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Battleground BC

Last call! Liberals, 51 seats; NDP, 28 seats

Now is your chance to bet against McMartin and win a prize.

By Will McMartin, 15 May 2005, TheTyee.ca

[Editor’s note: Think Will’s got it wrong? Send your own prognostication to The Tyee and you may win a prize. To find out how, click here.

Nearly eight weeks ago, Battleground BC began a series of daily articles analyzing the province’s 79 electoral districts. The intent was to provide Tyee readers with a different and (it was hoped) useful study of voting history, demographics, polls and other factors to help identify those ridings which on May 17 are likely to elect a Liberal MLA, and those likely to return a New Democratic Party representative.

At the beginning Battleground BC introduced a 13-region model of the province’s 79 electoral districts. Most studies (and nearly all pollsters) show the province as having just three geographic areas: the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, and the Interior. Yet every student of B.C. politics knows that the west- and east-side of Vancouver have very different voting patterns, as do north and south Surrey, the Kootenays and the Okanagan, and the northcoast and Peace River country.

Battleground BC attempted to capture these discrepancies by re-configuring the 79 ridings according to geographic proximity and electoral history. Our model has five regions which usually return ‘right-of-centre’ representatives; six that have favoured ‘left-of-centre’ MLAs; and two ‘indeterminate’ regions where no clear pattern is evident.

Battleground BC also looked at various factors making the 79 electoral districts — which are supposed to be ‘equal’ (at least in terms of population) — very different, one from another. These factors may reveal why individual ridings have their own unique electoral histories, or voting patterns. Consider:

  • the province’s largest riding, Vancouver-Burrard, is home to more than 64,000 people, but North Coast has fewer than 28,000 residents.
  • in Prince George North, just 5.4% of local residents are 65 years of age or older, compared to Penticton-Okanagan Valley where the figure is 25.1%. (The provincial average is 13.6%.)
  • the average price of an owner-occupied home in Vancouver-Quilchena is $566,682, but in North Coast the comparable figure is a mere $94,538.
  • in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, 77% of homes are rented by their occupants; in Okanagan-Westside, just 15% of residents are renters.
  • in Vancouver-Quilchena, average household incomes exceed $123,000 annually, while in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant the average is under $43,000.

These and other data are useful in studying voter behaviour. For example, people who own their own homes are more likely, on average, to participate in elections than those who rent their accommodation. As well, a greater proportion of seniors usually exercise their franchise compared to young voters.

Income and other demographics

Income may be key in studying B.C. elections. Over the past six decades, many provincial tilts have been ‘polarized’ between a centre-right party promising to cut taxes and reduce the size and scope of government, and a centre-left party advocating income redistribution and an activist government. Generally, those with higher-than-average incomes prefer the former, while voters with lower-than-average incomes support the latter.

These and other demographic factors, along with historic election results, were used to ‘rank’ or ‘order’ the electoral districts in each of Battleground BC’s 13-regions. The ridings then were categorized as ‘likely’ or ‘solid’ choices to elect either a Liberal or New Democratic Party MLA, or placed in the ‘up-for-grabs’ column.

Once the campaign got underway on April 19, additional input was sought so as to re-designate the ridings, shifting those in the ‘up-for-grabs’ column to ‘likely’ for one party or another, or from ‘likely’ to ‘solid.’ Those factors included public opinion polls, local intelligence provided from regional newspaper editors and reporters, experienced political observers, and input from Tyee readers. (Thank you!)

Six province-wide polls — two each by The Mustel Group, Ipsos-Reid and Strategic Counsel — have been published since the election got under way. They have been remarkably consistent, showing the Liberals with support from 45-49% of the B.C. electorate, the NDP at 36-40%, and the Greens at 10-13%.

The numbers for the two major parties should rise on May 17. That is because the 55 Liberal MLAs seeking re-election probably will receive a ‘bump-up’ due to their name recognition and familiarity to local voters, factors which are difficult to capture in province-wide polls. The New Democrats ought to benefit from a decline in Green support, as at least a few poll respondents who expressed support for the Greens instead may be expected, in the privacy of the voting booth, to cast their ballot for the NDP. Finally, both major parties will receive an increased vote-share if, as many pundits believe, Green supporters (a large number of whom are young) fail to exercise their franchise.

The final vote-shares, therefore, should see the Liberals with about 50% of valid votes cast; the New Democrats with about 40%; and all other minor parties and independents combining for ten percent or so. In other words, B.C.’s 2005 general election ought to be very similar to previous ‘polarized’ general elections in 1945, 1949, 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1986.

Discussions with observers from across the province reveal many close contests, which makes it difficult to forecast the outcomes of a half-dozen or so ridings with any degree of confidence. Much depends on the popularity (or lack thereof) of individual candidates, the enthusiasm of E-day volunteers, local or regional issues, and possibly even the weather.

Still, Battleground BC was launched to make a final seat estimate before May 17, and to invite Tyee readers to participate in the process. So, with no small measure of trepidation, let’s get started.

‘RIGHT-OF-CENTRE’ REGIONS — Liberals, 25; NDP, 0

In general elections since 1969, 93% of the available seats in these five regions have been won by centre-right parties. In 2005, Battleground BC sees 23 ‘solid’ and two ‘likely’ seats for the Liberals, for a total of 25.

* Fraser Valley South (9 seats) — Abbotsford-Mount Lehman, Abbotsford-Clayburn, Chilliwack-Kent, Chilliwack-Sumas, Delta South, Fort Langley-Aldergrove, Langley, Surrey-Cloverdale and Surrey-White Rock are ‘solid’ for the Liberals.

* The Okanagan (5 seats) — Kelowna-Lake Country, Kelowna-Mission, Okanagan-Vernon, Okanagan-Westside and Penticton-Okanagan Valley are ‘solid’ for the Liberals.

* Vancouver-Westside (4 seats) — Vancouver-Langara, Vancouver-Point Grey and Vancouver-Quilchena are ‘solid’ for the Liberals. Vancouver-Fairview, where two high-profile newcomers — Liberal Virginia Greene and New Democrat Gregor Robertson — have had a hard-fought contest, is considered ‘likely’ to elect Greene.

* North Shore (4 seats) — North Vancouver-Seymour, West Vancouver-Capilano and West Vancouver-Garibaldi are ‘solid’ for the Liberals. North Vancouver-Lonsdale is ‘likely’ to return Liberal MLA Katherine Whittred, a mediocre junior minister dropped from cabinet, but New Democrat Craig Keating, a popular municipal councillor, could make it closer than many expect.

* Richmond (3 seats) — Richmond Centre, Richmond East and Richmond-Steveston are ‘solid’ for the Liberals.

‘LEFT-OF-CENTRE’ REGIONS — Liberals, 14; NDP, 26

The New Democratic Party has captured 63.5% — nearly two of every three — of the seats in these six regions in general elections dating back to 1969. For 2005, Battleground BC has calculated 14 ‘solid’ and 12 ‘likely’ for a total of 26 seats for the NDP, with five ‘solid’ and nine ‘likely’ for 14 seats for the Liberals.

Fraser North (10 seats) — The region is a key battleground, and all 10 ridings could go either way. Battleground BC sees a five-five split in seats, but more than any other, this region could significantly change the seat-totals for the two major parties. For the New Democrats, New Westminster is ‘solid,’ while Burnaby-Edmonds, Burnaby North, Burnaby-Willingdon and Port Coquitlam-Burke Mountain are ‘likely.’

Initially, Coquitlam-Maillardville was in the ‘likely’ NDP column, primarily because of historic election results, but it now has been moved to ‘likely’ Liberal. The battle pits Liberal incumbent Richard Stewart against New Democrat Diane Thorne, a high-profile municipal councillor.

Port Moody-Westwood is ‘solid’ for the Liberals, with Burquitlam, Coquitlam-Mallairdville, Maple Ridge-Mission, and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows considered ‘likely.’

* Vancouver Island South (7 seats) — Esquimalt-Metchosin, Malahat-Juan de Fuca, Victoria-Beacon Hill and Victoria-Hillside are ‘solid’ for the New Democratic Party. Saanich South, where Liberal cabinet minister Susan Brice is battling New Democrat David Cubberley, is a ‘likely’ gain for the NDP. Both Oak Bay-Gordon Head and Saanich North and the Islands are considered ‘solid’ for the Liberals, but New Democrats are hoping for an upset in the former, and the Greens will have a good showing in the latter.

* Vancouver Island North-Coast (7 seats) — Just one seat in this region, Nanaimo, is viewed as ‘solid’ for the New Democrats

Four more — Alberni-Qualicum, Cowichan-Ladysmith, North Island and Powell River-Sunshine Coast — are considered ‘likely’ to return NDP MLAs. The first three should be closer-than-expected when the ballots are counted, and the last is a tight, three-cornered contest featuring Green leader Adriane Carr, Liberal Maureen Clayton, and New Democrat Nicholas Simons.

Comox Valley and Nanaimo-Parksville are ‘likely’ to elect Liberal MLAs. The former seat has incumbent Stan Hagen fighting for his political life; an upset would not be unexpected.

* Vancouver Eastside (6 seats) —Vancouver-Hastings, Vancouver-Kensington, Vancouver-Kingsway, and Vancouver-Mount Pleasant are ‘solid’ for the New Democrats. Vancouver-Burrard, where former NDP MLA Tim Stephenson is attempting a comeback against Liberal Lorne Mayencourt, is ‘likely’ to return the New Democrat. Vancouver-Fraserview, a ‘swing’ seat over recent decades, is ‘likely’ to elect Liberal newcomer Wally Oppal, a former justice with the B.C. Court of Appeal.

* North-Central Surrey (6 seats) — Surrey-Green Timbers and Surrey-Whalley are ‘solid’ and Surrey-Newton is ‘likely’ to return NDP MLAs.

Surrey-Tynehead is viewed as ‘solid’ for the Liberals, and Delta North and Surrey-Panorama Ridge — the latter won by the NDP in a by-election last fall — are ‘likely’ Liberal wins.

Kootenays (4 seats) — Nelson-Creston and West Kootenay-Boundary are ‘solid,’ and Columbia River-Revelstoke is ‘likely,’ for the New Democrats.

East Kootenay is ‘solid’ for Liberal MLA Bill Bennett.

‘INDETERMINATE’ REGIONS — Liberals, 12; NDP, 2

Over the past nine general elections dating back to 1969, centre-right parties have won 65% of the available seats in this region, and the NDP has captured 35%.

In the days following the May 17 general election, New Democrats may look to the North and Thompson-Coquihalla and say: "what went wrong?" Gordon Campbell’s broken promise not to "sell or privatize" BC Rail, the closure of dozens of hospitals, schools and forest offices, and rural alienation in the ‘heartlands,’ should have made these regions fertile territory for the NDP. Local observers suggest that the New Democratic Party has fallen well short of its early objectives.

Battleground BC forecasts the Liberals have seven ‘solid’ and five ‘likely’ seats for a total of 12 in these two regions, while the New Democrats have one ‘solid’ and one ‘likely’ for a total of two.

* North (10 seats) — Cariboo North, Cariboo South, Peace River North and Peace River South are listed as ‘solid’ for the Liberals. Cariboo South MLA Walt Cobb’s performance on the campaign trail has proved to be similar to his contribution in the legislature — that is, sadly laughable — but local voters probably will choose the party instead of the man.

Prince George North, Prince George-Omineca and Skeena were placed in the ‘likely’ Liberal column during the campaign, and appear to have firmed-up in recent days — in large part due to timely announcements of new or expanded sawmills near Terrace, Prince George and Quesnel. Bulkley Valley-Stikine and Prince George-Mount Robson now have been shifted from ‘up-for-grabs’ to ‘likely’ for the Liberals, although NDP wins in either of the two would not surprise.

Just one riding, North Coast (which centres on Prince Rupert and includes the Queen Charlotte Islands), is viewed as ‘solid’ for the New Democrats.

* Thompson-Coquihalla (4 seats) — Kamloops and Shuswap are viewed as ‘solid,’ and Kamloops-North Thompson is ‘likely’ for the Liberals. The outcome in the latter seat will be very close, and given the level of voter antipathy for Liberal MLA Kevin Krueger, it is possible he could lose to the NDP’s Mike Hanson.

Yale-Lillooet, where Liberal MLA Dave Chutter retired after a single term, has been placed in the ‘likely’ NDP column. Former New Democratic Party MLA Harry Lali probably will prevail over Liberal Lloyd Forman. To conclude, Battleground BC sees the Liberals with 35 ‘solid’ and 16 ‘likely’ seats, for a total of 51; and the New Democrats with 15 ‘solid’ and 13 ‘likely’ for a total of 28.

At least five races bear close watching on May 17: Bulkley Valley-Stikine, where Liberal MLA Dennis MacKay and New Democrat Doug Donaldson are in a very tight battle; Burnaby-Edmonds, as Liberal MLA Patty Sahota is making a spirited effort to retain her left-leaning seat; Coquitlam-Maillardville, a former NDP fortress which easily could revert to the New Democrats; and Kamloops-North Thompson and Saanich South, both of which feature solid NDP newcomers.

One final point. In 1979, NDP newcomer Al Passarell defeated Atlin MLA Frank Calder, a former New Democrat who had joined Social Credit, by one vote -- 750 to 749. Legend has it that Calder, confident of victory and reluctant to make the arduous journey to his constituency in northern B.C., remained with his wife in Victoria on election day. Together, their two votes would have returned Calder to the legislature, but the loss marked the end of his political career. Every vote counts!

Good luck to all.

Will McMartin, a regular columnist for The Tyee, also offers his analysis on the CBC and has consulted for various political parties.  [Tyee]