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BC Election 2019 Category
Election 2019

Greens’ Dramatic Byelection Win Reveals Much about October Vote

What it means for the Liberals, Conservatives and New Dems.

By Paul Willcocks 7 May 2019 |

Paul Willcocks is a journalist and former publisher of newspapers, and now an editor with The Tyee.

A Green win was always possible in Monday’s Nanaimo-Ladysmith federal byelection.

But the crushing victory by Paul Manly — his 37-per-cent support almost doubled the party’s share of the vote in 2015 — was a shocker.

Yes, it’s a byelection, so strategic voting is less of a factor, as people know the outcome won’t affect who governs the country. And final turnout numbers will be less than 45 per cent, compared with 75 per cent in the 2015 general election in the riding.

But the outcome is still significant — dramatic, even — for the fortunes of the parties in this October’s general election.

First, the Greens. The cliché “historic victory” is a staple of political writing, but in this case it applies. Manly’s big win showed the progress the Greens have made in being taken seriously.

In the 2011 election, the Greens were a fringe party with seven per cent of the vote. Now they’ve elected a second MP, in a riding where they have no obvious starting advantage. (Leader Elizabeth May’s win came in Saanich-Gulf Islands, fertile ground for the Green message.)

Manly was a strong candidate — son of Jim Manly, who served two terms as an NDP MP in the 1980s, representing another Vancouver Island riding. Paul Manly had hoped to run for the NDP in 2015, but the party rejected him as a potential candidate over his pro-Palestine position, he said.

Last week Matto Mildenberger argued in The Tyee that the strong Green showing in the P.E.I. election, and gains in Ontario and New Brunswick, have undermined a big barrier to electoral success — the perception that the party couldn’t win seats and a Green vote would be wasted.

The result supports his argument and adds to the party’s credibility.

None of the other parties can take any joy in these results.

The Conservatives, whose 25-per-cent support was similar to 2015 but down dramatically from the 2011 election, can probably feel the happiest of the losers. They had bad news on two fronts. With less than six months until the federal election, Monday’s results showed Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s strategy of saying nothing and hoping the Liberal vote collapses isn’t working. Scheer visited the riding during the byelection campaign and said it was a chance to send a message that voters were unhappy with the Trudeau government. They did — but not by supporting shifting votes to the Conservatives.

But the Conservatives can take away some positive news. The byelection suggested Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada has slid quickly into irrelevancy. When Bernier resigned as a cabinet minister in Scheer’s government to launch his party, there was speculation it would take right-wing/libertarian votes from the Conservatives and help the NDP or Liberals win in close ridings.

But the apparently misnamed People’s Party captured three per cent of the votes, consistent with its recent performance in national polls. That’s firmly in quirky, fringe party territory.

For the Liberals and NDP, it was a gloomy night.

The NDP held the riding until Sheila Malcolmson resigned to run successfully for the provincial New Democrats. Their share of the popular vote fell from their winning 33 per cent in 2015 to 23 per cent. (About half the party’s support in the riding in 2011 when Jack Layton led the NDP to Official Opposition status.) Most critically for the fall election, the Greens eclipsed the NDP as a home for voters seeking an alternative to the two main parties.

And Liberal support fell from 24 per cent to 11 per cent, indicating that Justin Trudeau’s brand has taken a serious kicking.

Trudeau said today that the results showed Canadians are “preoccupied” by climate change, and that the Liberals would be best able to deal with the issue if returned to government this fall.

There are three problems for the Liberals in that approach.

One, it ignores the reality that Canadians might also be preoccupied by the SNC-Lavalin scandal, ouster and abuse of former cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, and a government that’s drifting along with little clear vision.

Second, that the Liberals’ policy on climate change is incoherent, with measures like a carbon tax undermined by anti-climate policies on pipelines and oilsands expansion.

And third that Trudeau, who promised a new way of doing politics, has now slid back into the traditional campaign mode based on urging voters to support his party not because of its policies and values, but because the other guys would be worse.

Finally, voters can take an important message away from the results, and the constant reminders that byelections are not representative because — shock and horror — people feel free to vote for the party they actually prefer.

A poll last week found 35 per cent of Canadians “are planning to vote for a party because they dislike another party even more and want to prevent that party from winning.” That was true for 40 per cent of supporters for both the Liberals and Conservatives.

All because Trudeau broke a firm promise to have proportional representation in place for the fall election.

And voters should remember that as well.

The Tyee’s federal election coverage is made possible by readers who pitched in to our election reporting fund. Read more about how The Tyee developed our reader-powered election reporting plan and see all of our stories here.  [Tyee]

Read more: Election 2019, Politics

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