B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)

OPINION: Examining preliminary results from the 2020 BC Election

Some thoughts to ponder as British Columbia awaits the final results from mail-in ballots

As the political landscape shifts following Saturday night’s preliminary election results, there is lots to talk about while the final mail-in ballots get counted and validated, which in itself could alter makeup of the legislature.

However, one thing is clear — the BC NDP will have a governing majority.

As of Oct. 23, Elections BC had received 497,000 mail in ballots, out of 724,000 vote-by-mail packages that had been issued.

In Kootenay East, 3,236 mail-in packages were issued, however, data on those already returned to Elections BC from individual ridings is not available at this time.

For general election and advance voting numbers available, Kootenay East BC Liberal candidate Tom Shypitka is up 8,270 over challengers Wayne Stetski (BC NDP), with 4,170 and Kerri Wall (Green), with 1,410.

Even in the unlikely event that all 3,236 ballots went to the BC NDP, or the BC Greens, Shypitka still walks away with the win.

The vote is expected to be validated on Nov. 6, as Elections BC will have processed all the provincial mail-in ballots.

However, there are some areas where mail-in votes could flip the script.

Saanich North and the Islands had 16,136 mail-in packages issued, Saanich South had 14,230 mail-in packages issued, Oak Bay- Gordon Head had 15, 918 issued. Bear in mind, those are mail-in packages issued, not necessarily mail-in packages returned to Elections BC.

However, the mail-in votes could change the outcome for close races such as Abbotsford-Mission, which has a 188 vote margin between BC Liberal Simon Gibson, who has a very narrow lead over Pam Alexis of the BC NDP.

Meanwhile, while we all wait for the final count, there’s lots to dissect.

All politics are local

Lets start local.

Tom Shypitka handily won re-election in the riding, which has been a BC Liberal stronghold since 2001, when former MLA and cabinet minister Bill Bennett wrested it away from the BC NDP as part of a provincial electoral landslide.

Again, a caveat that the following numbers are based on preliminary results.

Shypitka won last night’s local election by just over 4,100 votes, keeping in line with a relatively stable margin over two provincial contests in the last seven years. In 2017, Shypitka won by 4,600 votes, in 2013, Bennett won by 4,000 votes.

Preliminary turnout in the riding, excluding the number of mail-in packages issued for Kootenay East, currently sits at 43 per cent.

Up north, in Columbia River -Revelstoke, incumbent BC Liberal Doug Clovechok also sprinted to re-election, capturing 5,770 votes against challengers in Nicole Cherlet (BC NDP) with 4,551 and Samson Boyer (BC Greens) with 1,546. Voter turnout, again excluding the number of mail-in packages issued, sits at 44 per cent.

Columbia River – Revelstoke had just over 3,000 mail-in packages issued, but again, we don’t know how many have been returned to Elections BC at this time. With a margin of 1,219 ballots between Clovechok and Cherlet, mail-in results could potentially alter that preliminary result.

As a political observer, one of the most fascinating races in the province was immediately to the west, as Nelson-Creston featured a neck-and-neck contest between BC NDP candidate Brittny Anderson and BC Green candidate Nicole Charlwood.

By the end of the night, Anderson was ahead 5,377 votes over Charlwood’s 4,443 votes, however, the two candidates traded the lead as the count came in before Anderson pulled ahead with all polls reporting.

However, once again, these are preliminary results, and Nelson – Creston saw 4,041 mail-in vote packages issued by Elections BC that have yet to see returns and be vailidated.

Still, it’s an evolving sign of times that a BC Green Party candidate was the closest challenger to a typically safe BC NDP seat, instead of the BC Liberals. Especially for an inland riding, as the BC Greens’ electoral base of support is centred on Vancouver Island, however, the party did pick up West Vancouver – Sea to Sky in a stunning upset over a BC Liberal incumbent.

Yes, yes, apply the thrice-repeated caveat about mail-in packages.

The Urban/Rural divide

The divide between parties that represent rural and urban ridings is abundantly stark.

With the exception of a few ridings in the West Kootenay and Northern B.C., much of rural areas of the province went red for the B.C. Liberals.

Why that is so, is complicated, and requires a bit of a deep dive into the makeup of the BC Liberal Party.

The party is a convenient alliance of federal Liberal- and federal Conservative-minded free-enterprise provincial voters.

The further one drifts away from the West Coast and gets closer to the Alberta border, federal ridings tend to be more conservative in nature. For example, every federal riding along the BC/Alberta border went Conservative in the last federal election.

However, in areas like Metro Vancouver, federally, the election map tends to include a large Liberal and NDP base.

So, with that in mind, how does a provincial party that values free enterprise and small ‘c’ conservative principles formulate an alliance with a voter base that has such a diverse range of priorities?

It can be a fragile alliance — one that was very much exposed in Saturday night’s election.

It’s hard not to blame parties for courting the riding-rich bounty that is Metro Vancouver. Well over two dozen ridings are up for grabs at any given time in areas that have similar urban issues.

It’s easier to campaign on promises to address big-city ticket items in an area where those promises resonate with people across many ridings.

However, it’s more nuanced for a political party leader to campaign on, say, wildlife management or natural resource development, when trolling for votes around Surrey or downtown Vancouver.

Things to watch going forward

Obviously, the results from the validated mail-in vote packages will be the next major item to watch.

As mentioned, with 497,000 packages returned to Elections BC out of 724,000 issued, some races could end up with a different result than reported from the preliminary outcomes.

Those should be counted by Nov. 6.

Next, with a majority government at his back, what will John Horgan’s immediate priorities be? There were a number of bold promises made on the campaign trail ($1,000 recovery benefit, cough cough), however, there are promises outstanding from the 2017 election that failed to materialize ($400 renters rebate cough cough).

Obviously, reacting and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic will be the provincial government’s immediate focus, as the effects of the coronavirus reach into all areas of life such as health care, education, employment and more.

Can the provincial government effectively manage the health care response as well as shore up economic supports for businesses and workers who are reeling from the financial effects of the pandemic?

Looking at the B.C. Liberal Party — how long until the knives come out for Andrew Wilkinson?

For a party that suffered it’s worst defeat in decades, is it fair to pin the blame on the leader? From the outside looking in, it seemed like a risky political gambit for the BC Liberals to put so much focus on urban tent cities in Vancouver and Victoria.

For riding-rich urban areas, framing issues around tent cities through a lens of crime, instead of a housing affordability and mental health crisis, was a grave error.

As someone who lived in Vancouver for two years in the late 2000s, I watched housing affordability and rental rates skyrocket. I don’t think the governing BC Liberals at the time necessarily responded effectively to that issue or demonstrated to voters that it was doing much of anything to address affordability.

And some voters have a long memory.

Also, whether it’s fair or unfair to say, Andrew Wilkinson was effectively typecast by the opposition as someone who is “out of touch” with the average voter given his higher education as both a medical doctor and a lawyer.

Full disclosure: I’ve met Wilkinson a few times at media events in Cranbrook and watched him work a room where he seemed to engage and connect well with the crowd, but that perception of being “elitist” — whether an effective attack from the BC NDP and BC Greens, or a failure from the BC Liberals to properly defend against it — seemed to strike a chord with the electorate, based on Saturday’s results.

The drama stemming from the 2017 provincial election gave rise to a fascinating political relationship between the BC Greens and the BC NDP, which governed as a minority in the aftermath of that contest.

With the Confidence and Supply Agreement signed between the two parties, the BC NDP ended 16 years of governance by the BC Liberals.

The courtship of the BC Greens by both the BC NDP and BC Liberals was tense and frantic. However, it gave the BC Greens it’s first-ever real taste of political power and influence on government policy.

Holding government accountable was a key promise from the BC Greens, as leader Sonia Furstenau and candidates leaned on the party’s influence through the confidence agreement.

However, now that the NDP has it’s majority, the BC Greens has lost the hammer it had to wield in influencing internal government policy.

The BC Green Party has potentially picked up a new riding outside of Vancouver Island in West Vancouver – Sea to Sky, and has a strong base of support in areas like the West Kootenay.

With new leadership at the helm, as Furstenau recently succeeded Dr. Andrew Weaver, it will be interesting to see how the BC Green Party makes its mark in the legislature in the near — and long-term — future.


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