What B.C. New Democrats need to think about in the wake of an election debacle

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      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.

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      30 Comments

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      Trevor Holness

      May 17, 2013 at 8:22pm

      NDP and Green should form new party.

      John Beeching

      May 17, 2013 at 9:32pm

      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?

      ocainan

      May 18, 2013 at 3:45am

      people don't vote gov't in they vote gov't out
      people didn't like the ndp

      Hazlit

      May 18, 2013 at 9:10am

      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?

      NoLeftNutter

      May 18, 2013 at 9:17am

      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.

      Jim Spiers

      May 18, 2013 at 9:41am

      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.

      alby

      May 18, 2013 at 10:04am

      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.

      Be the Change

      May 18, 2013 at 10:04am

      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!

      Be the Change

      May 18, 2013 at 10:07am

      "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.

      Linda Nygard

      May 18, 2013 at 10:10am

      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.

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