by Yi Fang
There are a couple of possible results for the BC election in 2017.
1) If the BC NDP won government, does that mean a demographic change?
Let’s look back the last three times the BC NDP won a general election (1972, 1991, and 1996). They won because of vote splitting on the ideological right.
In 1972, the governing Social Credit under W.A.C. Bennett have already been in power for 20 years. Like a governing party that is winding down, they are running into all sorts of problems. There’s also an uprising of the BC Liberals under David Anderson. Even though the magnitude of vote splitting between Social Credit and BC Liberals wasn’t much, it was enough for the BC NDP to win the election. The BC NDP were able to govern for three years under the leadership of Dave Barrett.
In 1991, the incumbent governing party was the Social Credit. Premier Bill Vander Zalm had to step down after a series of scandals, which began the demise of the Social Credit. The third party, the BC Liberals, under Gordon Wilson were starting to gain momentum. Once again, due to the vote splitting between the Social Credit and the BC Liberals, the BC NDP were able to win the election under the leadership of Mike Harcourt.
In 1996, the BC NDP lost the popular vote to the BC Liberals. However, given the efficiency of the voter distribution, the BC NDP were able to win more seats in the legislature than the BC Liberals, therefore successfully kept their mandate. At the time, the Reform Party split enough votes from the ideological right, which was about 10%.
All three victories by the BC NDP were situational rather than structural. In other words, historically, there are more conservative-leaning voters than progressive-leaning voters in this province. If the BC NDP manages to win the election despite of vote splitting by the BC Green Party with the progressives, and a united conservative party behind the BC Liberals, does that mean there is a structural change with BC voters? Could it have to do with a new generation of voters who grew up in a different environment with different beliefs than their elders?
Structural changes are due to happen. For example, Texas used to be a bread-and-butter territory for the Democratic Party. However, now it’s a stalwart for the Republican Party. In Taiwan, in the old days, the Democratic Progressive Party used to dominate the north surrounding the capital, while the Nationalist Party dominate southern Taiwan. Over the past 20 years, these two parties have swapped places in terms of where they dominate electorally.
2) If the BC NDP wins this election, does that mean the voters punished Christy Clark as a referendum on her performance?
If the BC NDP manages to win, this could be another situational victory. This provincial election has been shaped as a referendum on Christy Clark. The BC NDP could just be a vehicle for voters to take their anger out on Christy Clark.
The BC NDP enjoyed these opportunities in 1972, 1991, and 1996. The BC Liberals enjoyed the fruits of the anger in 2001, where they won 77 out of 79 seats. Structurally speaking, the BC NDP can’t just win two seats no matter how poorly they perform. The voters could have been taking their anger on the BC NDP’s performance in the 1990s by voting for the BC Liberals in 2001.
There are a lot of these examples internationally too. The classic example is the Taipei municipal election in 2014. Independent candidate (who leans towards Democratic Progressive Party), Ko Wen-je, beat out the Nationalist candidate Sean Lien. Structurally, the Nationalists have a 10 point advantage over the Democratic Progressives in terms of supporters, but the Sunflower Student Movement and Lien’s reputation as a career politician created favorable conditions for Ko.
3) If the BC Liberals squeak out a slim victory, could Christy Clark’s standing within the party be in jeopardy?
There’s factionism within every party. The two major parties within the province are no exceptions. In 2013, there were rumors that if the BC Liberals end up losing the election, Christy Clark would be turfed as the leader. If the BC Liberals squeak out a weak victory, does that mean Christy Clark’s reputational capital is spent? Structurally speaking, there tends to be more conservative than progressive voters in BC. With the rise of the Green Party and acceptable economic numbers, could the BC Liberals riot within themselves with a weak victory? This could pose an opportunity for many ambitious BC Liberal politicians.
4) If the Green Party manages to win 20% of the popular vote, would British Columbia move towards three-party politics? What does that spell?
If the Green Party manages to win 20% of the popular vote, they cannot be ignored within the province. Whether the province moves towards three-party politics depends on how many seats the Green Party manages to win. If the BC NDP wins the election with the Green Party holding just one or two seats, then the governance of the BC NDP would have an impact on the future direction of the BC Greens.
If there is at least 20% of voters supporting the Greens, this means there is a significant portion of voters within the province who cares about the environment enough to vote for them. This poses bright opportunities for the BC Greens to grow, and also affect how the BC NDP and BC Liberals deal with future policies on economic growth and environmental protection. These voters who are thinking beyond the doctrine of economic growth could be affecting how the other two parties develop their environmental policies.
If neither the BC Liberals nor the BC NDP manage to win over 44 seats, the BC Greens could end up playing a kingmaker, which could make the drama more interesting.