B.C. NDP grapples with stunning provincial election loss

It’s sad, but negative politics rule.

Stunned New Democrats of various stripes grudgingly offered this explanation as they watched in horror as a highly anticipated cakewalk went bad for the B.C. NDP in the May 14 election.

George Chow, who was defeated in Vancouver-Langara, used the word naive twice to describe the decision to run a mostly positive campaign in the face of unrelenting attacks by the B.C. Liberal Party and its allies.

“I think we were a bit naive thinking that we want to change how politics is played,” Chow told the Georgia Straight at the Vancouver Convention Centre East, where New Democrats gathered Tuesday night for a celebration that didn’t materialize.

“But I guess politics is politics,” Chow said. “Negativity works.”

From 45 seats, B.C. Liberals increased their share in the legislative assembly to 50. Leading in the polls at one point by as much as 20 percentage points, the B.C. NDP is down three seats, to 33. Vicki Huntington of Delta South made history as the first independent MLA in B.C. to be reelected. The Green Party of B.C. also made history with climate-change scientist Andrew Weaver’s victory in Oak Bay–Gordon Head.

As the results turned ugly, federal NDP MP Don Davies of Vancouver Kingsway observed that “this shows the power of negative politics”.

“I also think that maybe we should have brought up more of the Liberal record,” Davies told the Straight. “I think maybe being positive had its downside.”

The election results also indicated one thing for Davies: “It shows the inaccuracy of the polls.”

Environmental activist Ben West, a New Democrat convert who was previously a B.C. Green, shared this view.

“The polls were clearly pretty inaccurate,” West told the Straight. “I think most people here are pretty shocked.”

Shane Simpson, who won a third term as B.C. NDP MLA for Vancouver-Hastings, expressed disappointment with the surveys that consistently placed his party ahead. Simpson told the Straight: “Clearly the pollsters who picked the bigger percentage, you know, the pollsters will have to talk about that tomorrow.”

In his concession speech, B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix urged the saddened faithful to remain “generous” and continue to be “forward looking” in their quest for government.

But as the party re-examines its failed campaign, it may want to revisit the page written by Dix’s own mentor and friend Glen Clark. Then premier, Clark was trailing then–B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell in the 1996 election surveys. New Democrats ran negative ads, and Clark won.

Ellen Woodsworth, an ex–Vancouver councillor and a committed New Democrat, noted that B.C. Liberal premier Christy Clark’s take-no-prisoners stance “beat the message of Adrian Dix, who was playing nice”.

“Her aggressive approach is still the kind of approach that the people who vote in this province want,” Woodsworth told the Straight, “and it won the day.”

According to Barry O’Neill, former president of the B.C. division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, New Democrats purposely avoided the electoral approach that “so often is taken in the United States”.

“Obviously it seems to me that that kind of hard-knock, very personal kind of advertising made a difference here,” O’Neill told the Straight.

B.C. NDP president Moe Sihota said in a brief interview that he wants to first “reflect on things”.

Paul Faoro, current secretary-treasurer of CUPE B.C., doesn’t believe that it was negative advertising that won the day. For Faoro, the key may lie in voter turnout.

Based on figures from Elections B.C. as of 1:02 a.m. on Wednesday (May 15), a total of 1.6 million valid votes were cast.

With 3.1 million registered voters as of April 15, that represents a 52 percent turnout, a slight improvement on the 51 percent rate in the 2009 election.

According to George Heyman, who unseated B.C. Liberal Margaret MacDiarmid in Vancouver-Fairview, negative campaigns are directly related to low voter turnouts.

“When you have a negative campaign, even if it’s only one party running the negative campaign, it turns people off the process,” Heyman told the Straight.

The B.C. NDP garnered 39 percent of the popular vote, falling behind the B.C. Liberals’ share of 44 percent. In the last 50 years, New Democrats have managed to win only three elections. Spencer Chandra Herbert, who won another term as New Democrat MLA in Vancouver–West End, said he’s keenly aware of this.

“I know that the NDP always has to run uphill to win elections in B.C.,” Chandra Herbert told the Straight. “That’s just been the history.”

Jenny Kwan, the longest serving member of the B.C. NDP caucus, won her fifth term as Vancouver–Mount Pleasant representative. As dejected New Democrats began leaving the convention centre, Kwan maintained that she’s proud of the positive campaign run by Dix.

“The Liberals ran a fact-free campaign and a very negative campaign. And did that make a difference in terms of the results?” Kwan asked in an interview with the Straight. “I don’t know. We’re going to have to take a look at every aspect of the campaign, do that analysis, and make an evaluation.”

Comments (45) Add New Comment
north island gal
Its funny you closed with a quote Jenny Kwan. She is the one who kicked Carol James when she was down. I think Carol would have made mince meat out of Christy Clark!!
Rating: -13
Joseph Lambert
The Liberal Party of BC gave a true Platform of the most major need of our time ie-"handling of the peoples money"(our tax money at their disposal) and the need for austerity in spending in every field of "servicing" this proud province.
Rating: +3
Joseph Lambert
There may be "ten thousand issues" demanding attention, and demanding our Provinces dollars, but at this crucial time in our history ,with untold demands on our Provinces cash, we must hold the black line of solvency ,not the red line of deficit spending ,which would or could place our great Province near the cliffs edge of bankruptcy
Rating: +9
Ted Alcuitas
Being coy about negative ads doesn’t work, NDP strategists should have known that a long time ago.

Whatever the pollsters’ failure, the party cannot heap blame on the entire process for the debacle. It is a given that polls cannot be completely relied on since it is only a snapshot of the fast-moving sentiments of the electorate.

While I agree that remaining ‘positive’ is a worthwhile goal, the reality is that politics is a fight and in the arena, one cannot expect the voters to cheer when you’re being attacked and you don’t respond.

I don’t mean that the party being attacked should retaliate in kind but I’m sure there are ways to confront the issue in a positive manner.

The NDP have plenty of history to rely on and the federal Conservatives are the best practitioners of the craft – their attack ads on Dion and Ignatieff are prime examples.

When the Liberals were exposed on their ethnic-gate quick win strategy, that issue should have been exploited in the course of the campaign by questioning Clark’s ethics and moral judgment in using taxpayer’s money to promote her party.

True, she fired her chief of staff who later worked on her campaign but the issue was not mined to its full potential. It was good while it was on the radar screen but the NDP never got any mileage out of it during the campaign as it was never brought back to haunt Christy Clark.

Yet, the Liberals kept dredging up Dix’s past to maximum advantage and the NDP did not fight back on a very recent scandal?

What could have been more wrong – fudging a document for your boss or sticking your dirty hands into the till to pay for your party’s campaign? In fact, the Liberals have to pay back $70,000 – a glaring admission of their guilt.

But I guess all that is now water under the bridge and the NDP can lick their wounds but unless they wake up to the reality that politics cannot be played on strictly ethical rules, they might have to contend themselves in the opposition for a long time.

Rating: +26
gilbert marks
Yes Dix was an utter moron and richly deserves the instant boot for not highlighting the BCLiberal economic mess at even campaign stop. It's the economy stupid and fascist media is not going to do its job or his for him.

The Sauder school of business just came out with a report showing the NDP's economic performance in the 1990's was superior under the Asian flu than the BCLiberals in the last decade despite the biggest resource boom in BC history. Barely a word out of Dix.

These BC Liberal halfwits actually gave away BC's taxpayers billion dollar investment in BC Rail to pals of the Campbell for free (tax credits) at the beginning of the resource boom that would have seen a massive profit for the taxpayer.

Not a single word on this out of Dumbass Dix.

According to BC's latest public accounts that now stands at approximately $150B in debt, $55B direct/indirect + $100B for the contractual obligations related to 3P or public private partnership projects - 5 times the level NDP left us. $60B and growing in contract obligations are from the purchase of private power at an average of 6 times the going price on the Columbia grid.

Private operators require at least a 15% overall return on investment in order to obtain financing while BCHydro and the government finances at 3% with bonds, giving these capital intense PPP projects a 500%. increase in cost over a publicly financed project.

These private projects at a cost to the taxpayer of $100b are essentially worthless on the open market without the governments lucrative contractual obligations - the biggest financial disaster in Canadian history.

Not a word out of Dumbass Dix.

As for gas exports the Japanese announced they are restarting all their nukes and Russia is building a pipe to China. Not so much left for BC after Australia and Qatar divide up whats' left now eh.

These fascists halfwits couldn't entrepreneur a schoolgirl's lemonade stand.

Why was the brainless Dix so stupid he didn't bother bringing any of this up. Did he think BC Voters prefer a government that gives away $100 billion in assets? Did he think the Fascist media would bring it up?
Rating: +33
The Liberals went negative on your guy's judgement with the false statement and on the Glen Clark legacy. Well, duh. I suppose you don't lock your doors at night either.

You put a hapless candidate up there because you assumed in your hubris that the Campbell scandals were sufficient. You also took a position against resource extraction, while failing to mention how the lost income would be made up. That's not positive campaigning. That's you people not having a clue.

The Liberals did not deserve this, but honestly did Dix deserve it either?
Rating: +43
Juan Carlos
The polls weren't as wrong as you think. The issue is that the NDP and its supporters were already resting on their laurels before the actual election.

"Laws of large numbers" are funny things. And all of you NDP supporters who thought, "Oh, it's in the bag... what difference is one or two votes more or less going to make? Hey, honey, let's go down to the seawall and enjoy this beautiful day." -- well, all of you have nobody but yourselves to blame. Less than 50% voter turnout. PATHETIC.

There is zero doubt we'd have an NDP majority government if all those people polled had bothered to vote.

Vote splitting, green party, positive/negative campaign? Nonsense. Just get out and VOTE. You'll remember next time, won't you?
Rating: +22
Alan Layton
The NDP chose to throw conventional wisdom out the window: which is to concentrate on the economy. They didn't do this, nor did they point out the shortcomings of the Liberals on a regular basis because they wanted to be the 'nice guy'. Remember, nice guys don't finish last....they don't finish at all.

They also tried to appease too many disparate groups by promising them the moon, without explaining how they would pay for it. Their stance is old fashioned and the type of platform that you flaunt when times are good and the coffers are overflowing. It was the wrong message at the wrong time delivered by a goofy-looking guy with almost zero appeal.
Rating: +23
Enough of the “positive” campaign rhetoric
It was not a “positive” campaign, it was a safe campaign. The Liberals were playing to win while the NDP were playing to not lose. The Liberals attacks were so effective because Dix and his team played right into their hands. Dix refused to take a stand on just about every major issue for the duration of his “leadership”. At first he kept pushing off his answers to the election period. Then once the election period arrived he pushed off his answers to post-election "reviews". Then out of the blue he decided to go public with an anti-pipeline stand. Although many people probably agreed with that stand, the flip-flop on something that was going to be “reviewed” after the election validated what the Liberals had been saying all along. It was now clear for all to see that there was a hidden agenda. That one move made out of pure arrogance, spite and greed was the tipping point. This loss had nothing to do with taking some imaginary, self-professed high road.
Rating: +40
I remember the promise by Adrian Dix to forego "personal attacks", and that was a good promise to make.

But right until the last few days of the campaign, I was still waiting for attacks on the BC Lib/Con performance over 12 years. It never really happened. Huh?

How can an Opposition which spends all its time in the legislature criticizing government suddenly forget to do so during an election?

The BC Lib/Cons didn't run on their dismal 12-year record, and the NDP didn't bring it up. Game, set, match.

If the NDP had raised a "Liberal Failure of the Day" and contrasted it with what the NDP would do ... it would have been a very different result.

Plus, free transport, beer and pizza for voters under 30! :)
Rating: +26
Gut check
“When you have a negative campaign, even if it’s only one party running the negative campaign, it turns people off the process,” Heyman told the Straight.

What's his proof?

If none, then either he's a dimwit or just trying to justify his support and participation in the NDP's lame campaign.

I like Delusional and Layton's take, especially their comments on Dix.

And why did the party choose Dix over the superior Farnsworth in the first place? Because the faithful thought in their infinite wisdom that they could better foist a scammer onto the public than a homosexual.

While the latter would have been a tough sell for sure, especially in the hinterlands, thinking the former would be easier was folly or as said, hubris.

Actually, it speaks to the dearth of leadership material on the left. In which case, so be it. It's just not their time.

And if and when do find a competent leader, hopefully that person puts a tourniquet around the throats of the likes of Heyman and Kwan, that hypocrite who went publicly negative on James in order to oust her in favour of... well you know the rest of the story.
Rating: +8
An exit poll would have helped determine if a late shift in voter intent occurred. I doubt it. But it would seem that we may have to stop relaying upon polls to gauge public opinion and instead deal with voter turn-out. We must re-engage the public, to restore our democracy and teach children the importance of voting.

Negative ads didn't work for NDP in 2009 so obviously a combination might be a better approach. You could say , though, Clark appeared more the fighter than Dix. Assuming, of course, we want a dishonest dilettante, like Clark, as premier.
Rating: -10
The ndp didn't lose because of negative advertising. How is mentioning the past negative? Well, I guess it was negative for Dix, but nontheless, it was just the past, nothing negative there. The ndp lost because of their arrogance and self-righteousness. Not having much of a platform didn't help. Not saying what you plan to do until you review it after the election is folly. You guys had years to decide on a platform, yet all you could do was rant about how evil Christy Clark was. The present day ndp operates just like the tea party in the US. Against anything the other party says, regardless of merit, and nothing but negative personal attacks against the premier of the province. You don't have to respect Christy Clark, but show some respect for the office.
Rating: +2
Arthur Vandelay
Elections are pretty visceral affairs, especially in a province where a few swing voters and ridings determine the outcome. You put up a guy who has about as much charisma as my bank manager combined with a pretty negative past in politics against a feisty campaigner who can generate at least some emotional response from the electorate and you’ve got a recipe for all the undecideds to swing to the Liberals on election day.

This outcome had zero to do with negative campaigning.
Rating: +11
Joseph Lambert spouts the same crap the Liberals do "we must hold the black line of solvency ,not the red line of deficit spending ,which would or could place our great Province near the cliffs edge of bankruptcy", yet the Provincial deficit is double what it was when the Liberals took over. This is your idea of holding the line on deficit spending? Really?
The NDP lost because they didn't fight back at all the spin Christy Clark put out there about her pie in the sky fiscal plan. Get back to me in 4 more years and you will see this province even deeper in debt.
Rating: +10
Why does the media keep perpetuating this myth about the "positive" NDP campaign? Just because Dix says it was positive, doesn't make it so. The NDP campaign was negative from the start.

They launched attack ads against Christy from the moment she became leader of the BC Libs. They were constantly leaking private BC Lib emails. They kept bringing up BC Rail and even promised an inquiry that nobody cares about. They launched a recall campaign. They constantly lied about the budget being a deficit. And they went full negative during the last 2 weeks of the election.

Yet Dix repeated the "positive campaign" lie enough that the media bought into it. Such sheep.
Rating: -14
@ Bobo:

So, the NDP "didn't lose because of negative advertising" ... but then you go on to say that there was "nothing but negative personal attacks against the premier of the province". Which is it?

Let's see a link to even ONE personal attack by the NDP. Just one. Not an attack on the terrible party record, but an attack on the PERSON leading the party.

Let's see it, fella. Or are you just another BC Lib/Con who doesn't know truth from fiction? In other words, just another gullible voter.
Rating: -9
voted NDP but not surprised
The NDP are still too far to the left to win an election here, and they don't have the public trust. They need to disarm that residual suspicion that, if they do get in, they'll stifle the economy, cave in to the public sector unions, and implement one or two loony social ideas from the Vision playbook (like unisex washrooms). The best first step would be to get rid of their formal connections with labour unions, since most voters these days really don't accept that public sector employees, like those in the liquor stores and on the ferries, should be paid so much better than those in the private sector.
Rating: -3
Martin Dunphy
wow . Talk about "bought into it".
Rating: -14
Tom Douglas
There are many reasons why the NDP lost.
First was trust. By not sticking to a platform voters were wary about Dix's true intentions.
Memogate certainly hurt him.
Teh NDp were led into a fools paradise thinking it was their race to lose. The big mistake they made was to let Federal NDP come in and tell them how to run things. (aka Brian Topp who ain't on top no more.)
But for me, I think Adrian didn't want to go negative because he is hiding something and his thinking was that if he went negative the BC Liberal would get the dirt on him.
Bur for me it was his cheap suit, bad haircut and old fogey glasses that set the wrong tone for who I would like as a Premier of BC.
Don't get me wrong, I don't like Crusty one bit and am glad she lost her seat. I only hope she loses the next by-election. No one really likes her smug, glib and facile demeanor. Show some class lady.
The 19 -25 demographic did not vote because they don't drive cars anymore.
BC needs a electronic voting platform and then you will see the voters return to the polls.

Rating: -8


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