Why did Don Davies become the only NDP non-incumbent to snag a seat in B.C. last night? He’s an authentic, regular guy who lives in his riding, unlike a certain David Emerson who preceded him. That and the fact that Davies campaigned like a demon for 24 months, building a polyglot base in one of Vancouver’s most diverse neighbourhoods, Vancouver-Kingsway.
Davies paused on the steps of Heritage Hall on Main Street before plunging into the chanting, clapping, whooping crowd of New Dems waiting to cheer his victory inside. Part of the reason he edged out his Liberal and Conservative opponents, Davies told The Tyee, was because voters “really heard and liked our message of families first”. Plus, they were still mad that former Canfor CEO Emerson defected from Liberals to Conservatives after winning the riding the last time, he acknowledged.
And what about Conservative gains across B.C. and Canada? “Harper didn’t win a majority. He gained 15 seats. That shouldn’t embolden him,” said the father of two young kids on his way to Ottawa.
As Davies gave his victory speech, one supporter cried out “Don’t cross the floor!”
Others in the crowd made meaning of his victory and the night’s results. The NDP’s BC federal campaign manager Jerry Scott called it “a good night” as his party gained seats throughout Canada, but slipped from 10 to nine seats in the province. But Scott, who also directs the NDP’s provincial contests, would drawn no conclusions for spring’s provincial election. “It’s a different arena.”
Nearby, supporters shook hands with Michael Byers, the UBC international law expert who made a stir in his run for Vancouver-Centre, but lost to incumbent Hedy Fry and trailed Conservative Lorne Mayencourt as well. Byers’ communications manager Am Johal said his candidate was hurt by the provincial NDP’s “axe the tax” hard line campaign. Slamming Premier Campbell’s carbon tax might play well in rural parts of B.C., Johal said, but it turns off a lot of potential supporters in urban ridings like Vancouver’s West End. Carole James’s B.C. New Democrats, he warned, “need to nuance their message” on climate change.
Davies’ message got through in Vancouver-Kingsway because he was “one hell of a candidate” according to his campaign manager Joe Barrett, son of former NDP BC Premier Dave Barrett. He described Teamster lawyer Davies as “humble, intelligent, speaking from the heart. He connects immediately with everybody. He’s from the old school of the CCF – nothing phony about him.”
Even so, Davies eked out his win after “absolute trench warfare for two years,” noted Geoff Meggs, former aide to NDP Premier Glen Clark and Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell, now a Vision Vancouver candidate for city council. Davies tapped into previously established NDP networks and painstakingly fashioned a coalition that included Filipinos, Indo-Canadians and a fair number of Chinese even though his toughest opponent was Wendy Yuan of the Liberals, Meggs said.
Despite the positive charge in the room provided by Davies’ rookie breakthrough, some veterans seemed stunned by the overall results in B.C. and across Canada. Any hopes for a Liberal-NDP coalition government became mathematically irrelevant as the Conservatives’ gained seats against a sharp Liberal slide.
“The best governments ever for Canada have been Liberal-NDP coalitions,” said BC Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair. But now Harper was claiming a mandate on the basis of one percent rise in total Conservative votes compared to 2006.
“Over 300 million dollars spent on an election nobody wanted and nothing’s really changed,” Sinclair said. “The economy is in trouble. The country is in trouble, and you’d think Harper would show some humility. The question is why was voter turnout the lowest in history? Why didn’t people think it was worth voting this time?” Sinclair then he answered his own question. “We’re going to have to change the structure of politics. This system doesn’t work.”
David Beers is editor of The Tyee.