districts and weight the votes of our MLAs. In Metro Vancouver, for example, the mayor of Belcarra gets one vote at the regional district table, but the mayor of Vancouver gets five votes. Elected officials in all of Metro Vancouver’s local jurisdictions have weighted votes based on the population of their community, as they do in other regional districts across B.C. It works fine — the larger centres have clout to reflect their size, and the smaller communities get a voice and are at the table.

Provincially, we can do something much simpler than the regional district formula by having one vote for MLAs from rural ridings in regions like the North, Kootenays and North Island, and two votes for MLAs in urban regions like the Lower Mainland and the Capital Region of greater Victoria.

It would allow for sensibly drawn one-vote rural ridings that allow for fair, effective representation.

In urban B.C., we would not need to increase the number of ridings, as each urban MLA would have two votes, because they would represent roughly twice as many constituents than a rural riding.

The outcome of votes in the legislature would better reflect the population, while rural ridings would get better representation, since their MLA could focus on a smaller number of communities.

While rural ridings would lose their percentage share of seats in the legislature, they would be a higher percentage of the people in the legislature, providing them more opportunities for representation on committees, leadership roles, and in cabinet.

An important consideration is First Nations representation. The Dixon case led to the elimination of the Atlin riding in northwest B.C., which had a majority population of First Nations people. It elected the first First Nations MLA, Frank Calder, in 1949, and was represented by a First Nations MLA for 35 of 42 years until 1991.

After Atlin was eliminated, there was not a First Nations MLA elected until 2016. Protecting rural ridings provides more opportunities for First Nations representation in the legislature.

A weighted legislature, as outlined, is not proportional representation or other schemes that have failed over the years. Each voter would vote for one MLA. It also would not impact who wins elections. The votes are in the Lower Mainland, and that is not going to change. A winning political party needs to win there.

Cranking up the number of seats in the legislature is a losing game of math. It’s time to face the issue and find a way to both provide rep-by-pop and protect rural ridings.

Let the new Electoral Boundaries Commission explore weighted votes, a more inclusive solution for the benefit of all British Columbians. Then we will see if this idea floats or sinks under the weight of its own weighting.

(Thanks to Henry Waatainen for his editing help and advice)

***

The op-ed above has its roots in a submission I made to the Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform in 2004. At that time, I put forward the idea of regional weighting to address rural representation, among other proposals. I worked in the Gordon Campbell government from 2001 to 2003 when the BC Liberals held an overwhelming number of seats – 77 of 79. As Director of Communications to the Government Caucus, I worked alongside practically every MLA in the House and gained an understanding of their jobs. We supported their constituency communications and it was apparent how rural MLAs had considerably more burdens placed on them than urban MLAs when it came to local accountability and expectations. Having followed the boundaries process closely over the years from the beginning of the post-Dixon case processes – the Fisher Commission and the Wood Commission for starters – the challenge of reconciling rural representation with urban growth was a thorny issue already by 2004. The size of the Legislature had grown from 57 seats in 1986 to 79 seats in 2001 (and now we are heading to 93). So, I made my modest pitch to consider a weighted formula. It was met with slow claps and deafening applause and so it returned to the dusty shelves of my brain for 17 years.

In addition to regional weighting, I also proposed a return to an Alternative Vote. This is the system used in 1952 and 1953 in BC, and in fact is used in party leadership selections and candidate nomination meetings. You vote once, but you rank your 1st, 2nd, 3rd (or more) choices, depending on how many candidates. The winner is the one who gets a majority. Essentially, this is how the Socreds improbably came to power in 1952 by climbing the ladder in the second and third counts, usurping the CCF who would have otherwise had the plurality of seats. WAC Bennett did away with the system following the 1953 election. Since 2004, I’ve lost a little bit of my enthusiasm for this system, but I’m still open to it. The benefit is that you can vote with your heart on the first choice and your head with the second. The upstart, little parties can get first votes without threat of vote splitting. And the least-opposed candidate should win in the end. The downside is that it can be a gang-up against the incumbent government, and it can oxygenate fringe parties that can be destructive. However, that’s democracy and an AAV system is not as rewarding to fringe parties as proportional representation.

Finally, I proposed to the Citizens Assembly that non-voting seats should be considered for leaders of un-represented parties that received a minimum percentage of the popular vote, but did not gain a seat. If, say, 10% of British Columbians vote for a party and do not return an MLA, why not provide an opportunity for that party to at least be heard on the floor of the Legislature? They could be provided rights to speak, move motions, and have many of the privileges of MLAs… except vote.

The idea of non-voting representatives is not a new one. The US House of Representatives has six non-voting members – from the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The delegate from the Virigin Islands, Stacey Plaskett, was an Impeachment Manager earlier this year.

Taking the idea of non-voting members a bit further, in 2004, I proposed seats on the floor for Indigenous British Columbians. Again, this is not a new idea. The State of Maine historically had representation in its Assembly for the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe, dating back to the early 1800s, though in recent years, their representation was withdrawn.

The Cherokee Nation asserts that it has treaty rights entitling it to a Delegate to the US Congress. As well, the Choctaw Nation has rights stemming from an 1830 Treaty, but requires Congress to seat their delegate (it’s never happened). These are interesting examples that should challenge us to consider how our Legislative Assembly can include more voices. It does not require departing from the principle of elected members, represented by the people, having the final say. But, I believe, there can be room for more inclusivity in terms of voices.

Should BC consider Indigenous representation on the floor of the House? My 2004 submission was influenced by the work of trail-blazing Member of Parliament and Senator Len Marchand. Len was a great man who fought hard for Indigenous representation. He was the first First Nations MP elected in BC history, in 1968. The fact that Jody Wilson-Raybould was only the second, elected in 2015, goes to show how difficult it has been for Indigenous people to attain elected office. I wrote about this in my blog in 2015, after JWR’s election. In the 1980s, Len advocated for guaranteed representation for Indigenous peoples. His argument, as I recall, was that there should be as many Indigenous voting seats as population warrants. At the time, it amounted to about 9 seats (3% * about 300 seats), but would be more today. My 2004 proposal was more modest and attached itself to US-style non-voting seats. Since then, there are now three First Nations MLAs in the Legislature, but that shouldn’t be any reason to be complacent. Until Melanie Mark’s election in 2016, there had only been two First Nations MLAs in BC history – Frank Calder and Larry Guno – and they were both elected in the now-extinct riding of Atlin. I would like to see more First Nations elected at riding level, and I think my 2021 proposal on rural ridings will help that to some extent. In terms of non-voting seats on the floor, I would leave that entirely to the opinion of Indigenous leaders as to whether they thought the idea had merit or not. (And by the way, I recommend the biographies of both Len Marchand and Frank Calder).

With reference to the Citizens Assembly above, for those who aren’t aware, or had forgotten, it was an initiative of the Gordon Campbell government to consider options as to how BC governs itself. Former BC Liberal leader and respected commentator Gordon Gibson was appointed to develop recommendations on how such an Assembly could be structured. Two people, a man and a woman, from each of BC’s then-79 ridings were selected basically at random, plus two Indigenous members, and finally, the chair of the Assembly, Jack Blaney, who was appointed by the government. It had a brilliant staff including Dr. Ken Carty and reformed journalist Don MacLachlan. The Assembly members toured BC and heard from citizens like myself who had ideas about how BC should be represented. They produced recommendations and a report that was submitted to the Legislature, and their recommendations were put to referendum in 2005. The Campbell government required a threshold of 60% of the vote with a majority in 60% of the ridings.

While the Citizens Assembly did not take my advice, they did develop recommendations that were supported by its members. I appreciated the opportunity to have my say. In the end, their proposal, complicated as it was, almost succeeded, winning majority support in 77 of 79 constituencies but falling short of the 60% support required. Elections BC report is here. A similar proposal was put to province-wide referendum again in 2009, but failed by a wider margin. A government-driven proposal for proportional representation failed recently by referendum, in 2018. I wrote about my opposition to that proposal here.

As for the current Electoral Boundaries process, we’ll see what happens. More to say on that later.

BC final count seat flips

It comes down to math: how slim is the margin and how many votes are outstanding? US election? No, we’re still Biden time waiting for the British Columbia final count.

In the seven closest seats where BC Liberals are leading, two require a slight deviation from Election Day results to flip the results to the NDP – Vernon-Monashee and Abbotsford-Mission.

Vernon-Monashee incumbent MLA Eric Foster leads by 0.9% while the pile of outstanding votes represents 31% of total ballots. Therefore, the NDP challenger needs to win the remaining pile by 2.1% to win (an overall swing of 3%). In Abbotsford-Mission, NDP challenger and Mission’s Mayor Pam Alexis needs to win the remaining pile of votes (29% of all votes) by 2.5%, a modest swing of 3.6% compared to the Election Day count.

The NDP needs to win the remaining pile of votes in Vancouver-Langara and Surrey-White Rock by 7% and 7.4% respectively, which would be swings of 12.8% and 11.7% respectively.

Surrey South, Kamloops-North Thompson, and Fraser-Nicola look on the outer realm of possibility given the 18%-20% swings required to flip the seats orange.

What about the ridings with slim NDP leads? ‘Everyone’ assumes the NDP have an advantage on mail-in and absentee, but there is one riding where the margin is razor-thin: Richmond-South Centre.

BC Liberal Alexa Loo trails the NDP’s Henry Yao by 124 votes or a 1.5% margin. While there are only 5,280 ballots to be counted, there were only 8,150 votes counted on Election Day. Almost 40% of the total votes are yet to be counted and Loo needs to win the remaining pile by 2.3%. This is when you wonder at what point in the campaign people cast their vote, and whether there might be cultural or demographic differences in the make-up of voters that push the outcome to Loo or Yao.

It’s a tougher slog for other BC Liberal candidates, who require double-digit swings in order to overtake their adversaries. In Vancouver-False Creek, over half of the votes are yet to be counted. Is there a Sam Sullivan factor given his high name recognition? He needs a 12.7% swing.

Parksville-Qualicum’s incumbent MLA Michelle Stilwell has the highest number of outstanding votes to be counted, among the close races. With 13, 308 outstanding votes, representing 42% of the total, Stilwell is hoping that her base of older supporters went to bed early and voted-by-mail. She needs a 12.2% swing. Similarly for newcomers Matt Pitcairn in Richmond-Steveston who needs a 12.1% swing to overtake the NDP’s Kelly Greene, while Margaret Kunst needs an 11.3% swing in Langley East to topple the NDP’s Megan Dykeman.

The riding of Chilliwack-Kent will resolve itself in the final count as incumbent MLA Laurie Throness trails the NDP’s Kelli Paddon by 195 votes or a 1.2% margin. Throness is no longer a part of the BC Liberal fold, but he may still benefit from votes cast by mail earlier in the campaign by voters who assumed they were voting for him on that basis. It will be one of the top 4 closest ridings to watch.

US Election: a guide to the shifting states

Many are anxiously awaiting US Election Day. As a political junkie, It was a day I used to look forward to – the culmination of a drama that adds another layer onto America’s democracy. But now, like many others, I am anxious. Will Joe Biden win? The polls seem to think so, but I needed to get a better sense of the map before I jump on the emotional roller coaster Tuesday night.

For a refresher, the 2016 presidential map shows the falling dominoes of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – states that had loyally voted Democrat in at least six consecutive elections. These three states alone total 46 electoral college votes, enough to swing the election to Trump.

All electoral college maps are at 270towin.com

I took a deeper historical look at the states that Hilary Clinton lost, but were won by the Democrats at least once since 1992 when Bill Clinton was elected the first time. If you add these states to Hilary’s effort, they account for 437 electoral college votes.

Since 1992, Ohio is the true swing state, going with the winner every time. Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hilary Clinton lost Ohio and look what happened. Bill Clinton lost Florida in 1992, but since then, it has also gone with the winner.

Bill Clinton’s winning maps in 1992 and 1996 were very different than the Democrats road to victory today. Bubba won Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Montana – these states are not in play today. Clinton’s ’92 campaign was the last time the Democrats won Georgia – they actually might win it this time.

Obama’s 2008 campaign rivalled Bill Clinton’s in terms of electoral college votes. Unlike Clinton ’92, Obama won Florida, North Carolina, and Indiana. He would lose the latter two in 2012, despite winning the general election.

Maine and Nebraska are oddities. Electoral college votes are apportioned by congressional district, whereas every other state awards them on a state-wide winner-take-all basis. Trump took 1 electoral college vote from Maine in 2016 – the first time that happened. The only time the Democrats took a vote out of Nebraska since 1992 was with President Obama in 2008.

Hilary Clinton did win states that had gone with the GOP in previous elections.

While President Obama had also won Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado in both of his victories, Kerry and Gore had each lost 4 out 5 of this set. Bill Clinton never won Virginia in either of his elections.

Looking at all 50 states and Washington D.C., the Democrats have a higher base of electoral college votes compared to the GOP when looking at the history of results since 1992. The Democrats have won 16 states (and D.C.) each time, totally 194 electoral college votes. The GOP have won 13 states each time, totalling 101 electoral college votes.

Here are the results of the 2016 presidential election in the states settled by a margin of about 10% or less. Any flips will happen here.

Trump won close races in 10 states and 2 districts, totalling 179 electoral college votes. He won with 306 votes – a buffer of 36 above ‘270 to win’.

Without picking up any blue states, Trump can only afford to lose 36 electoral college votes, with Pennsylvania (20) and Florida (29) the largest prize available for the Democrats of those states settled by less than 2%.

Clinton won 8 battleground states in 2016, totalling 55 electoral college votes. Trump has fewer juicy targets than Biden when it comes to flipping states. If you’re wondering about Maine, the state awards two electoral college votes for winning the state-wide result, in addition to one per district.

A few years back, I had the opportunity to visit the JFK presidential library in Boston. A display had the electoral college map from 1960, which illustrated how much has changed in US politics over the years.

JFKlibrary.org

Nixon won the west coast, including California. While Nixon was from the state, California usually voted Republican then. Not now.

JFK won Texas, as the Democrats usually did then. With LBJ on the ticket, JFK cemented support in the South. There were still echoes from the Civil War in the 1960 map.

The GOP was nowhere in the South back then, losing everything from New Mexico to North Carolina (but winning Florida). A segregationist candidate, Democrat Senator Harry Byrd received 15 electoral college votes spread across Mississippi, Alabama, and Oklahoma.

The point is that voter coalitions change over time. The Democrats’ support was eroded in the South as the civil rights era took hold. Wikipedia has an entry for Reagan Democrats, which refers to white, working-class Democrat voters that defected to the GOP under Reagan (pre-cursor to Trump’s win). The Democrats solidified their base on the east and west coasts.

On Tuesday night, we will see if coalitions shift again – Democrat breakthroughs in Georgia or Texas? Whither Ohio? GOP resiliency in Florida? According to the New York Times:

The president remains in contention in Florida on the strength of his support from working-class whites and his gains among Hispanic voters. He’s running more competitively with Florida Latinos than he did in 2016…

Yikes.

But, look, if Biden wins that one electoral college vote in Nebraska’s swing district, it will likely have been a good night for the Democrats. Keep an eye on the Cornhusker state.

Talking BC politics on the Herle Burly

It was an honour to be asked to appear on the Herle Burly to talk about the recent BC election. It’s a wide ranging hour-long interview preceding the weekly Herle Burly political panel.

David Herle launched Canada’s premier podcast prior to the 2019 federal election. Along with his crew, Jenni Byrne and Scott Reid, they are a good listen because they’ve been there – they know campaigns, politics, and government from the inside out. They know how to win and they have been cut down hard by the voters too. Don’t trust a politico who says they always win! It means they don’t stick around for the hard times.

David was an ‘old’ Young Liberal when I came onto the scene in the mid 1980s. Like me, he was raised in a part of the country (in his case, Saskatchewan) not known for generating Liberals, especially in the 1980s. At my first national convention in 1986, he was the outgoing president of the Young Liberals of Canada, and soon to be at the very heart of Paul Martin’s brain trust. David guided Mr. Martin through leadership campaigns, one of the most successful reigns as Finance Minister in Canadian history (if not the most), and during his prime ministership.

Have a listen… and subscribe to the Herle Burly to keep informed and entertained.

If you watch the YouTube version, note the carefully curated stack of books – some great picks on BC / Canada for you:

BC history/politics

  • Canyon War, by Daniel Marshall
  • Sojourners in the North, by Lily Chow
  • Breaking Trail, Len Marchand’s bio with Matt Hughes
  • At the Bridge, by Wendy Wickwire
  • Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in power 1972-1975, by Geoff Meggs and Rod Mickleburgh
  • Vancouverism, by Larry Beasley

Canadian history/politics

  • Big Tent Politics, by Ken Carty
  • Elusive Destiny: the political vocation of John Turner, by Paul Litt
  • Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the romance of Canada, by Laurier LaPierre
  • Vimy, by Pierre Berton
  • Contenders, by Allan Gregg, George Perlin, and Patrick Martin

Would have also included All-Native by Rudy Kelly, and He Moved a Mountain: the Life of Frank Calder and the Nisga’a Land Claims Accord, by Joan Harper, if I hadn’t loaned them out!

BC Election from 1 to 87

Which were the strongest NDP and BC Liberal seats? When measuring the difference in vote percentage between the NDP and BC Liberals, once again, Vancouver Mt. Pleasant came out on top.

Based on Election Night numbers, the NDP outdistanced the BC Liberals in 57 seats (finishing ahead of the BC Libs in two seats that elected a Green). The BC Liberals prevailed over the NDP in 30 seats (including one seat that elected a Green).

Thus, the dividing line, so far, between the NDP and BC Liberals is between Chilliwack-Kent (NDP leading) and Vernon-Monashee (BC Liberal leading). Chilliwack-Kent is a bit complicated, so you can back up one seat and you have the NDP leading BC Liberal Alexa Loo in Richmond South Centre. That riding would be the 54th NDP seat and Chilliwack-Kent the 55th.

The left hand column (2017) measures the NDP-BC Liberal difference in the previous election, then the 2020 difference, and third column reports how many places each riding moved in terms of its relative rank. For example, North Coast went from 15th best NDP riding in 2017 to 2nd best in 2020, based on the initial count, while Vancouver-Point Grey dropped from 18th best to 43rd best (UBC students at home? spec tax? or see further below). I’m also interested to know why Surrey-Green Timbers dropped from 14th best to 44th. Those examples aside, the only metric that really matters for the NDP is that they lead the BC Liberals and Greens in 55 seats.

As for the BC Liberals, where you see #40 to #57, those are mainly ridings that they need to win next time to form government and many of them are seats they traditionally won from the 1990s until Saturday. However, the first step is to stop going in the wrong direction, and sliding down the chart.

Some ridings that they lost actually did better, relatively speaking. While Jas Johal lost the initial count by about 900 votes, Richmond-Queensborough actually dropped on the NDP depth chart. Based on difference between NDP and BC Liberal votes, it went from 46th best NDP riding (an NDP loss) in 2017 to 51st best NDP riding in 2020 (an NDP win). A rising tide lifts all boats, or some of them to victory anyway. None of this is much consolation to Jas!

While Dan Davies in Peace River North had the largest margin over the NDP, his actual challenger was BC Conservative leader Trevor Bolin, who netted 35% of the vote. The above table isn’t then an exact indicator of ‘safeness’ when third parties and independents are in the mix, but it does at least establish that Peace North is not painted orange.

What about the Greens? They complicate my table so I will deal with them separately. Let’s look at their top 20 seats by popular vote.

Their best three showings in terms of popular vote were the three wins, but they also had another four ridings over 30%: Powell River-Sunshine Coast, Victoria-Beacon Hill, Nelson-Creston, and Nanaimo-North Cowichan. This is a longer list of winnable Green seats than seen before.

In fact, after their three wins, the next 17 best showings are all in NDP seats. Only one of these Top 20 seats elected a BC Liberal in 2017 (West Vancouver-Sea to Sky).

The good news for the NDP is that they still won 17 of these 20 seats in spite of the Greens taking a significant chunk (and this does explain David Eby’s lower popular vote). The Greens eclipsed the BC Liberals in many Island ridings. The bad news for the NDP is that they have a renewed Green Party in the NDP heartland and there is no nicey-nicey CASA arrangement going forward. It will be interesting to see how the NDP and the Sonia Furstenau-led Greens interact at the old rockpile on Belleville Street.

How Popular Vote = Seats

WARNING. This is a dark art.

BC election results usually follow the pattern of the previous election – the strongest and weakest ridings for each party generally stay the same, but there are exceptions, of course.

If one applies various popular vote scenarios to the previous map, you can see how the seats move. Thus, I applied popular vote scenarios for the NDP and BC Liberals to the 2017 map and produced seat estimates.

As you can see below, 40% for NDP and 40% for BC Libs produces the seat count from 2017 – 43 BC Lib, 41 NDP, and 3 Green.

If, when this is all done, the NDP have 46% and BC Libs 37%, then the dart lands 50 NDP seats, 35 BC Lib, and 2 Greens. If BC Libs win 41% of the vote and NDP 39%, then it’s a BC Lib majority of 45 seats to 39 seats. Since the polls have mainly showed NDP leads, most of the scenarios have NDP majorities. However, if the BC Libs exceed 46% of the popular vote tonight, I will be delighted to update my blog post.

Exceptions, exceptions, exceptions. I know, I know. This is a crude, one-size-fits-all approach. While this model does not show it, it is possible for the BC Liberals to win a plurality of seats while losing the popular vote if regional differences become more pronounced. For example, if BC Libs win seats by small margins, especially in rural BC, but get blown out in NDP strongholds, that could happen. The reverse took place in 1996 when Glen Clark led the BC NDP to a majority government despite losing the popular vote by 3 points.

I prefer a more regionalized model that is more fine-tuned to shifts within urban-suburban-rural audiences. But, that’s a lot of work, and I need to have dinner. Can’t blog on an empty stomach … especially on Election Night.

The most ‘outstanding’ ridings

How many votes will be outstanding as of tonight? And which are the most ‘outstanding’ ridings? As of midnight Election Eve, almost 500,000 vote-by-mail ballots had been received with more coming today. Elections BC confirmed that representatives are stationed at the Canada Post sorting facility on Sea Island, ready to collect all available ballots before 8pm PT.

(Just wondering, is it just one guy in a 1991 Toyota Corolla picking up the ballots, and throwing them in the trunk of his car, or is there like a super secret Elections BC Swat team with laser guns, defending democracy against any external threat?)

It’s not just mail ballots either, there are also special voting ballots, absentee voting in and out of electoral district, absentee advance voting, and alternative absentee voting (in DEO office). Last election, those categories added up to over 173,000 votes cast. So, this time we can expect at least 600,000 more ballots to be counted after Election Night (500,000+ mail and 100,000+ absentee).

2017 election:

Which are the most ‘outstanding’ ridings? The other day, I posted about the ‘early birds’ – those voting in advance polls or by mail. Advance poll votes are counted tonight. Mail plus the categories listed above will be counted in November as part of the final count.

I was interested to know which ridings will have the most ballots to be counted as a percentage of ‘expected voters’. I calculated this by taking the current number of registered voters (7% higher compared to 2017) and multiplying it by the turnout percentage per riding from 2017. This is imperfect, but does help estimate how many will show up to vote this time if turnout rate is consistent per riding (it was 61% across BC in 2017, but ranged from a high of 74% in Saanich North & the Islands to a low of 47% in Richmond South Centre).

The ridings with the highest number of outstanding mail ballots will make November a bit more interesting, less certain, and a lot more nerve-wracking in ridings where there is a close race. The lower the number, the more certain one can be on Election Night about the final outcome.

My estimates of the proportion of outstanding ballots (vote-by-mail only) as as a percentage of the estimated number of voters per riding:

RidingMail as % of expected votes
cast per riding
Victoria Beacon Hill42%
Oak Bay Gordon Head37%
Vancouver Fairview36%
Vancouver False Creek36%
Victoria Swan Lake35%
Saanich South34%
Vancouver Pt. Grey34%
Vancouver Quilchena33%
Esquimalt-Metchosin32%
Vancouver West End32%
Saanich North & Islands31%
Vancouver Mt Pleasant30%
Parksville-Qualicum30%
Port Moody Coquitlam30%
Vancouver Langara30%
New Westminster29%
Langford-Juan de Fuca29%
Surrey South29%
Vancouver Hastings29%
North Van Seymour29%
West Van Capilano28%
Courtenay-Comox28%
Nanaimo27%
Vancouver Kensington27%
Richmond South Centre27%
Surrey White Rock27%
Richmond Steveston27%
Vancouver Fraserview27%
Richmond North Centre26%
Burnaby North26%
Coquitlam Burke Mtn26%
Surrey Cloverdale26%
Vancouver Kingsway26%
Port Coquitlam26%
North Van Lonsdale25%
Burnaby Lougheed25%
Kelowna Lake Country25%
Langley East25%
Burnaby Deer Lake24%
Nanaimo-North Cowichan24%
Coquitlam Maillardville24%
Langley24%
Penticton24%
Burnaby Edmonds24%
Kelowna Mission23%
Delta South23%
Cowichan Valley23%
Maple Ridge Mission22%
Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows22%
Surrey Panorama22%
Richmond Queensborough22%
Kelowna West22%
Abbotsford South21%
Kamloops North Thompson21%
West Van Sea to Sky21%
Chilliwack Kent 21%
Surrey Guildford21%
Abbotsford Mission21%
Powell River Sunshine Coast21%
North Island20%
Vernon-Monashee20%
Delta North20%
Surrey Fleetwood20%
Chilliwack20%
Surrey Newton19%
Mid Island-Pacific Rim19%
Surrey Whalley19%
Surrey Green Timbers18%
PG Mackenzie17%
Abbotsford West17%
PG Valemount16%
Boundary Similkameen16%
Shuswap15%
Nelson Creston15%
Kootenay West14%
Cariboo Chilcotin14%
Columbia River Revelstoke14%
Kamloops South Thompson14%
Kootenay East13%
Cariboo North11%
Fraser Nicola11%
Skeena9%
Stikine9%
Nechako Lakes8%
Peace North8%
North Coast7%
Peace South6%
Provincial average
(vote-by-mail as % of expected voters )
24%

Remember, I didn’t account for the other absentee and special ballots in this table so you can probably add about 5%, conservatively, to the number of outstanding provincial ballots. In Oak Bay-Gordon Head last election, there were over 2,400 absentee and special ballots (not counting mail) and in Courtenay-Comox there were almost 2,000, which happened to decide the outcome of government.

When you at your own personal Decision Desk tonight ready to ‘call it’, you might want to check my chart.

BC voters up with the roosters

As of October 23rd, over a million early birds had flocked to the polls in British Columbia – 681,055 at advance polls and almost 500,000 vote-by-mail packages have already been received. Combined, that’s over half the amount that voted in 2017 when about 2 million flew to the polls, mainly on Election Day.

Cock-a-doodle doo … time to vote

Province-wide, about 33% of registered voters have voted or their mail ballots have already been received. Last election, the voter turnout was 61% – so, likely half of the ballots this time are already in. The percentage of early bird voters will increase as mail ballots continue to arrive prior to Saturday at 8pm.

I looked at early birds riding-by-riding by calculating the percentage of advance poll voters per riding and adding the estimated number of mail ballots received per riding (as of October 22) to determine number of early bird voters. (The estimate of mail ballots is Mail Packages requested * 54% – the amount returned by October 22, province-wide). UPDATE – the number of mail ballots received as of October 23 is now 478,900 (66% of packages requested).

Where are the early birds? It looks like they are nesting on the Island. Two of the top three early bird ridings in BC elected Greens in 2017.

Riding
(Colour coded by winning party, 2017)
Adv% Mail ballot return estimateCombined Advance+Mail  (est.)   Oct 22
Parksville-Qualicum26%16%42%
(now 46%, Oct 23)
Saanich North & Islands24%18%41%
Oak Bay Gordon Head20%21%41%
Esquimalt-Metchosin25%16%41%
Vancouver Pt. Grey24%17%41%
Victoria Beacon Hill18%21%39%
Courtenay-Comox24%14%39%
Victoria Swan Lake21%18%38%
North Van Seymour22%16%38%
Saanich South19%19%38%
Vancouver Fairview19%18%37%
Boundary Similkameen29%8%37%
Delta South24%13%37%
Surrey White Rock23%14%37%
Penticton25%11%36%
Langford-Juan de Fuca22%14%36%
North Van Lonsdale23%13%36%
Cowichan Valley24%12%36%
Vancouver West End21%14%35%
Nanaimo-North Cowichan23%12%35%
West Van Sea to Sky24%10%34%
West Van Capilano20%14%34%
Port Moody Coquitlam18%15%33%
Nanaimo20%13%33%
Kelowna Mission23%10%33%
Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows22%11%33%
Burnaby Lougheed21%12%33%
New Westminster18%14%33%
Vancouver Quilchena17%16%32%
Surrey Fleetwood23%9%32%
Langley East20%12%32%
Columbia River Revelstoke25%6%32%
Port Coquitlam19%12%32%
Surrey South18%13%31%
Shuswap23%7%31%
Vancouver False Creek16%15%31%
Kootenay East25%6%31%
Surrey Cloverdale18%12%31%
Coquitlam Maillardville19%11%31%
Kelowna Lake Country20%10%31%
Mid Island-Pacific Rim21%9%30%
Coquitlam Burke Mtn19%12%30%
Cariboo Chilcotin23%7%30%
Kelowna West21%9%30%
Nelson Creston22%8%30%
Langley19%11%30%
Chilliwack Kent 20%10%30%
Powell River Sunshine Coast18%11%29%
Maple Ridge Mission19%11%29%
Fraser Nicola24%5%29%
Burnaby North17%12%29%
Delta North19%10%29%
Richmond Steveston16%13%29%
Surrey Panorama18%10%29%
Abbotsford Mission19%9%28%
Vernon-Monashee19%9%28%
Vancouver Hastings15%13%28%
Abbotsford West21%7%28%
Skeena23%5%28%
Kamloops North Thompson18%10%28%
North Island18%10%28%
Vancouver Fraserview15%12%28%
Vancouver Langara14%13%27%
Richmond Queensborough18%9%27%
Vancouver Kensington15%13%27%
Abbotsford South18%9%27%
Kamloops South Thompson20%7%26%
PG Valemount19%7%26%
Vancouver Kingsway16%11%26%
PG Mackenzie19%7%26%
Peace North23%3%26%
Vancouver Mt Pleasant13%13%26%
Surrey Guildford17%9%26%
Chilliwack17%8%26%
Cariboo North20%5%26%
Kootenay West18%7%24%
Burnaby Deer Lake14%10%24%
Stikine19%5%24%
Surrey Newton15%9%23%
Burnaby Edmonds12%10%22%
Surrey Green Timbers14%8%21%
Surrey Whalley14%7%21%
Richmond South Centre11%10%21%
Peace South18%2%21%
Richmond North Centre10%10%20%
North Coast16%3%19%
Nechako Lakes9%4%12%
Total19.4%11%
(now 14%, as of Oct 23)
30%
(now 33%, Oct 23)
*numbers may not add up due to rounding. Riding-by-Riding not updated for Oct 23.

It appears the advance polls of Michelle Stilwell’s riding were more densely packed than a Fanny Bay oyster bed. Just to be clear, the voter turnout there is already over 45% and they haven’t even got to Election Day. I realize that many ‘experienced’ voters on the Island like to go to bed after the 5:30pm Chek 6 News, but I’m beginning to wonder if they voted early in order to sleep through the entire weekend.

It’s not just Parksville-Qualicum, 7 of 8 early bird ridings are on the Island. By God, democracy is alive and well over there. There are probably a few factors at play:

  • The Island has an older population compared to rest of BC, and it has been clearly shown that older people are more likely to vote.
  • The Island population is not particularly diverse. In ridings with high populations of non-English speakers, language can be a barrier to participation. In fact, highly diverse ridings like Richmond North Centre, Richmond South Centre, Surrey Newton, and Surrey-Green Timbers have among the lowest early bird totals.
  • The Greens are much stronger on the Island, which helps boost turnout due to increased competition.

(Bryan Breguet – Too Close Too Call website – did some interesting analysis here and here. He spent more time number crunching.)

Northern ridings Nechako Lakes and North Coast are the bottom two. They appear to be saving it for Election Day. Stikine and Skeena had higher advance turnouts but low mail participation.

The top advance poll riding was Boundary-Similkameen (29% of registered voters), though they weren’t as big on mail there. Oak Bay-Gordon Head was huge on mail (#1), and had a pretty solid advance poll too.

There is some correlation to high turnout ridings voting early, however, that is not uniform. I looked at turnout in 2017 and it is not straightforward correlation between overall turnout and early turnout. You can see from the table above that there is quite a bit of variation between advance and mail. Rural ridings have a different pattern than urban, the Island is different, etc.

Is there a pattern here? Does this signal a partisan advantage? Public polls breathlessly report that vote-by-mail and/or advance voters are leaning this or that way. If that is the case, and early voters are skewed differently than general election day voters, then that factor will be more at play in the top half of the list than the bottom. In other words, ridings with a higher percentage of votes yet to be cast are potentially more volatile.

What’s the big lesson? Early bird gets the worm? With an estimated half-million early bird votes to be counted after Election Day, I would say don’t count your chickens late November.

Who’s voted? Who knows?!

Elections BC has been providing daily updates about who has been voting and one thing is clear – it should be a lot easier to get a parking space at the polls on Election Day. More people will have voted early than ever before.

Let’s break it down.

Mail. In 2017, a grand total of 6,517 British Columbians voted by mail (0.3%). This time, there is a more than 100-fold increase, with an estimated 725,000 British Columbians requesting vote-by-mail packages, representing more than one-third of all votes cast in the last election. So far, 304,500 packages (42%) have been received by Elections BC with four days to go. Some who requested packages will decide to vote in person, or won’t vote … hard to say how many, yet.

Elections BC’s vote-by-mail advisor has been busy

Advance. In 2017, 617,175 voted in advance polls prior to election night. With the mail-in ballot, it was a question as to how many would show up to advance polls this time. So far, advance voting this time is almost on pace with 472,354 having voted in the first five days, which is about 96% of the 2017 pace of advance voting. There is also an extra day of advance voting this time, so there will actually be more advance votes in 2020 than 2017.

When you add up Mail and Advance, it makes you wonder who’s showing up on Election Day.

Almost two million people voted in 2017 (1,986,374, actually). If 80% of those vote-by-mail packages requested are returned, and advance voting exceeds the level of advance voting in 2017, then I estimate around 1.25 million British Columbians will have voted early. If the same number of people vote this time as 2017, that accounts for about 63% of all ballots cast, leaving only 37% to show up on Election Day and vote. In 2017, two-thirds (66%) of BC voters voted on Election Day.

The number of registered voters in BC has increased by about 7% since 2017 so it is reasonable to expect that more will vote in this election, despite the fact that people say no one is paying attention. (I would say that 725,000 vote-by-mail packages shows that many are paying attention). If the total number of voters increases, then maybe 40% to 50% of all voters will vote on Election Day, but still quite a bit lower than what we are used to.

GOTV. Or ‘Get out the Vote’ for the uninitiated. Campaigns can mark off the 600,000 or so voters that have already voted, but they can’t track who has requested a mail package other than asking people if they have already voted. Therefore, campaigns are chasing voters that may have already voted. Let’s do some rough math. 2 million people vote. 600,000+ vote in advance (30%) – done, cross them off. Around 600,000 vote by mail (30%) and 800,000 vote on E-Day (40%). Campaigns will have a challenge on focusing on the voters that haven’t already voted.

I pity the poor voters who voted by mail but will still be called relentlessly by the local campaign because they are not marked off on a bingo sheet.

Election Night results. What will we know and when will we know it? On Election Night, general voting day ballots and advance poll ballots (most of them) are counted that night. In 2017, an estimated 91% of all ballots were counted and reported on Election Night by bedtime. Even still, it was inconclusive, but that was a bit weird – usually, you know who has won by 9:15pm. This time, they will only count about 70% of the ballots on Election Night by my estimate. That number could be lower if (a) a higher % of people cast their ballots by mail, and (b) there is a lower than expected turnout on Election Day.

Let’s go with 70%. With 30% of the mail ballots outstanding, it will be very hard to call close election races. About 22 of the 87 ridings last time were settled by a margin of 10% or less.

When we will know? As I wrote earlier in the campaign, they don’t even start counting mail ballots until November 6th under normal circumstances. We do not have normal, here. Elections BC has to vet and verify all of the 600,000 plus packages. For example, they have to make sure people don’t vote by mail and vote in person.

They have to count these ballots by hand. They might need to borrow some of those contact tracers.

Once they open the packages, what a delight. Many of the early mail ballots were cast before nominations closed so people could write in their party name or expected candidate. There will be illegible handwriting, spelling errors, and other issues to interpret.

Here’s a brainteaser. In the riding of Richmond-Steveston, there is no Green Party candidate, but the the NDP candidate’s last name is Greene. If someone writes “Green”, what do they mean? I assume Green Party, if there is no ‘e’ on the end, but I can hear the galloping hoofs of lawyer-laden wagons heading to the cannery district already.

The counting of the mail ballots may not start until mid-November or even the third week (one estimate was November 21st). Then they have to count them.

Through all of this time, government is in caretaker mode. This means they can’t do much other than really important stuff that comes up and has to be dealt with. There won’t be a new cabinet until election writs are returned.

The Waiting Game. The worst hour for campaigners is 7:45pm and 8:45pm on election nights when you’ve done pretty much all you can do, but the results haven’t started to flow yet. Imagine having to wait from 7:45pm on Election Night, October 24th, to American Thanksgiving.

For most of the ridings, yeah, they will know. The top of the top NDP ridings and the top of the top BC Liberal ridings will be confirmed that night. You can check out top ridings from last time here.

But where will be the close ones? There will be two variables in play- how close is the race and how many people voted by mail?

Some ridings have seen less than 10% of registered voters request packages while in other ridings it’s over 30%. Province-wide, 21% of registered voters have requested a package.

I don’t know what’s happening on Vancouver Island. As of Monday, almost 2 in 5 registered voters in Oak Bay-Gordon Head and Victoria-Beacon Hill have requested vote-by-mail packages – 38% to be exact. They seem pretty keen to vote over there.

Vote-by-mail has not taken off in many rural ridings. Perhaps voting in person is just the way it oughta be done. Some might say those city slickers can’t be bothered to stretch on their Lululemon pants and take their e-scooter to the poll located in their strata complex, but, by golly, BC’s rural residents will drive three hours through blinding snowstorms to exercise their democratic rights. (I own Lululemon pants, I wouldn’t say that.) Regardless, only 6% of registered voters in North Coast, 8% in Skeena, 9% in Stikine, and 9% in Fraser-Nicola have requested mail packages.

The suspense-filled seat of Courtenay-Comox has had over 12,134 registered voters request packages (26%). That seat was settled by a margin of 189 votes in 2017. Likewise, other 2017 ‘close calls’ have lots of outstanding mail this time: Vancouver-False Creek (13,365), Coquitlam-Burke Mountain (9,572), and Surrey-Panorama (8,130), for example.

Many candidates will simply have to wait it out. They could go to Hawaii for two weeks, quarantine back home for two weeks, and still not know!

More agony. Oh, this is the worst. You know the story about the candidate who is declared elected, but actually lost? (Sorry, Frank). Happens a lot. There are going to be cases of candidates with nice leads on Election Night that see them evaporate when the mail ballots are counted. I don’t know if the mail ballots will be skewed toward the NDP, BC Libs, or Greens relative to Election Night results. Who knows? But what will happen is the poor candidate who has a 127 vote lead has to wait a month to have another 10,000 votes counted. This is, frankly, how you could torture someone as an alternative to waterboarding. A bunch of well-meaning dopes are going to say to them, “Oh, it’s going to be alright. I’m sure you’ll win.” Or gloomy types will wear their anxiety on their sleeves and exist in a waking state of misery. My advice for candidates in a state of suspension – binge watch Netflix and let your team worry about it. Might help.

An election in a pandemic. It’s been a strange one. And it ain’t gonna be over for awhile. You can mail that one in.