A local take on the Burnaby South by-election

Guest Shot – by Adam Pankratz.  2015 Liberal candidate in Burnaby South.

Burnaby South has been in the news a lot lately. Burnaby? In the news? Not something we used to read very often, but Burnaby residents have gotten used to the spotlight lately. Whether it’s Kinder Morgan in the north, or Jagmeet Singh in the south, Burnaby’s ridings have been the focal points of several major news stories for 2018 and 2019.

Political observers are talking about how Jagmeet Singh will fare in his bid to gain a seat and become an MP as he deals with turmoil within the NDP. Win or lose Mr. Singh will face serious headwinds…but lose and he’s finished. Will the voters of Burnaby give him his victory and a chance to lead the NDP into the next general election in October?

Kinder Morgan – it’s the issue everyone wanted to talk about 6 months ago, and Jagmeet Singh opened his candidacy by attacking the “leaky pipeline.” I said then that Mr Singh missed the mark with Kinder Morgan, which is a minor issue in Burnaby, and not one that would decide the by-election here. The current situation in Burnaby, despite all the attention heaped on it through the summer and fall, is that no candidate is focused on Kinder Morgan. Burnaby residents are ultimately practical and realistic on Kinder Morgan, as are most Canadians. Responsible resources extraction is necessary for the Canadian economy and the residents here recognize that. It is a very loud minority who made it the issue it was.

What the candidates have all zeroed in on is the major issue in Burnaby of housing. It is the issue which sank Derek Corrigan, the four-term mayor of Burnaby, who lost to current mayor Mike Hurley last October.  Once again, the issue is front and centre. Like all the Lower Mainland, Burnaby is expensive and residents here want to see more action taken at all levels of government.

These issues are in many ways similar to the ones I came across doorknocking and speaking with residents during my 2015 federal election campaign. During that election there was also serious concern about the Harper Government and their impact on Canada’s image and sense of ourselves as a compassionate society. Canadians want a government that listens to them and understands their concerns and Burnaby residents are no different. That is why I always thought, and still do, that Mr Singh’s major challenge this by-election is gaining local credibility with Burnaby voters.


Pankratz campaign: won Election Day, but could not overcome strong NDP machine delivering support to the advance poll.

Mr Singh clearly thinks Burnaby is an NDP slam dunk or he wouldn’t be here. History is on his side, but will Burnaby voters deliver what Mr Singh expects? “All Burnaby” ridings (that is, ridings entirely within Burnaby, not split over city boundaries) have gone NDP for over 40 years. Mr. Singh and the NDP clearly are hoping for a repeat of the voting pattern in October.

There is, however danger in this. Burnaby is changing and the 2015 general election proved that. In that election Burnaby North Seymour went Liberal and in Burnaby South the incumbent Kennedy Stewart narrowly hung on to best me by 547 votes. But the larger gamble the NDP and Mr Singh are taking is assuming that Burnaby residents are the same as they were 40 years go (they aren’t) and thinking they will readily accept a candidate who parachuted in, with no community connections.

I believe Burnaby residents want an MP who knows the community and understand them. I remember distinctly that the most common response to our team in 2015, an election in which we doorknocked for over a year prior to Election Day, was “No one has knocked on my door since Svend was our MP.” “Svend” is, of course, Svend Robinson, who served Burnaby for 25 years as MP. Like him or hate him, Svend was someone who understood Burnaby, worked tirelessly to be present locally as an MP and develop personal relationships with his constituents. Svend’s rival at the time, Bill Cunningham (Liberal) and successor (Bill Siksay) also had deep, long standing relationships with Burnaby. Burnaby misses this. It is no doubt one of the key reasons our election campaign did so well in 2015, despite the entrenched NDP history. Local wins here. The fact that recent NDP representative Kennedy Stewart resigned as MP and immediately began touting that he was from Vancouver and always wanted the job of Vancouver Mayor has only deepened the desire of Burnaby residents for a long-term MP intent on local priorities and issues.

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Svend: Knocker of Doors, also now on Twitter (photo: CBC)

What can we expect of this by-election?  At the outset my opinion, bluntly put, was that Jagmeet Singh should have lost Burnaby South decisively. However, current events have conspired to make that loss seem unlikely.

Due to the close race in 2015, the story everyone (sensibly) made was that this would be a tight race between the Liberals and the NDP. However, the former Liberal candidate, Karen Wang, was forced to resign due to comments she made on WeChat regarding Mr Singh. This botched campaign start, followed by the scramble to replace her has hurt Liberal credibility locally. Now, the national Liberal scene is being shaken by the SNC-Lavalin affair. Does this mean the Liberals are cooked in Burnaby South? No, but they have made their lives significantly more difficult than it ought to have been.

One party not being talked about at all is the Conservatives in Burnaby. They have flown under the radar in this by-election despite strong results in 2011 (40%) and even 2015 (27%), given the circumstances. In my mind they were a dark horse contender until the People’s Party of Canada was founded. This long shot is now essentially non-existent.

The PPC is running an ostensibly strong candidate in former local school trustee candidate from 2018 Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson. Ms Thompson has been controversial for her anti-SOGI comments and stance on similar issues, yet still received over 15,000 votes in the 2018 municipal election. While campaign signs don’t mean anything at the ballot box, it’s hard not to notice the disproportionately high amount of PPC signs around Burnaby, given the party is supposed to almost be a fringe joke nationally. If Ms Thompson can rally her supporters from 2018, I would watch for the PPC to seriously surprise people and perhaps even see Burnaby South legitimize the PPC as a minor party.

Jagmeet Singh meanwhile continues to be at best an unknown, enigmatic figure for most Burnaby residents. He talks in bland platitudes, doesn’t have a clear stance on anything and equivocates when asked direct questions. At his first press conference he claimed to be “All in on Burnaby.” He isn’t. His strategy seems to be “Burnaby will vote NDP no matter what.” Past that, it’s hard to see any notable impact he has made on the community or its residents.

In the end, despite his lack of connection to the riding and lack of understanding as to what makes Burnaby tick, I foresee Mr Singh and the NDP pulling this one out on the basis of history. The Liberals did themselves no favours in the run up to or first half of the by-election and simply have too much ground to make up. The Conservatives will be split by the PPC and fade away.

So the surprise is that the Liberals and Conservatives do not look like they can take advantage of a weak NDP leader with no connection to Burnaby, while the upstart PPC might have a boost that puts fuel in its tank.  Politics is always interesting in BC.

Electoral Wipe-Outs and the Aftermath

Ontario Liberals are looking into the abyss.  This isn’t news.  Premier Kathleen Wynne said as much already when she conceded defeat, a rare admission by a campaigning incumbent Premier.

But how bad will it be?  And then what?

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It’s just politics.  Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell on Election Night, 1993.

We’ll know Thursday night where the Liberals will stand, but they stand to face drastic losses.  Reaching 10 seats at this point will be a triumph.  Our numbers at Pollara Strategic Insights, applied to a seat model, indicate there is a greater likelihood that they will be reduced to five or less seats.

Canadian politics provides us with several examples of tsunami elections where incumbent governments were literally washed away:

  • 1987 New Brunswick (58 Liberal, 0 PC).  Premier Richard Hatfield had governed uninterrupted since 1971, but by the mid 1980s, his government had lost its way, not to mention Hatfield’s own personal scandals.  Upstart Liberal leader Frank McKenna mobilized the electorate behind his active, youthful leadership.
  • 1993 Canada (PC’s reduced from 169 seats to 2 seats).  After two successive majority PC governments, the fallout of the Charlottetown Accord defeat, rise of Preston Manning’s Reform Party, and imposition of GST had dealt fatal blows to the Mulroney government.  Despite leadership change and the first and only female prime minister in Canadian history, the PCs were obliterated.  The Liberals had been dealt a hobbling blow themselves in 1984 -their worst outcome since Confederation.  Not only did they return with a majority under Jean Chretien in 1993, a key part of three successive wins was their utter domination of Ontario.
  • 2001 BC (77 BC Liberals, 2 NDP).  The BC NDP pulled a rabbit out of the hat in 1996 when incumbent NDP Premier Mike Harcourt gave way to one of his ministers, Glen Clark.  Clark won a majority by a thin margin.  However, Clark’s government was quickly under siege early and never recovered.  Clark resigned and Ujjal Dosanjh led the NDP into an electoral clearcut.  Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberals won the largest majority in the province’s history.

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There are examples where governing parties have been rendered extinct – the BC Social Credit, United Farmers of Alberta, Alberta Social Credit, Saskatchewan PCs, and Union Nationale come to mind.

The Ontario Liberals look to finish well below Richard Hatfield’s PCs and Ujjal Dosanjh’s NDP in terms of popular vote.  They have fallen below the “pitchfork line” – my newly coined phrase that I am marketing to Canada’s political science professors. It’s that line where – once crossed – a government will never recover because a critical mass of voters is so angry that the incumbent government cannot overcome that passion and intensity.

It’s hard to believe that the Ontario Liberals will become a political DoDo bird.  It’s more likely they will rise again, in due course.  Among the stages of recovery:

  • Mourning
  • Walk of humility
  • The professional class gives way to the true believers and new believers
  • New governments eventually screw up, therefore, opportunity
  • Momentum builds for a comeback
  • Time passes, change is inevitable

1987 New Brunswick – the PCs came back and won the first election after the retirement of McKenna.  It took a while to rebuild and the flash-in-the-pan Confederation of Regions Party supplanted the PCs briefly during that period.  But eventually, voters stopped punishing the PCs and Bernard Lord’s PCs returned to power in 1999. (12 year recovery)

1993 Canada – From two seats, the PCs climbed to official party status, then the merger with the Canadian Alliance, which had evolved itself from the Reform Party.  After forcing a minority in 2004, Stephen Harper won the 2006 election and governed for nine years. (13 year recovery)

2001 BC – the NDP were reduced to two of 79 seats.  They roared back in 2005 almost upsetting the Campbell government, and for the next three elections, there was a 4-point standoff between the governing BC Liberals and NDP.  After 16 years, in 2017, the NDP returned to power, with support from the Green Party.  While missing their chance at the 12 year mark, they are there now. (16 year recovery)

Whatever happens on June 7th, the Liberals will not be dead, they will just be resting.  In all likelihood, they will be back some day.  The three-party system is well-established in Ontario. Maybe it will be the 12 to 16 year range like the examples above.  Or maybe the volatility of today’s politics will expedite that process.

I will draw from my own personal experience.  My first campaign was in 1984 when as a Liberal in the Mission-Port Moody riding, I saw the pitchforks first-hand.  Voters were very angry with the Pierre Trudeau government and weren’t buying the change that John Turner offered as his replacement.  While burma-shaving on the Lougheed Highway in that summer campaign, the rage emanating from the commuters was hotter than the pavement we were standing on.  We were clobbered, going from government to 40 seats – the most humiliating defeat for the Liberal Party since Confederation.  Yet, the Party rebuilt, made a hard charge during the 1988 election, and then won a decisive majority in 1993.  A nine year recovery.

In 1988, I was on hand for Liberal Sharon Carstairs’ amazing breakthrough from one to 20 seats in Manitoba, only a few seats from governing.  Then again in 1991, for BC Liberal Gordon Wilson’s rise to Official Opposition from zero seats.  Turnarounds can be faster than people expect, especially in the social media age.  I mean, six months ago, did anyone – anyone – expect Doug Ford would be the next Premier of Ontario?  Anything can happen.

Ontario Liberals can learn from the 2011 federal election and events thereafter.  It was a humiliating loss for Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals and many touted a Liberal-NDP merger, with the NDP having the strong hand.  Until halfway through the 2015 election campaign, it looked like Tom Mulcair’s NDP were the primary opposition to Harper.  Justin Trudeau turned the tables and governs today, taking his party from third to first in probably the most dramatic comeback in Canadian political history.

A huge loss can be a good loss.  It allows for new growth and regeneration.  The Liberals will shake off “government-itis” in the face of the obvious. Voters will want to see that the Party has learned its lesson, has changed, and is offering new leadership.  Internally, the party will need to heal and unify.

Electoral wipe outs – and subsequent recoveries – speak well for our system.   There is elasticity.  Voters are in charge, punishing when they are mad, generous to parties that change and renew.  Parties that can take a punishing hit, rebuild, and contend for power are examples of parties that strive to be inclusive, rather than staying in a narrow box that only appeals to a narrow slice of voters (like the Greens, for example).  For Ontario Liberals, this phase may be over, but it will also be the beginning of something new.

Voter Turnout lessons and what it means for Ontario

Update: My editorial in the Globe & Mail (June 6, 2018)

Ontario voters will render their verdict on June 7th.

It’s a very significant election.  The Liberals have governed since 2003.  A change in Ontario – either to Doug Ford’s PCs or Andrea Horwath’s NDP – will be a major tone-setter for national politics and influence the make up of the issues heading into the 2019 federal election, not to mention the impact it would have on one of the largest sub-national economies in the world.

But of course, only those who actually vote get to decide.  Millions of Ontario residents will avoid the polls altogether.

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Who will end up voting to elect the next Premier of Ontario? (Photo: CBC)

The recent BC election and 2015 federal election provide insight into who will show up to the polls in Ontario, and what it means for parties when the overall voter pool grows, and by how much.

You can’t stand still while the voter pool grows

Like the Ontario Liberals, the BC Liberals won four consecutive elections in BC – and like the Ontario Liberals – a female leader replaced a three-term Premier and won an improbable fourth term for her party.

In the case of BC, Christy Clark succeeded in holding her Party’s overall raw vote and its market share, especially in relation to the BC NDP, and won a majority in 2013.  In 2017, Clark’s BC Liberals still held their raw vote (almost identically), but the voter pool grew resulting in a loss of market share.  The Greens surged and the NDP bridged the gap.  Result: a minority government and we all know how that turned out.

Chart 1:  Raw vote for BC parties (1996-2017)

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In fact, when looking at BC’s historic forces of “Free Enterprise” versus “The Left”, the change over time is quite dramatic.  Free Enterprise has been sitting at around 800,000 voters for 20 years while the NDP/Greens have nearly doubled.  It finally caught up to “Free Enterprise” in 2017.

Chart 2:   Raw vote for Free Enterprise (BC Libs/Right wing parties) vs. NDP/Greens (1996-2017)

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The number of voters in BC provincial elections has climbed steadily since 2009 after a dip, with the total now reaching close to two million. Federal turnout was not that much different than provincial turnout from 2000 to 2011, but exploded in 2015.  Close to 2.4 million British Columbians voted, 20% more than the 2017 BC election.

Chart 3: Total number of voters in British Columbia in recent provincial and federal elections (BC only)

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The federal Conservatives – like the BC Liberals in 2017 – held their raw vote in 2015, but lost market share because almost three million more Canadians cast ballots in 2015 compared to the previous election. The Conservatives were happy with their slice of the pie in 2011, but Justin Trudeau helped bake a bigger pie leaving the Conservatives with their same old slice.  The Liberals were clearly the beneficiary of the increased turnout.

Chart 4: Federal parties’ raw vote totals (2006-2015)

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It also matters where you hold your vote.  Both the Clark BC Liberals and Harper Conservatives actually increased their raw vote in their heartland.  The BC Liberals cleaned up in the Interior while the Conservatives thumped the other parties in Alberta (and gained votes in Quebec).  But they both lost ground in the vote-rich urban regions.

A study of federal voter turnout among registered voters between 2011 and 2015 showed that there was increased turnout in all age groups, but the largest increase was among younger voters.

Chart 5: Turnout rate of registered voters by age group (2011 and 2015 federal elections)

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So, increased voter turnout, means more young people voting, meaning bad news for centre-right parties.  Got it?

Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Federal turnout in 2015 was quite exceptional.  It blew the lid off of previous federal elections and, as shown above, the 2017 BC election did not replicate that level of turnout.  Turnout increased, but it wasn’t “Justin-sized”.

In BC, the Golden Agers still rule the roost.  Those aged 55 to 74 punch above their weight.  Compared to their share of the population, those age groups make up a much bigger share of the voter pool.  The 55-64 age group makes up about 17% of the adult population but accounts for about 21% of the voters; the 65-74 age group makes up about 13% of the population but 18% of the voters. Combined, about 30% of the population have close to 40% of the voting strength.  Add the over 75s, who also have a disproportionately large share of voting strength, and you have half of the voting population over the age of 55.

The reverse is true, obviously, for younger voters, particularly those under 35.  Those voters make up about 28% of the population but only about 18% of the voters in BC.

Chart 6: BC age groups as a percentage of the population and as a percentage of voters

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When looking at how age groups compared between the 2013 and 2017 provincial elections, there are interesting findings.  The largest increase by age group was the 65-74s with over 60,000 more voters in that category in 2017.  The next largest increase was 25-34s at close to 40,000.  What explains this?  Demographics partly, but there may be a mini-Justin effect with the Greens inducing turnout (a theory, not proven) and it may have been a result of third-party turnout activism (again, not proven).  These numbers are also the result of Elections BC estimate so we also have to assume they got it right, but it rings true to me. (Not sure what’s going on with that 45-54 category – did I remember to vote?)

Chart 7: Increase in votes by age category between 2013 and 2017 BC elections

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Was the increase in 25-34s concentrated in the Lower Mainland where the BC Liberals suffered heavy losses? I don’t know.  It would be an interesting study to see where in BC the largest increases took place.

The increase in 65-74s – and indeed increases across the board among 55+ age groups, should have been a good thing for the BC Liberals.  The fact is – they didn’t do as well as 2013 with their base.  It wasn’t just young people showing up that made a difference; it was a lack of performance among previous BC Liberal voters.

What does this mean for Ontario?

Let’s take a look at how Ontario provincial elections compare to federal elections when it comes to turnout.

Federal turnout has been consistently higher.   In 2015, 6.5 million Ontario voters galloped to the polls to vote in the federal election, yet no Ontario provincial election has ever seen more than five million voters.

Chart 8: Comparison of number of Ontario voters voting in recent federal and Ontario elections

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Historical election data in Ontario shows us that – only once – has a political party received over two million votes (Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals in 2003)

Chart 9: Ontario elections since 1990 – total votes and top party votes

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Taking turnout into account relative to federal elections, how many voters can we expect in the June 2018 election in Ontario?  And how many votes will the top party need?

The 2014 election saw provincial turnout at 88% of the level of the dull 2011 federal election.  If the 2018 Ontario election is 88% of the sizzling 2015 federal election, then that would equate to 5.7 million voters in June. That would be a huge increase. I don’t think that’s going to happen.  I think, like BC, there will be an increase in the voter pool – over 5 million for the first time – but probably not as high as 5.7 million.  Even with an increase north of five million, the winning party will likely need a record-setting vote total (+two million) or hope for a good vote split.

Then, who votes?

It is more likely that Ontario’s age composition will resemble BC’s 2017 profile than Canada’s 2015 profile – older people having a disproportionate share.

I looked at the share of each age group in the 2011 and 2015 federal elections, and the BC 2017 election, and applied those ratios to Ontario’s population.  Based on these three scenarios, 55+ age group would account for 42% to 48% of the voters in the coming election, compared to 38% share of the population.

Chart 10: Ontario population by age group compared to age models from 2011 and 2015 federal elections, and 2017 BC election

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Does it matter in Ontario?  Typically, the 55+ age group leans right relative to younger voters.  This was certainly the case federally in 2015 and in BC in 2017.

However, in Pollara Strategic Insight’s mid-election survey of Ontario voters, we found that the NDP had gained 7 points among voters aged 50 and over during the first half of the campaign, taking the lead in this category of high-turnout voters.

Chart 11: Pollara Strategic Insights survey results of Ontario election, May 4 & 22, 2018 (50+ voters)

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The striking difference in Ontario is the gender split, with men more likely to vote PC, and women more likely to vote NDP at this stage of the campaign.  From what I have seen over the years, there is not a major turnout difference between men and women, like there is with age.

If the poll results stand, the NDP will have blunted a major advantage for the PCs – support among older voters.  Geographically, there is likely still a PC advantage.  The NDP may be gaining in key demographics, but at the end of the day, it matters where the votes are located – in the ridings.  (More on seat models another day).

Pollara’s research also finds an “enthusiasm” advantage for Doug Ford’s PCs.  Ford Nation is already lining up at the polling stations to vote, they’re so excited, though slightly less so than earlier in the campaign.  The NDP voters are the least excited.  Is that just their nature or is their rise in support a bit thin? In terms of impact on votes, if Ford over performs the polls on Election Day, it may well be because he was throwing red meat to his base, regardless of their age.

Chart 12: Pollara Strategic Insights survey results of Ontario election, May 4 & 22, 2018 (Enthusiasm Gap)

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What does it all mean?

  • When the voter pool grows, parties must grow with it or perish.
  • Older voters (55+) still rule the roost and constitute a majority (or close to it).  They punch above their demographic weight at the polls.  The party with an advantage in this age group will have a turnout advantage.
  • Youth turnout continues to lag behind, but it is growing and becoming a bigger factor.
  • While it will likely be a record turnout for an Ontario election, it is very unlikely that the June election will keep pace with 2015 federal turnout. The unknown is to what extent 55+ age group exerts control over the outcome, or whether Millennials offset their influence by voting in increased numbers.


View from the Left: The Liberals had a better campaign

By Richard Tones and Brenton Walters

There is a litany of perspectives out there on the poor showing of the NDP and Thomas Mulcair in the recent federal election. They range from not being ‘left’ enough and corporate conspiracies to specific moments such as the niqab controversy and debate performances.


The Orange Crush came up empty on Election Night.  Why?  Read on.

The problem is that although some have some of these theories have merit, the issues identified were symptoms and not the illness. We suspect our perspective will be seen as simplistic – but it might be just that simple.

The Liberals had a better product.

The Liberal machine put together a campaign that was just shy of perfect in political terms, and New Democrats know it. They had some particular advantages such as a leader with incredible notoriety, an enviable vote efficiency, manageable expectations, and a campaign just long enough to bring it all together.

On election day, voters that had identified as NDP supporters five weeks earlier voted Liberal. That is why Mulcair has 44 seats instead of ’just 35 more than the NDP had in 2011’.

The Niqab

With all due respect to Mulcair, the niqab didn’t matter in terms of electoral fortune – it was just a bump in the road. The results speak for themselves: the Conservative’s numbers barely moved from 2011, the Bloc dropped five points, and the Liberals went up over 20 points.

If the niqab mattered, it was only for a moment, and it wasn’t a vote-determining issue. In Quebec, the NDP finished a full 10 points behind the Liberals, who arguably had the same position.

More than 60% of Quebeckers voted for the two parties (Liberal & NDP) who had a position that apparently 93% of Quebeckers disagreed with. The Bloc started the campaign at 17% according to Nanos and ended at 19.3%, popping up over 20% briefly a full three weeks after the niqab story broke.

More Quebeckers voted for the Liberals and NDP in 2015 than in 2011. They just seemed to be attracted to the Liberals more – niqab be damned.

The NDP Economic Anchor

What has become the traditional attack by Liberals and Conservatives (or the litany of provincial coalitions of the two) is that the NDP doesn’t understand business, will increase taxes, and generally can’t handle money.

We have now seen three elections in a row where the NDP spent an entire campaign trying to prove they were up to the challenge: the 2015 Federal, the 2014 provincial in Ontario, and the 2013 provincial in British Columbia.

In each case the central message of the NDP was, “you can trust us with the bank card.”

The NDP is in the unenviable situation where they are in constant danger of being cut by both edges of the fiscal sword. If they don’t campaign on fiscal responsibility they fail to counter the primary attack on them, and if they do campaign on fiscal responsibility they are said to be saying whatever it takes to get elected – not to mention causing heartburn for their long standing base in labour and other social movements.

We’ve spoken to a lot of folks from within the party who agree that it is a frustrating position to be in and don’t have a particular answer on how to deal with it. Most (including your author) say that they would have run the same economic campaign – with only minor changes.

Our new theory? Ignore it.

In Layton’s speeches and debate performances he rarely rattled off economic data, and when he did bring it up it was always in the context of direct family finances such as bank fees. In contrast, you can’t find a speech from Mulcair (or Horwath, and Dix) that doesn’t talk about big economics.

This will irk some folks, but Trudeau talked about emotional issues at around 30,000 feet while Mulcair spoke about financial planning at about 100 feet. There is an interesting parallel to Layton v. Ignatieff.

In 2011 our roles were reversed

Jack Layton was an amazing leader and that helped greatly, but the product itself was superior to that of the Liberals in 2011.

In 2011, the NDP had a campaign with the same feel as Trudeau’s: it was high level with a larger message, one that appealed to voters without getting stuck in the trenches. We had a budget and lots of numbers, but it never got in the way of the larger discussion of values. We were much better at ignoring our largest negative, fiscal management.

If you want to test this yourself just go ask your ‘average voter’ friend to give you three adjectives on the Liberal and New Democrat campaigns in 2011 and 2015. You will find ‘average voter’ will use some of the same words to describe the Layton and Trudeau campaigns and conversely the same words to describe the Mulcair and Ignatieff campaigns.


Don’t mistake our mention of ‘product’ as meaning just Layton or Trudeau (or any other leader) alone. Having a leader that is naturally charismatic is incredibly helpful, but the package around them has to be just as dynamic, including a message that is more than a collection of policies – it has to all connect to a larger emotion. In 2015 we weren’t able to do that, while the Liberals were.

They presented voters with a near-perfect package: a charismatic leader, messaging that connected emotionally with a lot of Canadians, and (some) policies that supported that messaging. And so they won.


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Richard Tones is Director of Government Relations at Wazuku.  Previously, he had a successful career in the labour movement.  He’s a veteran NDP campaigner, a former aide to BC cabinet ministers, and one-time candidate.  He’s from one of the great hometowns: Maple Ridge, BC.  His full-length bio photo was too edgy for this blog.



Brenton Walters’ firm Civil Communications offers campaign and communication services.  He is a veteran campaigner including Tom Mulcair’s leadership and Vision Vancouver.  He was raised in a small logging town on an island and then a small farming/hippy community outside a bigger town on a bigger island on the coast of BC.  Diehard Whitecaps fan.

Thanks to both Richard and Brenton for contributing.  Looking to add more perspectives at Rosedeer.com in the months ahead.

Wrap-up on BC’s federal cabinet representation

BC is off to a decent start in terms of Cabinet clout with three new federal cabinet ministers today: Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould (Justice and Attorney-General of Canada), Hon. Harjit Sajjan (National Defence), and Hon. Carla Qualtrough (Sport and Persons with Disabilities).  All rookie MPs, which is without precedent in modern times.

Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau is the 3rd prime minister to be an alumnus of the University of British Columbia, joining Rt. Hon. John Turner and Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell.

BC carved out some senior cabinet representation in PMJT’s first cabinet

Here is a summary of articles at Rosedeer.com on BC’s cabinet representation:

  • Cabinet Committee assignments for BC ministers. What will BC’s ministers be up to? Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, Hon. Harjit Sajjan, and Hon. Carla Qualtrough sit on a variety of important committees with Wilson-Raybould and Sajjan on Agenda & Results.
  • The Justin Trudeau Cabinet by Region. How does BC fare versus other regions? With 12% of the seats in the House of Commons and 9% of the seats in the Liberal Caucus, BC’s Liberal delegation composes 10% of the Cabinet’s membership.
  • Jody Wilson-Raybould a First Nations first.  Wilson-Raybould is first female First Nations person elected in British Columbia history.  Now, she’s the second FN cabinet minister from BC, following in footsteps of Hon. Len Marchand.

Cabinet Committee assignments for BC ministers

BC’s federal cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould, Harjit Singh Sajjan and Carla Qualtrough will be busy.

Hon. Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South) sworn in as Minister of National Defence

Cabinet committee mandates and memberships indicate they will be spending a lot of time in meeting rooms.  They will now begin the four year tug-of-war between cabinet duties and constituency visits.

Cabinet Committee on Agenda and Results

The pre-eminent Cabinet sub-committee chaired by PM Trudeau.  Both Wilson-Raybould and Sajjan are members of the 11 member committee.

Treasury Board

Chair Hon. Scott Brison.  No BC ministers.

Parliamentary Affairs

Chair Hon. Dominic Leblanc.  No BC ministers.

Inclusive Growth, Opportunities and Innovation

Chaired by Health Minister Hon. Jane Philpott.  This committee is mandated to “grow the middle class”.  No BC ministers.

Diversity and Inclusion

Chaired by Immigration Minister Hon. John McCallum.  This committee is mandated to improve relationship with indigenous Canadians and promote diversity, multiculturalism, and linguistic duality.  Wilson-Raybould and Qualtrough are members.

Canada in the World and Public Security

Responsible for promotion of Canadian values and interests abroad, and domestic/global security.  Chaired by Hon. Ralph Goodale (Public Security ministers), Wilson-Raybould is vice-chair and Saijjan is a member.

Sub-committee of Canada in the World: Canada-US relations

Mandated to “foster strong relations”.  Chaired by International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, Wilson-Raybould andSajjan are members.

Intelligence and Emergency Management

Chaired by PM Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould is vice-chair,Sajjan is a member.

Open and Transparent Government

Chaired by Hon. Judy Foote, Qualtrough is vice-chair, Wilson-Raybould is a member.

Environment and Climate Change

Chaired by Foreign Minister Hon. Stephane Dion.  No BC ministers.

By my count, Wilson-Raybould sits on six cabinet committees (vice-chair of two),Sajjan sits on four committees, and Qualtrough two (vice-chair of one).

Treasury Board, Growing the middle class, and Climate Change are three committees where a BC presence is missing, but realistically, BC’s ministers can’t be everywhere.  With two on Agenda & Results, BC has a fair crack to be heard.

The Justin Trudeau Cabinet by Region

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his new cabinet today.

Here’s a spatial look at the geographic base of his ministers.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 8.55.25 AM

The following table breaks down the number of ministers by province and how that compares to the size of the LPC caucus in each province/territories (P/T), and how cabinet representation relates to the proportion of that P/T’s share of the LPC national caucus and share of seats overall.

# of Ministers # of Liberal MPs # of MPs (Total) % of seats from P/T in HOC (all) % of LPC seats from P/T in LPC caucus % of P/T Lib MPs as share of cabinet % of LPC MPs from P/T in Cabinet LPC MPs as % of P/T
BC 3 17 42 12% 9% 10% 18% 40%
AB 2 4 34 10% 2% 6% 50% 12%
SK 1 1 14 4% 1% 3% 100% 7%
MB 2 7 14 4% 4% 6% 29% 50%
ON 11 80 121 36% 43% 35% 14% 66%
QUE 7 40 78 23% 22% 23% 18% 51%
NB 1 10 10 3% 5% 3% 10% 100%
NS 1 11 11 3% 6% 3% 9% 100%
PEI 1 4 4 1% 2% 3% 25% 100%
NFLD 1 7 7 2% 4% 3% 14% 100%
NORTH 1 3 3 1% 2% 3% 33% 100%
TOTAL 31 184 338 100% 100% 100% 17% 54%

BC’s share of Cabinet in line with House of Commons / Liberal Caucus

  • BC’s share of the House of Commons (HOC) is 12%.
  • BC’s Liberal MPs make up 9% of the national Liberal Caucus
  • BC’s federal cabinet ministers make up 10% of the PM Justin Trudeau’s cabinet

Ontario has most ministers but lower proportion of MPs in Cabinet

  • Ontario’s share of HOC is 36%
  • Ontario Liberal MPs make up 43% of national Liberal Caucus
  • Ontario ministers make up 35% of federal cabinet

Quebec’s proportion of HOC, proportion of Lib MPs as share of national Caucus and Cabinet are very consistent at 22-23%.

Atlantic Canada makes up 17% of the Liberal Caucus compared to 9% of overall seats, and 13% of cabinet.

The Prairies make up 18% of the HOC, but only 7% of the Liberal Caucus.  Their share of cabinet seats is 16%.

Which regions have the most MPs utilized in Cabinet?

  • 42% of Prairie Liberal MPs serving in Cabinet, compared to
  • 18% BC
  • 18% Quebec
  • 14% Ontario
  • 13% Atlantic

Overall, PM Trudeau has carefully balanced regional delegations as a proportion of his Cabinet.  He has chosen to ensure cabinet is balanced by region, not by proportion of Liberal MPs by region.  If he had done so, there would be more cabinet ministers from Atlantic Canada (where he swept) and fewer from the Prairies where he took 12 of 62.


Adding Ottawa Citizen graphic which tells the story of Cabinet diversity:

B.C.’s Place at the Federal Cabinet Table

UPDATED: November 2019

With a cabinet announcement looming, what will it mean for British Columbia?

Sir John A parachuted into Victoria in 1878

B.C.’s place at the Cabinet table was at the head of the table in the 1870s when Sir John A. MacDonald was elected from Victoria in 1878, despite never having seen the place.  He would eventually visit Victoria once he fulfilled the ultimate the election promise – the construction of the CPR.

Who have been B.C.’s heavyweights at the cabinet table?  An historical review reveals British Columbia’s conflicted past in dealing with race relations and uneven influence compared to its provincial peers.

The early years ~ B.C. notables in Cabinet

In the late 1800’s, Edgar Dewdney was elected from Yale B.C. and served as an MP under Sir John A. MacDonald, becoming a partisan loyalist, personal friend, and ultimately an executor of his will.  Lured to B.C. by the Gold Rush, Dewdney’s name is remembered through major roads (Dewdney Trunk) and localities, principally for his role in surveying the province.  John A. dispatched him to oversee the territories as a direct report where he dealt with the Riel Rebellion and the demise of buffalo herds and resulting starvation.   Not averse to mixing public duties with private land speculation, he eventually made it to federal cabinet in 1888 but not from B.C.; later, he was appointed B.C. Lieutenant-Governor.  A B.C. cabinet minister?  Not exactly, but an influential British Columbian at and near the cabinet table, yes.

Hewitt Bostock founded The Province newspaper and went on to win as a Liberal MP from the riding of Yale-Cariboo in 1896 on the Wilfred Laurier ticket, serving one term.  Reflecting popular opinion at the time, Bostock opposed further Chinese immigration, and he also called Italians “a menace”. Laurier would appoint him to the Senate where he would eventually serve as Leader of the Opposition in that body.  Like many Liberals in English Canada, he supported Borden’s Unionist government over the conscription issue, but would return to the Liberals and sit in William Lyon MacKenzie King’s government as Minister of Public Works briefly, before becoming Speaker of the Senate.  Not many federal politicians have a mountain named after them, but he does, near the Fraser Canyon.

Conservative Martin Burrell, representing Yale-Cariboo, served in Prime Minister Robert Borden’s Conservative and Unionist cabinets as Agriculture minister, Mines Minister, and Minister of Customs & Inland Revenue.   He also served briefly in Arthur Meighen’s ministry. An interesting note about Burrell (a former mayor of Grand Forks), was that he was appointed Parliamentary Librarian in 1920 and served in this post until his death in 1938.

Future B.C. premier Simon Fraser Tolmie would serve in both of Arthur Meighen’s


Simon Fraser Tolmie

cabinets as Minister of Agriculture.  In both stints, Meighen’s governments didn’t last long, out-wrangled by William Lyon MacKenzie King.  Tolmie was recruited to return to B.C to take on the leadership of the B.C. Conservative Party, leading them to victory in 1928.  Shortly thereafter, his government was caught in the jaws of the Great Depression and was dispatched by the voters in 1933 after one term.  Along with Ujjal Dosanjh, Tolmie has been one of two B.C. premiers to serve in a federal cabinet.  Other premiers, such as Amor de Cosmos, Fighting Joe Martin, and Dave Barrett, also served in Parliament.

H.H. Stevens aboard the Komagatu Maru

Conservative heavyweight H.H. Stevens served in Meighen’s brief cabinet (1926) then, later, for four years under Prime Minister R.B. Bennett.

He was a powerful Trade minister who crusaded against price-fixing.  He resigned in epic fashion and created the Reconstruction Party which split the vote and destroyed the Bennett government in 1935.  Stevens survived in his own seat in Vancouver Centre, but did not elect any other MPs.

He returned to the Conservatives thereafter but his political career fizzled out.

Stevens trajectory resembles both Maxime Bernier (started his own party in protest of leadership) and Jody Wilson-Raybould (Vancouver cabinet minister rebelling against prime minister).  Like Wilson-Raybould, he won his own seat back in the subsequent election.  Like Bernier, his party failed to launch, though his results were better, taking 8.7% of the popular vote in Canada, including 11% in Ontario (but no seats).

While he was unquestionably a force of politics in B.C. during the 1920s and 1930s, Stevens is also remembered for his role in stifling the Komagatu Maru and for reflecting public opinion during his time concerning Asian immigration: “We cannot hope to preserve the national type if we allow Asiatics to enter Canada in any numbers.”

Fishing boats seized during internment of Japanese-Canadians

Fear over Asian immigration was a multi-partisan issue, with labour leaders and Liberal politicians eager participants as well.  Liberal Ian MacKenzie was sworn into Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s cabinet prior to the 1930 election.  He won his seat but the government lost power.  In 1935 he re-emerged as Minister of National Defence.  He also became the first Government House Leader in the House of Commons.  As B.C.’s top cabinet minister, he championed the internment of Japanese-Canadians during WWII, stating in the 1942 election: “Let our slogan be for British Columbia: ‘No Japs from the Rockies to the seas.”

H.H. Stevens is probably the most notable figure in Canadian politics coming from B.C. between Confederation to the end of WWII.  But perhaps it was the librarian Martin Burrell who left the most lasting mark.

Moving toward modern times

James Sinclair: Justin Trudeau’s grandfather

Coast-Capilano Liberal MP James Sinclair, the grandfather of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, served in Parliament from 1940 to 1958; he served as Minister of Fisheries from 1952-57.  The Sinclair Centre, at the corner of Hastings and Granville in Vancouver, bears his name.  Again, reflecting mainstream opinion, Sinclair’s comments on race bear mentioning.  In 1947, post WWII, he spoke in favour of welcoming citizenship rights to the Chinese already in Canada, contrasting to the Japanese-Canadian population: “We have never had the feeling against the Chinese in B.C. that we have had against the Japanese”.  He said he would support restoring voting rights for Japanese if the post-war dispersal policy proved successful.  It wasn’t until 1949 restrictions were lifted.

Vancouver-Centre Liberal MP Ralph Campney served as Solicitor-General, Associate Minister of Defence and Minister of Defence under Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent.  A WWI veteran, and lawyer, he served as political secretary to MacKenzie-King and was part of the Canadian delegation to the League of Nations in 1924.

Campney would lose in 1957 to Douglas Jung, the first Chinese-Canadian Member of Parliament; Sinclair lost in 1958, thus making way for new Liberal cabinet leaders from B.C. in the 1960s.

After 22 years in the wilderness, the Progressive Conservatives finally returned to power in 1957. The Diefenbaker era ushered in B.C.’s first dose of serious cabinet clout.  From 1957-63, three senior ministers hailed from the west coast.


Two-time P.C. leadership contender E. Davie Fulton

Kamloops MP E. Davie Fulton, a leadership rival to Diefenbaker, was an influential Minister of Justice for much of that time; Vancouver Quadra MP Howard Green ultimately served as Secretary of State for External Affairs; and George Pearkes, Victoria Cross recipient, served as Minister of National Defence prior to his appointment as B.C.’s Lieutenant-Governor in 1960.

Fulton had sought the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives twice, finishing third to Diefenbaker in 1956, at age 40, and third again in 1967.  Bilingual, he was the first true contender from B.C. for either of the major federal parties.  In cabinet, he was a key player in the Canadian Bill of Rights, the Fulton-Favreau Formula (an earnest attempt to repatriate the Constitution), and Columbia River Treaty. Fulton left federal politics in 1963 to lead the B.C. Conservative Party, but was thwarted completely by W.A.C. Bennett and the governing Socreds, returning to federal politics one more time in 1965. After leaving office, he was elevated to the bench.

While Fulton was a contender, Pearkes was a hero.  He was recipient of the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery in battle in World War I during the Battle of Passchendaele – his biography, released in 1977, is titled For Most Conspicuous Bravery. His name was revered in my father’s household as my grandfather, in charge of the militia in Drumheller, reported to Pearkes when he commanded the 13th Military District based in Calgary at the outbreak of WWII.  He served in various capacities in Europe and in preparing for war on the Pacific, before retiring from the military in 1945 to jump in to politics, winning a seat for the PCs in Nanaimo.  He was approached to be the leader of the BC Conservative Party but stayed with federal politics. When the time came for the PC’s to govern, he was a front bencher, and under his command in Defence, he recommended the cancellation of the Avro Arrow.  He defended the decision during interviews for his biography, noting that he had been under huge pressure to stay the course. In 1960, he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor and had his term extended by Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson to serve through the centennial to 1968.  Like Hewitt Bostock, he also has a mountain named after him, near Princess Louisa Inlet, among many other tributes and honours in his illustrious career.

The election of the Pearson government in 1963 continued B.C.’s cabinet presence with capable ministers, albeit at a less prestigious level than the Diefenbaker years.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 11.39.19 AM.png
Arthur Laing served in Pearson’s cabinet as Minister of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources then later as Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs.  A former leader of the B.C. Liberal Party, Laing was the “B.C. Minister”; the bridge from YVR to the City is named in his honour.  Laing’s wingman in cabinet was John Nicholson who served in various posts under Pearson.

B.C.’s decline in clout

While B.C. held at least three seats in cabinet during the first PET ministry (1968-79), B.C. seemed to lose ground with other provinces who had powerful ministers.  B.C. was not without credible ministers, but it was the Marc Lalondes, Jean Marchands, Jean Chrétiens, John Turners, and Allan MacEachens that defined the Trudeau era at the cabinet level.

In 1968, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau brought young Vancouver MP Ron Basford into cabinet as Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs.  He is remembered as the minister who championed Granville Island among other B.C. legacies.  Laing continued in Public Works until 1972.  Jack Davis served in Fisheries and Environment portfolios between 1968-1974 (before his election as a Social Credit MLA).

Len Marchand and Iona Campagnolo both served as Ministers of State in the mid 1970s, with Marchand finishing as Minister of Environment in 1979.  Marchand was the first First Nation cabinet minister and first First Nations Member of Parliament in Canadian history.  Iona Campagnolo was the first female federal cabinet minister from British Columbia.  Had the Liberal government not met the buzz saw in 1979, it would have been interesting to see what would have become of Campagnolo and Marchand’s budding cabinet careers.  Marchand went on to serve with distinction in the Senate, being an important voice for indigenous issues.  Campagnolo went on to serve in many important public duties, as president of the Liberal Party of Canada, and as Lieutenant-Governor, one of three formal federal cabinet ministers to do so, along with Pearkes and John Nicholson.

Senator Ray Perrault, a former leader of the B.C. Liberal Party who went to defeat Tommy Douglas in 1968 and serve one term in the House of Commons, served as Government Leader in the Senate from 1974 to 1979.  Perrault was the heart and soul of the party among grassroots Liberals for decades.

The short-lived Joe Clark government featured prominent B.C. politicians like Minister of Environment John Fraser, Defence Minister Allan MacKinnon from Victoria, and Minister of State Ron Huntington (father of former Delta South MLA Vicky Huntington). Fraser had run for leader in 1976, dropping off on the second ballot but delivering his support for Clark. Their tenures were short-lived when the Clark government was defeated in the House on December 13, 1979 and disposed of at the ballot box in February 1980.

When PET was campaigning again for election in 1980, he had the makings of a strong front bench from B.C..  Popular ex-mayor of Vancouver Art Phillips had been elected to the Liberals in 1979, serving in Opposition.  Former B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Gibson contested North Vancouver-Burnaby while renowned resource economist Peter Pearse sought election in Vancouver Quadra.   That would have been a strong trio of B.C. ministers, however, none were elected, nor were any other Liberals in B.C., Alberta, or Saskatchewan.  It was a western wipe-out, much worse than Liberal setbacks in 2019.  Senators Jack Austin and Ray Perrault became B.C.’s unelected representatives in Cabinet.  Perrault was later dropped, contributing to B.C.’s alienation from the Liberal Party.

When Prime Minister John Turner decided to seek office from Vancouver Quadra in 1984, he sought to bridge the divide between the Liberal Party and the west coast.  While he gained his seat (in the face of an electoral onslaught), he alone was elected from B.C.

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 9.23.42 AM
Turner’s B.C. story is a compelling one.  He spent his early years in Rossland and, while his formative years were spent in Ottawa, he returned to UBC for university (his stepfather was Lieutenant-Governor) where he was very much Big Man on Campus along with being Canadian 100 metre sprint champion.   His B.C. years are chronicled in Elusive Destiny, an apt title for a political giant who’s timing was off.  (Incredibly, his Olympic dreams were dashed when his car was hit by a train on the Arbutus Corridor).  Turner served as MP for Vancouver Quadra for 9 years, retaining his seat after relinquishing his leadership to Jean Chretien.  He had a strong B.C. connection but Turner was really a pan-Canadian instead of being owned by any region, representing three provinces during his illustrious parliamentary career.

The Mulroney-Chretien eras

From 1984 to 2004, B.C. had a steady presence at the cabinet table, not strikingly influential, but it produced our first and only B.C.-raised prime minister.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney came to power in 1984 riding a wave of western alienation, but he also won big in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes too.  Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 11.42.39 AM.pngIt was a huge mandate.  “Red Tories” John Fraser and Pat Carney, an upset winner over Art Phillips in 1980, led the B.C. contingent in cabinet.  Fraser went to Fisheries and Carney to Energy – two significant portfolios. Carney was the first woman from B.C. to lead a department (Campagnolo was a Minister of State).

Fraser would resign halfway through the first term during “Tunagate”, as scandal concerning rancid tuna, but his stature among MPs led him later to election, and much-dignified reign, as Speaker of the House of Commons.  Overall, Fraser served in the House from 1972-1993.

Carney would move to International Trade during the dramatic US-Canada Free Trade negotiations.  She did not run again in 1988 (and, later on, appointed to the Senate where she was an outspoken member). Tom Siddon would replace Fraser, and others like Gerry St. Germain, Frank Oberle, and Mary Collins would ultimately join Mulroney’s cabinet.


Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 11.45.47 AM.pngSt. Germain was a Mulroney favourite.  The bilingual, Metis chicken farmer was my Member of Parliament in Mission-Port Moody.  He entered Parliament with Mulroney following a pair of 1983 by-elections.  He was also my opponent when, as a teenager, I rode my ten-speed bike down to Liberal Mae Cabott’s campaign office on the Lougheed Highway in 1984.

Losing big to Gerry taught me an early lesson in humility  (Tip: be careful burmashaving on a busy highway when everyone hates your political party, and they are not telling you that your party is #1 when they use their middle finger).  

In 1986, I found myself looking for a seat to Question Period in Ottawa and contacted my local MP, Gerry.  With great gusto, Gerry led me through the back halls of Parliament proclaiming, “Let me show you what a Tory can do for a Grit.”

Gerry became National Caucus Chair in 1984, a huge responsibility considering it remains the largest caucus in Canadian history. He was elevated to cabinet during that term, but, incredibly to me, Gerry lost his seat in 1988 at the very moment he was poised to move up into the senior cabinet ranks.  He would have been the senior B.C. minister with huge clout. BCers often choose protest over pragmatism.  He would be appointed to the Senate, serve as president of the Progressive Conservative Party in the dark years, and be an early mover on bringing the PCs and Reform/Alliance parties together.

A B.C. prime minister… briefly

In 1988, Pat Carney’s retirement created a vacancy in Vancouver-Centre.  Back then, Progressive Conservatives were electable in that riding, seemingly unimaginable today.  Kim Campbell resigned her seat in the provincial legislature part way through her first term, secured the PC nomination, then won the seat, and was catapulted into Cabinet.  She was another rarity – a french-speaking British Columbian. As Justice minister (then National Defence), she held a high national profile, and emerged as the consensus favourite to succeed Mulroney following the demise of the Charlottetown Accord.  Campbell fended off Jean Charest for the leadership win.

Kim Campbell on the campaign trail, 1993

She had a strong B.C. network behind her, like Chief of Staff Ray Castelli and other apparatchiks that have been a big part of federal politics from B.C., but Mulroney did not leave her much time to make her own mark and the subsequent election played out for her like it did for John Turner in 1984, except worse.  The party was decimated and, like 1984, Vancouver bore witness on election night to a humiliating concession speech by a sitting prime minister.  Unlike Turner, Campbell lost her own seat.

Jean Chrétien’s election in 1993 and subsequent cabinets through 2003 had consistent B.C. representation (unlike PET from 1980-84), yet it was not at the heaviest of heavyweight levels.  David Anderson, first elected in 1968, before switching to provincial politics to lead the B.C. Liberals, returned from the political wilderness in 1993 to serve as National Revenue Minister before moving on to Fisheries, then to his signature role in Environment.  Herb Dhaliwal was another prominent minister during the Chrétien era, following Anderson in National Revenue and Fisheries before going to Natural Resources.  Ministers of State included former B.C. ombudsman Stephen Owen, Richmond MP Raymond Chan, and Vancouver-Centre MP Dr. Hedy Fry.  Chrétien could never elect more than 6-7 from B.C. so he didn’t have a lot of MPs to choose from.  Moreover, about 99% of the MPs during his years as prime minister from Ontario were Liberal, therefore, B.C. was vastly outnumbered in the Liberal caucus.  The influential non-minister during that time was Senator Ross Fitzpatrick.  Fitzpatrick was a Chrétien confidante who backed him during the 1984 and 1990 leadership campaigns, and called the shots in B.C. for the general election campaigns.

B.C.’s return to Diefenbaker-like prominence: 2004-2011

I’ll run for the Liberals in 2004, says ex-NDP Premier Ujjal Dosanjh

Both the Paul Martin cabinet and early Stephen Harper cabinets saw a decided uptick in B.C. clout at the federal cabinet table.  Following the 2004 election, Martin appointed a record five B.C. ministers including star recruits David Emerson (Industry) and former B.C. NDP Premier Ujjal Dosanjh (Health).  The lineup was rounded out by Stephen Owen, Raymond Chan, and Senate Leader Jack Austin.  The B.C. delegation was aided by a regional campaign, led by Mark Marissen, that punched above its weight in the 2004 election with its “Made in B.C. Agenda”.  The Liberals won more seats in B.C. despite dropping from a majority to a minority.  (They would win more again in 2006 in a losing national effort)

Consul General Phil Chicola and Minister Stockwell Day with their Spouses


Harper’s first cabinet contained a major surprise – David Emerson.  To the astonishment of Liberals and Conservatives alike, the Liberal star switched jerseys, eschewing politics for policy, and assumed the International Trade portfolio and eventually Foreign Affairs before he left office in 2008.  Emerson was recruited to Harper’s cabinet by outgoing MP John Reynolds.  Reynolds served in the House of Commons from B.C. ridings on two occasions (1972-77 and 1997-2006). In between, he was a Social Credit MLA from 1983-1991, serving as a cabinet minister and Speaker.  Reynolds acted as interim Leader of the Official Opposition, turning over the reins to Stephen Harper.  In 2006, Harper appointed Reynolds to the Privy Council.

Emerson was joined from B.C. by former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day (Public Safety, International Trade, Treasury Board).  A former Alberta Finance Minister, Day was a B.C. MP  by virtue of running in a by-election in the Okanagan upon becoming leader.  He stayed put and became an influential B.C. minister.  Day was also an important interlocutor between the Harper government and the nascent Christy Clark government in 2011, helping build a cohesive relationship at a sensitive time.

Chuck Strahl (Agriculture, Indian and Northern Affairs, Transport), and Gary Lunn (Natural Resources) rounded out Harper’s first cabinet.  Jay Hill’s appointment in 2007 as Whip (elevated to cabinet) then Government House Leader would make it five ministers for the B.C. delegation, matching Martin.  B.C. had considerable clout.

Fading out of the Harper years

Emerson, Day, Strahl and Hill would all choose to leave politics by 2011, and Lunn involuntarily when he lost to Green Party leader Elizabeth May.  They would give way to James Moore, who started in Heritage and went to Industry, becoming the face of the government in B.C. during the final Harper term.  Ed Fast, in International Trade, North Islander John Duncan who served in Aboriginal Affairs & Northern Development, then-Delta MP Kerri-Lynne Findlay, and Richmond Centre MP Alice Wong all served in the final term.  As the Harper mandate struggled in its final years, so too did its profile in British Columbia – not an uncommon life cycle for aging governments.

A new team in 2015


The appointment of JWR

Justin Trudeau only had two incumbents from B.C. heading into the 2015 election, but neither were invited into his first cabinet.  Instead, he went with new blood that aligned with Liberal political priorities.  Three ministers were appointed, all newcomers to Parliament Hill.  Jody Wilson-Raybould was a historic choice as Justice Minister – the first indigenous Justice Minister.  She followed in the footsteps of Kamloops indigenous MP Len Marchand who served in PET’s cabinet.  Joining Wilson-Raybould in the ranks of senior cabinet was Vancouver South MP Harjit Sajjan, appointed as Minister of National Defence, a post he kept for the entirety of the first term.  Delta MP Carla Qualtrough joined cabinet as Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.  While


Harjit Sajjan: senior post from day one

Wilson-Raybould and Sajjan were in the upper tier of cabinet, the Trudeau government took a different term in equating senior cabinet ministers with regional clout.  There was no “B.C. minister”, the traditional model where a minister is the “go-to” between the federal government and the province and its stakeholders.  Backed by a Ministers’ Regional Office, this role has informal influence and is where a lot of regional brokering would take place.  Instead, it appeared JWR and Sajjan focused on their considerable cabinet duties, freed from the political responsibilities coming from a regional boss role.


Carla Qualtrough: moved up the ladder

Qualtrough emerged as a steady player and was elevated to Minister of Public Works in 2017.  Colleague Jonathan Wilkinson was recruited to cabinet in 2018 as Minister of Fisheries & Oceans, a vexing role which many previous B.C. MPs have performed.  With four full ministers, B.C. enjoyed a solid presence in cabinet despite the absence of a traditional regional minister role.

Then in 2019, everything changed.  The controversy surrounding JWR and the prime minister is well documented.  An early 2019 cabinet shuffle moved JWR from Justice to Veteran Affairs.  Sparked by the resignation of cabinet minister Scott Brison, the shuffle ignited tensions that culminated in JWR’s resignation from cabinet, then her removal from caucus.  Like H.H. Stevens, she sought re-election after parting ways, and won her Vancouver seat.  For several months, JWR’s future with the Liberals hung in the balance.  Today, she moves forward as an independent, and who knows what else.

Her departure created an opening for longtime Vancouver-Quadra MP Joyce Murray, a former provincial cabinet minister.  Murray took the helm at Treasury Board in spring 2019, keeping a low profile.


Jonathan Wilkinson with the prime minister:  Saskatchewan roots may be called upon in next term of office

As Prime Minister Trudeau puts in place his cabinet picks on November 20th, he may well stay the course with Sajjan, Wilkinson, Qualtrough, and Murray, though one would think that roles will change for most of them.  They were all re-elected, and contribute to the gender balance that the prime minister says will be maintained.  Perhaps B.C. will gain more influence because of the absence of Liberal MPs in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

There are now 11 Liberal MPs from British Columbia. Trudeau will also be able to consider Terry Beech, Sukh Dhaliwal, Ken Hardie, Randeep Sarai, Patrick Weiler, and the indomitable Hedy Fry.  All Liberal MPs are from Metro Vancouver, meaning no opportunity for the Island or the Interior to have a voice in cabinet.

Eclipsed by other regions

For many Liberal governments in the Pearson-Trudeau-Chretien eras, it was often a case of being “west of the best” or so it seemed.  B.C. had many capable ministers during this time but very few national personalities that one hearkens back to when remembering an era.  Ron Basford may have the strongest claim for cabinet legacies.  The Martin government went in a stronger direction for B.C. but its lifespan was short.  Harper’s team started off strong but B.C.’s collective influence seemed to fade down the stretch.

Conservative cabinets have seen B.C. eclipsed by Conservative-crazy Alberta, which has established the storyline for much of the past 40 years.  Alberta had leader (1976-83) and Prime Minister Joe Clark (later Secretary of State for External Affairs and lead constitutional negotiator) and Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski.  The demise of the PCs was born in Alberta too with Preston Manning’s Reform Party.  The evolution and return of the conservative movement was an Alberta story – Stockwell Day (who ran for leader of the Alliance from Alberta before moving to B.C.) and Stephen Harper led in succession.   Harper’s cabinet also featured prominent Albertan personalities such as Jim Prentice, Rona Ambrose (an interim leader), and Jason Kenney, now the Premier of Alberta. Neighbouring Saskatchewan produced Andrew Scheer, who won all but one seat in Alberta and Saskatchewan in 2019.  B.C.’s political climate is much more competitive, though conservatives usually emerge with a plurality of the votes federally, restraining the election of Liberal MPs and pool of available cabinet talent when the Liberals rule (which has been most of the time).

British Columbians have risen to prominence in the NDP, although not usually to the top.  Tommy Douglas led the party from a base in B.C. for a time.  Rosemary Brown, Dave Barrett, Svend Robinson, and Nathan Cullen have all been serious national leadership contenders, though unsuccessful.  Current leader Jagmeet Singh represents a B.C. riding.  Are they any closer to the cabinet table?  No, they have been getting further and further away since Jack Layton’s high point in 2011.

B.C.’s Burden

Why does B.C. lack clout?

Distance.  How many people want to fly 3000 miles back and forth each week?  Time spent traveling is enough to dissaude anyone, especially those with younger children.

Under-representation. A point of regional unfairness is that B.C. ridings have more population than most provinces due to Canada’s constitution and constitutional side deals.  The vast expanse of Skeena has far more constituents than ridings in Saskatchewan, Manitoba or any in the Maritimes.  How does that make sense?  It makes a tough job even tougher.

Political culture.  Federal politics is more abstract to British Columbians.  BCers do not live and die by federal politics.  There is very little media coverage of B.C. politicians on Parliament Hill (JWR controversy excluded). Provincial politics is the main sport and drives the media’s and the public’s interest.

Protest over politics.  We have often gone the other way when Canadians elect their governments.  B.C. abandoned PET in 1980, cut down the PC team in 1988, and kept Chretien on a short leash.

Political network.  It’s tough to aspire to national leadership when the critical mass is elsewhere.  Kim Campbell remains the only B.C.-raised prime minister.  Alberta has figured out how to gain national office, but no one here.  H.H. Stevens may have had the first good chance in the dying days of the RB Bennett government but he passed on it.  E. Davie Fulton was a thorn in Diefenbaker’s paw, but finished third to Dief in the 1956 PC leadership, and third again trying to succeed him in 1967.  John Fraser tried in 1976.  Hedy Fry and Joyce Murray both made quixotic bids to lead their parties but were never in contention.  Is there a B.C. contender to replace Andrew Scheer, if there is an opening? Hard to see.

Bilingualism. Fewer B.C. politicians speak french than in eastern provinces.  This has been a drawback in climbing the greasy pole.  James Moore does, and he had a good run, but he is an exception.

The challenge appears to be even greater for MPs outside the Vancouver area.  Most ministers, as this is where Liberals usually get elected, have been fairly close to the province’s largest city.  The B.C. Interior and Vancouver Island have lacked significant cabinet representation over time, and will lack representation again in the coming term.

Prime ministers have been piled up like cordwood from Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta.  Even Saskatchewan has had its run; B.C. has but one brief stint from one of its own prior to her electoral slaughter.  Where have been the Finance Ministers from B.C.?

Many excellent ministers from B.C. have served at the cabinet table, but my overall assessment is that we, as a province, haven’t been exceptional in the federal arena.  In part, because many have chosen not to run.

What’s next?

On November 20th, a new cabinet will be chosen and a new chapter will begin on B.C.’s role at the cabinet table.  While Justin Trudeau lacks representation in Alberta and Saskatchewan, he can at least draw from an 11-member caucus in B.C.  This is the second largest Liberal caucus from B.C. since 1968 – that’s not saying much, but it’s a lot better than 1980 when his father did not have an elected member west of Winnipeg.

A key sign to watch for B.C.’s clout will be whether the regional minister system is re-established, providing a more direct portal for B.C. interests to interact with the federal government.  Ottawa is a long way away from B.C.  It will help our issues and our interests if Ottawa is brought closer.

** This post was taken from a number of sources and not always easy to piece together B.C.’s federal voice.  If there are any sins of omission or commission, please comment.  Thank you.


Politics wins campaigns, not Pollyanna

Today’s Globe & Mail carried an oped from Don Tapscott, the Chancellor of Trent University, concerning the meaning of the 42nd federal election.

Tapscott says: “Voter turnout jumped… in stark contrast to electoral trends in the United States and other Western countries, where a growing number of citizens just aren’t voting”.

Are post-election narratives being written by Pollyannas?

Uh, that’s not exactly true.

The key turnout stat is percentage of voting age population.  Stats Canada compared Canada to the US and the UK in the following chart up to 2011. 

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In recent years, turnout in the US has been increasing while it had been relatively flat in Canada (until 2015).    Certainly, Canada’s turnout rate hasn’t been anything to write home about, and we have hardly been in a superior position to the US or the UK.  UK turnout has been steadily increasing.  US turnout was higher than Canada in 2008, and US turnout in the past three elections has been at the highest levels in the last three decades.

Chart: Turnout as % of Voting Age Population

US Canada UK
2004 55.7% 2006 62.8% 2001 59.4%
2008 57.1% 2008 56.5% 2005 61.4%
2012 54.9% 2011 58.5% 2010 65.8%

The 2015 Canada election is a spike up.  On the basis of voting age population (a larger group than registered voters), the final number will be about 61%, I think (17.5 million voters out of a voting age population of 28.8 million).  The UK’s 2015 turnout was 60.5% (of voting age pop) and 66.1% (of registered voters).

Turnout is increasing everywhere in part because political parties are much more sophisticated in turnout techniques an place a greater emphasis on its role in campaigns.

Which brings me to my other point about Tapscott’s piece.  He heralds increased turnout as proof positive of positive campaigning and that the Liberals “refused to use negative advertising”.  Yes, Justin’s advertising compared to the Conservatives was more positive.  But those “sunny ways” share with occasional cloudy periods and thunderstorms.  Did young people troop to the polls because of sunny ways or did turnout increase to “STOP HARPER”.  The Stop Harper campaign and related strategic voting campaigns were the epitome of negative campaigning – imploring voters to vote against something as the first priority. Engage Canada’s pre-election campaign was not exactly a love letter to the governing Conservatives.  That Justin conducted himself in a positive manner was a smart strategy in the context of the anti-Harper negativity, presenting himself as the antidote. The Liberals didn’t have to do much of the ‘dirty work’ though  they did find time to rough up Thomas Mulcair along the way. That’s politics !

Hey, what do I know.  I’m not a Globe op-ed writer, I’m just a simple countryboy from Haney, BC who thought Laurentian Consensus played for the Montreal Canadiens.  It just seems to me that elections are about choices and contrast.  A party puts out their agenda and leadership and compares it to the others.  All parties did that, to varying degrees, and will continue to do so in the future.  As they should.  Let’s just not be Pollyannish in our analysis about what really took place.  Voters are comparison shoppers.  Yes, the Liberals profited by the comparison.  Yes, more voters turned out.   And yes, a negative view of Stephen Harper was probably the strongest impulse driving new voters to the polls.

What happened here was not that unique relative to other countries, nor is it that unique in the context of election campaigns in general.  This time, the Liberals just did it better.

Jody Wilson-Raybould: a First Nations first in BC

It took 148 years to elect a First Nations women to either Parliament or the Legislative Assembly from British Columbia.  Jody Wilson-Raybould blazed a new trail in last week’s federal election.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, elected in Vancouver-Granville

I wrote earlier how Len Marchand was the first First Nations MP elected 47 years ago, in 1968.  He was also the last First Nations MP elected from BC, when he won the final time in 1974.

@IndigPoli has been providing news and updates about indigenous candidates throughout the federal election process.  The following table is taken from its Twitter feed, outlining the 42 MPs elected from First Nations, Inuit, Dene, and Metis ancestry since Confederation:

That’s 42 indigenous MPs over 148 years –  10 from the 2015 election alone (8 new).  See CBC story.

1960 / 1949

Status Indians right to vote was recognized by Parliament in 1960, only 55 years ago, and 93 years into Canada’s existence.  Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservative government was in power at the time, and when Len Marchand was elected in 1968, he thanked Diefenbaker in Parliament for doing what previous federal governments had failed to do.

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Hon. Len Marchand’s autobiography

British Columbia had done so in 1949, whereupon Nisga’a leader Frank Calder was promptly elected in the riding of Atlin to the BC Legislature and continued for 30 consecutive years.  He was the first status Indian to be elected to any legislature in Canada and ultimately the first aboriginal cabinet minister in BC history.

Frank Calder sparked the most important rights and title case in Canadian history when Calder (1973), argued by Thomas Bergerwent forward to the Supreme Court of Canada.  The Court ruled that title existed in a decision that reverberates today.

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Frank Calder

Why so few from BC?

Not a lot of First Nation candidates have run for office over the years and, clearly, not many have run in winnable seats.

I am not qualified to speak on the unique social, cultural, and financial barriers that many First Nations face in seeking office, but I am familiar with barriers that Canadians, in general, face when seeking office, and they are substantial for anyone when contemplating public office.  It’s both the general election and the party nomination that are the challenge.

One reason why First Nations have been under-represented is the dispersed nature of their population.  There are not many ridings in BC where First Nations form a large ‘bloc’.  And even when you look at the densest concentration of First Nations in a federal riding in BC – Skeena – the reality is that it is made up of many, many different nations, all with different traditions.

Look at Metro Vancouver or the GTA where we are seeing the election of MPs and MLAs from diverse backgrounds.  This is happening in part because of strength in numbers.  Their populations are concentrated in certain areas (eg. Chinese in Richmond, South Asians in Surrey) leading to the election of representatives from their community.  This hasn’t happened to a large extent in Canada, except the North.  It certainly hasn’t happened in BC.

Policies matter too, of course.  Haida leader Miles Richardson ran for the Liberals in Skeena in 2004 with high hopes but finished third to winning NDP MP Nathan Cullen.  Cullen has just been elected to his fifth term and enjoys strong support in First Nation communities.  While a person’s background help, winning candidates usually have to swim with the tide of opinion in their riding.

I worked hard for Marion Wright, a former chief on the North Island.  She fell short in the 2009 election, despite our hopes.  She’s yet another example of a First Nations candidate that would have made an impact, however, she ran up against issues that favoured the NDP.  While improving the party’s standing among First Nations, she lost most FN polls.  Marion tragically passed away not long after that election – she had a lot more to contribute.

One of the keys to Jody Wilson-Raybould’s success is running for the right party in the right riding at the right time.  She was a good candidate, but also had the benefit of swimming with the tide.

Len Marchand first won in 1968 amidst ‘Trudeaumania’ and built the support necessary to hang on in tougher elections in 1972 and 1974.  In 2015, Trent Derrick of the NDP had a chance in Cariboo-Prince George for the NDP but had the national momentum drain away.  If there are more First Nations candidates in viable seats, then more will be elected, simple as that.


I wrote a term paper in university based on Len Marchand’s work in the Senate concerning aboriginal representation.  Basically, Len argued that – at that time- aboriginal Canadians merited about 3-4% share of the House of Commons based on population but due to the dispersal of its population, did not reach that level.  He argued for guaranteed representation based on the aboriginal population in Canada.  It was hard not to agree with the idea.  We have guaranteed representation for PEI for pete’s sake.  Guaranteed for Saskatchewan.  Guaranteed for Quebec.  Guaranteed for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  Special deals here.  Special deals there.

Geographic deals are one thing, but the idea of parliamentary seats based on background seems to go against the grain in Canada.  Perhaps this election is showing guaranteed representation may not be necessary, though there is still a long way to go before First Nations are represented in proportionate numbers.

The State of Maine has had two non-voting seats on the floor of the Assembly for the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes since the early 1800s.  Is this a potential model – to provide a stronger voice for aboriginal people on the floor of the House if the numbers of elected members are not proportionate to their population?  (In 2015, the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy decided to vacate their longstanding seats over their concerns with the Maine government.)

First Nations have strong leaders at the community level, engaging with the federal and provincial governments on a nation-to-nation basis.  The argument that representing one’s nation is more impactful, instead of being a small part of a larger parliamentary institution must be compelling.

One thing is certain, more aboriginal people voted this election and more were elected.  Parliament will be better informed by those perspectives as a result.  Len Marchand and Frank Calder have shown the type of impact they have had within these institutions.  Now it’s Jody Wilson-Raybould’s opportunity to blaze a new trail, 148 years in the making.