Lessons from a Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection

First let’s start with turnout.

Lessons from a Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection

Here in the Cowichan Valley, we recently experienced the kick off of the Green wave we currently see sweeping the country. In 2017, Sonia Furstenau made history in B.C., helping to expand our provincial Green caucus from one to three, allowing them to hold the balance of power while forming a government. Then in 2018, Mike Schreiner, leader of the provincial Green party in Ontario, made history being in being the first green MPP to be elected to provincial parliament. And so far in 2019, we’ve not only seen Canadian Greens making history in P.E.I, where the provincial Green party will form the first official Green Party opposition in Canada. We have now also witnessed Paul Manly, doubling the federal Green caucus in his historic victory on May 6. It is this final victory I would like to discuss, because while the series of wins the greens have experienced is important, this particular byelection brings with it some very valuable insights for what might happen this fall.

First let’s start with turnout. The average turnout for byelections during our current parliament is 32.3 per cent based on available data from Elections Canada. Turnout in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection stands at 40.9 per cent at the time of writing this. So what does this mean? Well, the answer to that question is twofold. It means that, comparatively to other byelections during the Trudeau government, this is a good turnout that produced a result that should be fairly representative of feelings in that riding. This result could also signal a highly motivated electorate ready to turnout this fall. Byelections tend to see lower turnouts than general elections because they usually don’t affect who’s governing the country. So when a byelection turnout outperforms the average by 8.6 percentage points this close to a federal election, it is wise to take notice.

The second insight we are offered by this byelection is that the three mainstream parties may be in trouble this fall (yes this includes the NDP). Not only did the Green party win. They won big. Manly was able to increase his vote share from 19.2 per cent in 2015 to 37.3 per cent. That’s a gain of 18.1 per cent and shows that the Greens are possibly carrying momentum heading into this falls election. Meanwhile the Conservatives finished second with 24.8 per cent of the vote, the NDP in third with 23.1 per cent and the Liberals with in fourth with only 11 per cent of the vote.

Now if I’m a Conservative, I’m the least worried about these results. On top of maintaining around the same vote share in the riding as in 2015. Conservatives weren’t expected to win in this riding, and a second place finish is respectable. That being said, the prospect of higher voter turnout should concern Conservatives, as that would likely be driven by a surge in young voters and traditional nonvoters. Two constituencies Conservatives struggle with historically.

To the Liberals, this should be a sobering result. Even though Nanaimo-Ladysmith isn’t a traditional riding they did well here in 2015 finishing second in the riding with 23.5 per cent. This was largely a product of the Liberal Party doing quite well in B.C. in 2015, winning the most seats of any federal party in the province with 17 out of 42. Not only was this victory in B.C. instrumental to the current Liberal majority government, but it also made B.C.’s caucus the third largest in the Liberal Party behind Ontario and Quebec. So, if this 12.5 per cent slide is any indication of the Liberals fortunes in B.C. it could spell disaster come fall.

Finally, the NDP, the favorites to win this byelection lose again. For the NDP this is also a frightening result. The party’s vote share shrunk from 33 per cent in their 2015 victory, to just 23.1 per cent in this byelection. Not only that, this riding also encomapsses the provincial riding of Nanaimo, a riding that just elected a BC NDP candidate in the February byelection that made this one neccesary. This, I believe, signals that the federal NDP are being hurt by the current BC NDP government’s views on climate change. Particularly when it comes to their decisions surrounding LNG and Site C. People who are looking for change are having a hard time finding it in the BC NDP, and that is carrying over, deservedly or not so, to the federal NDP. This byelection shows that if the federal NDP wants to look like an alternative to the Liberals and Conservatives this fall, they need to propose an unabashedly grassroots program, that takes climate change much more seriously than their provincial counterparts are.

Now finally, what does this have to do with our riding, Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, in the upcoming federal elections? Well, first off, this riding is extremely close right now according to polling data from 338canada.com. The riding right now is considered likely NDP, at 31 per cent followed by the Greens at 24.9 per cent, Conservatives at 24.1 per cent, and Liberals at 17.2 per cent. With a margin of error at six per cent, this riding is shaping up to be a three-way race with parallels to Nanaimo-Ladysmith. The main thing to take from all of this is that nationally the Green Party is on the rise, and while strategic voting may play a part this fall it can’t be said with their recent electoral success they’re still a spoiler party. So if you’re so inclined to vote Green in the next federal election you can feel free to do so without the normal feeling of my vote doesn’t matter. You can vote Green to win for once. And, that is the lesson we and the other three main parties should take from Nanaimo-Ladysmith.

Matt Kercher

Lake Cowichan

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