What B.C. New Democrats need to think about in the wake of an election debacle
There's so much that can be written about the recent B.C. election.
The most obvious issue for New Democrats is the decision to oppose the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline before an application had been filed.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix realized it had the potential to win environmentalists' votes and drive a stake into Premier Christy Clark's reelection effort in Vancouver–Point Grey.
But he probably underestimated how this would be perceived in must-win communities like Prince George and Kamloops and in the Vancouver suburbs.
This election, more than any other, revealed an urban-suburban divide in B.C. politics.
In the more densely populated urban areas—including the northern section of Vancouver, New Westminster, North Surrey, Victoria, and Burnaby—NDP candidates did exceptionally well.
In the Burrard Peninsula, for instance, the party captured 11 of the 16 seats, losing primarily in areas with the lowest densities, such as Vancouver-Fraserview and Vancouver-Langara, Vancouver-Quilchena, and Burnaby North. An exception was the densely populated and relatively upscale constituency of Vancouver–False Creek, which also fell to the B.C. Liberals.
In the suburbs, the NDP was slaughtered, losing the northeast sector apart from Port Coquitlam, the North Shore, Richmond, Delta, and seven of the 10 constituencies in Surrey and Langley.
Clearly, Dix's message did not resonate in areas where voters have previously elected NDP politicians.
Former NDP premier Dave Barrett once represented Coquitlam, which rejected the party this time.
Former Port Moody mayor and NDP housing critic Joe Trasolini, one of the highest-profile politicians in the Tri-Cities, lost his first election.
New Democrat Jagrup Brar, who was the second-longest uninterrupted serving member of caucus, was defeated in Surrey-Fleetwood.
The suburbs became an NDP wasteland when general elections are often won or lost in places like Coquitlam, Surrey, and Maple Ridge.
But those weren't the only areas where the NDP seemed to miss the mark.
Prince George and Kamloops were a bust
In the 1990s, the party held both Prince George constituencies through two elections with Paul Ramsay and Lois Boone.
This time, B.C. Liberal candidates achieved 55.5 and 57.8 percent.
Kamloops is another bellwether B.C. constituency held by the NDP through two elections in the 1990s.
As the population grew, Kamloops was divided into two constituencies. In both cases, the B.C. Liberal candidates won with over 50 percent of the votes in 2013.
The NDP was also shut out of the Cariboo where it routinely elected politicians in the past.
The NDP remained exceptionally strong on Vancouver Island and fared well in the Kootenays and along the coast.
But no party can win the government largely on the strength of those areas and the Burrard Peninsula.
NDP's push for diversity struck out
Give Dix credit for desegregating the NDP slate to a degree never done before. But this attempt to appeal to new Canadians and run candidates that better reflected the population didn't deliver more seats.
With the exception of Brar and Harry Lali, all the incumbent NDP MLAs of colour won. One rookie, Jane Shin, in Burnaby-Lougheed, also got elected.
However, all the other New Democrats of Asian descent lost.
And in 10 races against B.C. Liberal candidates who happened to be Caucasian, the NDP candidate of Asian heritage went down to defeat.
This list includes Gabriel Yiu, George Chow, Preet Rai, Lakhvinder Jhaj, Sukhi Dhami, Bobby Deepak, Sherry Ogasawara, Gian Sihota, Harry Kooner, and Amrik Mahil.
Another two New Democrats of Asian descent—Frank Huang and Avtar Bains—lost to B.C. Liberal candidates who were also of Asian decent. So of 14 previously unelected NDP candidates of Asian descent, only one was declared a winner. Shin's margin of victory was only 315 votes.
In the past, there's been a demonstrated preference for Caucasian-sounding surnames in at-large municipal elections in the Vancouver suburbs. This pattern has diminished somewhat in recent years, but it still exists.
Perhaps it's a case of some Caucasian voters not wanting to support candidates with South Asian or Chinese-sounding surnames. Or perhaps it's a case of some Chinese voters not wanting to support Indian candidates, or vice-versa.
The only exception appears to be in Vancouver, where in recent years there has been a bonus in votes for a Chinese surname and a penalty for an Indian surname.
Political parties don't like to discuss this publicly. But privately, some New Democrats are probably wondering if they lost votes by focusing more attention on diversity rather than seeking out new candidates with the highest name recognition.
To be fair, the NDP didn't know if Christy Clark was going to call a snap election in 2011 after she won the B.C. Liberal leadership. So the Opposition was in a hurry to nominate candidates, which might have lessened its chance of wooing some big names onto the slate.
The NDP also needed to raise money, and a diverse slate would help in this regard.
But the party may have also been hampered by a policy requiring it to nominate women in constituencies where NDP MLAs weren't seeking reelection. For instance, this ruled out 50 percent of the population from competing for the NDP nomination in Delta North, which fell to the B.C. Liberals.
Meanwhile, the B.C. Liberals were attracting veteran politicians like Sam Sullivan, Suzanne Anton, Marvin Hunt, and Peter Fassbender, who were already known to thousands of voters.
In the end, these B.C. Liberal candidates helped propel their party to an unexpected fourth consecutive majority government.