Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Decisive Decision

Despite BC's reputation for wild west politics, Tuesday's election stayed on script, with Gordon Campbell easily winning a third straight majority government:

Liberals: 49 seats, 46%
NDP: 36 seats, 42%

So, no change in the popular vote from 2006, and the parties each gained 3 new seats. How thrilling.

So what does it all mean?

1. Gordon Campbell becomes a rare three-time winner and one of the elder statesmen of the provincial premiers. Presumably, there will be a lot of speculation as to whether or not he goes for a fourth term...either way, the unofficial leadership race is on.

2. Campbell also gets to play host for the Olympics next year.

3. While the carbon tax may not have been the issue of the campaign, Campbell showed that carbon pricing is not necessarily electoral suicide. I doubt anyone will be running on a carbon tax anytime soon but, at the very least, a gutsy Premier in the safe confines of a majority could give it a try.

4. And while I might align politically more with the BC NDP than the BC Liberals, I did take some pleasure in watching Carole James go down in a blaze of carbon emitting flames. Not only did James rail against the carbon tax, but she also opposed a series of conservation measures brought in by the Liberals. I'm all for a pragmatic NDP, but the party completely betrayed their principles and deserved to lose.

5. But, like I said, the carbon tax may not have been the issue - it was probably a question of who voters wanted to lead them through a recession. With that in mind, the front runner in Nova Scotia's election, NDP leader Darrell Dexter, must be a tad worried at seeing these results. Tory times may be tough times, but the Dippers would be a disaster in the eyes of many voters.

6. Since the economy went south, Stephen Harper, Jean Charest, and Gordon Campbell have all won re-election. So much for the claim that incumbents can't survive a recession, eh?

And given my rather superficial understanding of BC politics (I saw a few lawn signs when I was there last weekend...that's about it), that's all I'll say on this topic. But any commentators from BC should feel free to add their two cents.

Now, as for STV, it was a crushing defeat. After coming oh so close in 2005, voters decisively rejected the system - only 39% supported the change, and it passed in just 7 ridings. Clearly STV is dead and, on the heels of Ontarians rejecting MMP in 2007, you have to think drastic electoral reform will be shuffled to the back-burner in Canada for at least a decade. Sure, there's some tinkering that can be done with finance reforms, fixed election dates, preferential ballots, and other incremental changes, but whether poli-sci grads like it or not, most Canadians have shown that they're OK with first past the post.

As for what went wrong, Paul Wells offers a good run-down here. [UPDATE] Other possibilities (which I posted in the comments before deciding to add them here):

1. The question was framed as FPTP vs. STV this time, whereas last time it just asked if people wanted to change the system. I'm not sure why that would change things, but support for STV in polls varied wildly depending on how the question was framed.

2. People were certainly a lot more informed this time. Maybe the more they learned about STV, the less they liked about it.

3. The general appetite for change may just have been less now. Given the election results, voters may just have been looking for stability during uncertain economic times.

4. In 2005, the most recent election (2001) had produced a very skewed legislature - 77 seats to 2. This time around, the most recent election (2005) produced a fairly representative and functional legislature. Why fix it, if it's ain't broke?

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11 Comments:

  • As for paul's comments, the first two are valuable, the next is easy to say after the fact, but couldn't have been planned for, the fourth doesn't make any goddamned sense (how can voters be influenced by the proportionality of an election that hasn't been counted yet?), and the last one is incorrect.

    It is not that BC-STV is more complicated than reform should have been. It's that they chose to try and sell it on how it works, and all its various benefits.

    It's like trying to sell a car by talking about how internal combustion works and talking about the value of being able to move from place to place quickly. And you don't talk about all the different things that make it great, that's just dilutes the message. You pick one thing, usually fuel efficiency, or safety, or towing capacity, and you sell it on that alone.

    All that would be enough to explain not getting above the 60% threshold. It doesn't explain why the popularity of the vote went down by a third.

    By Blogger Gauntlet, at 9:12 PM  

  • Yes, that was a huge drop. Other possible reasons for that could be:

    1. The question was framed as FPTP vs. STV this time, whereas last time it just asked if people wanted to change it. I'm not sure if that made a difference.

    2. People were certainly a lot more informed this time. Maybe the more they learned about STV, the less they liked about it.

    3. The general appetite for change may just have been less now. Not sure why that would be...given the election results, voters may just have been looking for stability given the economic uncertainty out there right now.

    4. In 2005, the most recent election (2001) had produced a very skewed legislature - 77 seats to 2. This time around, the most recent election (2005) produced a fairly representative and functional legislature.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 11:48 PM  

  • We had no choice on carbon. Option one carbon tax; option two cao and trade. He has no mandate, just the best choice among bad choices.

    By Blogger L, at 11:58 PM  

  • BC voters voted for the status quo (nix the STV). Both the NDP and BC Liberals ran a weak campaign. The NDP did not offer a new beginning despite their rhetoric enthusiasm.

    They did not micro-target voters with a platform in depth, while Gordo Campbell made a number of local spending promises. On the other hand, Gordo tried to sell himself once again, even though most BC voters distrusted him.

    The BC Liberals remain in power but the NDP remain in striking range. The opposition only needs to flip a total of 3k votes in 7 battleground ridings to overtake the BC Liberals.

    IMO, the school-teacher leader of the NDP (Carole James) was unable to firefight an election campaign. There seemed to be no 2nd and 3rd arguments after it was clear that the anti-carbon tax angle was not working in the north.

    Voters were apathetic right from the start of the campaign. Not a good case study of how to seize a government.

    On the other hand, Delta South offered a good deal of excitement with a clear contrast between the government's high profile candidate (Wally Oppal) and his municipal councilor opponent (Vicki Huntington). Wally led Vicki (Independent) by only 2 votes out of 20k. He did worse than his much-maligned predecessor Val Rodderick.

    By Blogger JimTan, at 12:36 AM  

  • "6. Since the economy went south, Stephen Harper, Jean Charest, and Gordon Campbell have all won re-election. So much for the claim that incumbents can't survive a recession, eh?"

    Incumbents get killed at the end of recessions, not the start. The technical GDP component of the early 90's recession occurred in 90-91, but it was a federal election in 93 where Mulroney got crushed and 95 when Rae got hammered. We won't get a sense of the impact of this downturn (which started in Canada about 6 months ago) on politics until we see election results in 2011-2012 or so.

    As for STV, it sounds silly and I hate to level such an accusation against the voters (basically accusing them of mass stupidity), but I think it really was the change in the wording of the question that caused the majority of the decrease in support. Your other reasons (with the exception of people learning more about it - in my experience that makes them more favourable) would likely account for the rest of the decrease.

    I'm not sure what it says about using referendums to decide questions on the electoral system if such a large percentage of the population is so easily swayed simply by how the question is worded.

    By Blogger Declan, at 2:36 AM  

  • Rival Pollsters Declare Victory
    Pollster Angus Reid: rivals 'have some answering to do'. Angus Reid and Ipsos Reid each say they predicted best.

    http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2009/05/13/RivalPollsters/

    By Blogger JimTan, at 9:51 AM  

  • Declan - you may have a point. Most of the stuff I've read seems to imply unemployment (which probably spikes at end of recession rather tha begining) is the real government-killer.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:14 AM  

  • Not only did James rail against the carbon tax, but she also opposed a series of conservation measures brought in by the Liberals. I'm all for a pragmatic NDP, but the party completely betrayed their principles and deserved to lose.Amen to that. I have to say it was a slightly odd feeling rooting for the right-wing option in a two-party race, but I am happy to have seen James fall on this issue.

    Another notch for the awesomely poweful political juggernaut that is David Suzuki.

    By Blogger saphorr, at 2:12 PM  

  • With respect to STV, the general message I received from supporters on the web was that if you thought it was too complex, well then you're stupid. Just not the way to sell something.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:08 PM  

  • Prior to his first electoral victory , Gordon Campbell promised a provincial radio audience that there were absolutely no federal Liberal candidates or workers in that election campaign. This was necessary because the party is a coalition of anti-socialists against the NDP. Other party workers will not work with Federal Liberals. They are viewed as mercenaries, opportunists, parasites, crooks, or all of the above. After the RCMP raid on our legislature Federal Liberals, who were not supposed to there in the first place, are popping up every where. Now that the slime and sleaze is just oozing out of this government, most other party volunteers sat this election out. My riding has never elected a provincial NDPer or a Federal Liberal since 1948. I counted 12 Liberal signs, only 2 of which were on private lawns. There was no phone bank, door knocking, or rides to the polls. The ground game was gone and they won this election over the commies in spite of themselves. Memories of the previous NDP government disaster are still fresh enough in voters' minds.

    BC is about to witness a large number of real scandals involving Federal Liberals. Campbell should last long enough to cut the Olympic ribbons, but he will be resigning very soon after the closing ceremonies.

    With apologies to the credit card company Capitol One: BC..... you've got Liberals!

    Looney in Lotusland

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:34 PM  

  • I don't see any lessons here for the NS NDP. First off, the political situation is entirely different. The Tory government has been around since 1999 and Rodney has largely mishandled the minority situation (in contrast to his predecessor). The presence of a reasonably strong third party in the Liberals (who can't be completely counted out) complicates things further.

    Second, the NS NDP is pragmatic, vaguely populist, and has not been prone to rocking the boat in a minority legislature, something we've had for six straight years. Darrell Dexter has been around for a while now and can't really be painted as inexperienced, incompetent, etc. - especially not when the premier is a former gym teacher/fiddler.

    That brings me to my last point. Nova Scotia is almost nothing like BC. It's not polarized and much smaller. The Liberals and Tories both have no shortage of messy historical baggage - the NDP benefits from being without such baggage (despite attempts to import it from BC and Ontario). Finally, the NDP needs only to flip 2 or 3 seats to win a minority. If they were able to win a vote share approaching their BC counterparts, they'd win a clear majority.

    By Blogger Josh, at 11:29 PM  

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