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.

Urban-suburban split

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.

Comments (30) Add New Comment
Trevor Holness
NDP and Green should form new party.
Rating: +469
John Beeching
Indeed there is much that can be said about the elections. Political parties are supposed to represent sectors of the population. What is not said is they also represents sectors of business. As such a vote for any party is also a vote for one business sector or another. Something to think about.
We are hearing some questions that need answering: Did the media announcement of the significant lead of he NDP over the Liberals cause a considerable number of the NDP supporters to decide not to bother voting? Did the announcement again in the media that the gap had narrowed spur liberals to get out and vote?
The major media have a significant influence on voting, who are they accountable to? Most major media are owned by the rich, did that play a role in deciding what they would print?
Just an opinion what is yours?
Rating: +9
people don't vote gov't in they vote gov't out
people didn't like the ndp
Rating: +17
We need a party that represents the urban elite--a group whose interests are really everyone interests if only we could get everyone to realize that. Issues such as more funding for higher education, increasing public transit (and increasing the war against cars), better funding for arts, investments in green energy. All these positions are good for those who oppose them. Opposing Kinder Morgan and ALL pipelines may be bad politics, but its the right thing to do. When o when will city dwellers be able to sock it to the suburbs?
Rating: -55
There will be lots of socialist hand-wringing over this collapse. I prefer to think of it that the 40% of voters who buy the NDP line, that they are entitled to more than their productivity has earned them, weren't enough votes for the NDP to win this time.
Rating: -6
Jim Spiers
The NDP like the Vancouver Canucks should realize they didn't have what was needed for good leadership, lick their wounds and accept the results.
Rating: +17
Maybe try not selecting a fraud tainted leader, with strong ties to a despised former government (Glen Clark), who refuses to fight back when attacked? I held my nose and voted NDP because the Liberals have enough scandal baggage to sink any government. Obviously many people either couldn't or wouldn't. Remove Dix and Sihota immediately and get a fighter. Being left wing means you care about people, and are willing to fight for them.
Rating: +50
Be the Change
Party for urban elite..are you kidding me...the
urban elite are running the government and it
comes down to corporate and union profits, period!
Rating: -28
Be the Change
"people did not like the NDP policies...
but majority of people, who do support
NDP policies did not get out and vote..
there is also a real fear of union controlled
job sectors vs free enterprise, but, either,
one without balance between economic development
and looking after societies social needs will
not have a successful government.
Rating: -10
Linda Nygard
When I read the front page of the Province Newspaper, the morning of the election - my heart sank. As long as our media - mainly print and radio - continue along such partisan paths, there is no real hope. They wield the power. Also big business through big media...
With the Province Newspaper in decline you would think that they would be more inclusive. Would Wal-Mart only sell to people with red hair? or people who were under 5 feet tall? That would not be a good business plan and yet much of our media do just that by mainly limiting the scope of debate to a single view. Balance in media would lead to civil debate and a better understanding of both sides of issues.
Until we have a more balanced choice in media, we will be governed by big media.
Rating: -21
Arm Chair
Dix was as articulate as an old bean-counter who's sat in a dark corner with no social interaction skills. Replace him and Sihota with Farnsworth and MacPhail. NDP will need reconstructive surgery but at least they've got something positive: Anton and Sullivan on the other side.
Rating: +20
Mr. Smith's article seems to put a lot of weight in 'caucasian sounding surnames" and race in general. Does he think the electorate decide at the ballot box based on the sound of the name? Polls indicated the NDP sweep but apparently many people who "say" they'll vote NDP lack the motivation to go down to their local polling station on elecion day. The Liberals won a majority despite of their flawed record of deception. And Christy Clark is a more dynamic leader than Adrian Dix. Leadership counts in swaying voters regardless of the party's colour. The NDP with a stronger leader would have been the new government...but essentially the same party. Dix will be replaced shortly as any leader who blows a 20pt lead really isn't much of a leader at all. But according to Mr. Smith's article, what the NDP need to "think about" are the candidate's racial mix and how caucasian their names sound. The NDP lost and would have lost even if ever candidate's last name was Smith or Jones. The Liberals ran a better campaign. That's what the NDP need to think about. And they'll have 4 years of strong economic growth in which to consider that.
Rating: +2
James G
1. They failed to understand the nuances of the campaign as it unfolded. It was obvious to me that the red light stop and go may have been a calculated risk but not to them. Afterwards, the image taken away by voters was that of a single parent, an indulgent Mom, a person cabable of making mistakes. Drunk driving was a much bigger mistake for a previous Premier and not only did him no lasting harm but humanized him for some.

2. If there were exit poll breakdowns, I suspect they would show a late change of heart by one segment of the population -- working women. Some, spurred on by the idea of a 'tough' (lying and competence issues suspended) woman facing off against a 'weak' (no fight back at all) man turned instant Liberal. Some already were and needed an excuse to turn out.

3. Too Green for Success. The Green Party, always intended as a mere cudgel for both left and right only has effectiveness on the left but only in minumum of ridings. In the hinterlands, the idea of jobs still trumps 'ifs and buts'. If a mythical seismic shift somehow magically moved the tar sands to between Kamploops and Prince George, there would be celebration rather than mourning. Not everyone wants to wring hands about potential environmental disaster when they themselves, or their spouses or children or for that matter their customers cannot find work.

4. Adrian Dix. He was borderline charisma material at best but eventually proved his overall worth. He just didn't resonate with women for several reasons (see above). His worst mistake -- hiring Brian Topp. Overcredited with the federal NDP bump of 2011, Topp then proved his ability to lose in his own leadership attempt. A cursory glance at the decision making in his bid would have raised some questions the party refused to ask. Well, Hans Brown he wasn't!
Rating: +20
Billy Bones
Dear Carol James and Adrian Dix

The Official Opposition actually has a job, other than play nice, roll over and then play dead.


And since HST is gone Adrian you can afford to spend more than $8 on a haircut.
Rating: +16
out at night
Lots of good points here, but for me it was clear midway through the campaign that Adrian Dix was not able to ignite a fire under anyone. I'm sure he's a good person with good ideas and I didn't hesitate to vote for him and the NDP. Unfortunately we do live in a pretty superficial world and if you want people to get up off their duffs and go out and vote for you in great numbers, a certain amount of HEAT is required. You need real charisma, you need to get in the corners and scrap sometimes and you need to provide what folks call "vision". Even if that amounts to a bunch of hockey platitudes, you need to put it out there like it's the only thing that will save the day. AD just didn't bring the funk or the noise.
Rating: +8
Hazlit, It's attitudes like yours that caused the ndp to collapse. Your self-righteousness smells extremely bad.
Rating: -6
Just saying
Just look at Dix, and you see why he was not the chosen leader.

Doesn't he look like the geek no girl will go with to the prom??
Rating: +16
The campaign of fear worked. People care more about the economy than the environment. People don't care about accountability or corruption because they don't see how it affects them. People were worried about the NDP pandering to the unions (myself included especially the BCTF) and so I'm sure that explains it. The media played its role and these nonsense polls just helped people get off the couch and vote against the NDP.

Reducing these outcomes to left versus right is oversimplification. Saying the left does not want to work is just as stupid as saying the right wants to run prison camps. This is ridiculous. People are lazy pure and simple it is human nature and it has nothing to do with right versus left.
Rating: +1
Look at the drones blaming everyone and everything except the base ideology of the 40% party. The NDP have yet to win an election in BC when the right vote didn't split and the trend continues. NDP governments in BC had barely 40% of the vote at best even without a relevant Green Party: their past governments have been as legitimate as Harper's current "majority." The drones who support the party can't seem to understand that, instead they blame forces outside the party.

Blaming the "media" is the weakest excuse those election and is also the excuse that most denigrates the electorate. Blaming the daily polling for being wrong and discouraging NDP voters who figured their vote wasn't needed is another entertaining excuse I have heard. The range of excuses from the drones is marked by the absence of anyone actually blaming the party for, once again, failing at the polls.

The NDP expected voters to punish Liberal corruption over the last decade by returning power to the NDP: a party where the top 2 people are directly linked to past corruption. Did they not understand the irony? Their own party faithful may well believe that Sihota and Dix are innocent by virtue of their being faithful party members but outsiders, ie those who's vote decides the election, saw this as evidence the NDP hadn't changed. Why bother replacing the current possibly corrupt lot with those who's corruption is proven rather than claimed or suspected?

One interesting aspect of the demographic breakdown is how the young voters who so earnestly support the NDP simply don't bother to vote in numbers that would tip the balance. Older voters are more likely to vote and also more likely to vote for the right wing party. Given the nature of BC politics the troubling question for the NDP is why do those with life experience seem to turn away from the party when between 35 & 50 years of age? Is it because they have experienced some form of NDP government and don't believe the party propaganda any longer?

The NDP had a decade in power in BC yet the homeless problem got worse and drug overdoses in the DES reached their peak so whatever solutions they had in mind apparently didn't work. Why bother electing "socialists" when they behave just like the right-wing alternative? The only difference between the Socreds, NDP & Liberals is who's pocket gets lined.
Rating: -1
Martin Dunphy

You referencing drug overdoses in the DTES during NDP years is more than irrelevant for this discussion, for at least two reasons.
One: a particularly powerful kind of heroin made several appearances in Vancouver during those years, killing many unwitting addicts who could not withstand it's potency.
Two: a little thing called Insite.
Rating: -25


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