Election Preview: British Columbia (Canada) 2009

British Columbia’s Lieutenant Governor, Steven Point, dissolved British Columbia’s provincial legislature yesterday, as expected, calling an election for May 12, 2009. British Columbia, Canada’s 3rd province in terms of inhabitants and a very culturally diverse province is currently governed by Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell. The last election was held in 2005, and BC has fixed-date elections.

British Columbia has had an entertaining and quite unique political history. Political parties were introduced only in 1903, and the first party system was a regular Liberal/Conservative setup. The Conservatives were totally destroyed by the Great Depression, so greatly destroyed that the party couldn’t even field a common slate of candidates in the 1933 election. The Liberals won the 1933 election, with the social democratic Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) taking official opposition status. Despite rebounding in 1937 and 1941, the Conservatives were effectively destroyed by the Great Depression. However, with a “red threat” from the left-wing CCF, the Liberal Party and Conservative Party formed a coalition government following the 1941 election. This coalition won the 1945 and 1949 elections massively, but in 1951 the Liberal-dominated coalition collapsed and Liberal Premier John Hart led a minority government which collapsed in 1952. However, the coalition had introduced alternative vote-IRV with the idea that coalition voters would second pref the Liberals or Conservatives and continue to keep the evil communists out of power. Except that in 1951, a Conservative MLA, W.A.C. Bennett, ran and lost for the Conservative (now known as Progressive Conservative, PC) leadership. He got pissed and joined the small Social Credit League, which originally espoused social credit monetary theories. However, Bennett dropped that crap and turned the SoCred into a populist and conservative party opposed to the “red threat” of the CCF (now NDP). The SoCreds used the AV-IRV system to their advantage in the 1952 election and got Liberals and Conservatives to preference SoCred candidates in first or second, electing 19 SoCred MPs (CCF 18, Liberal 6, PC 4, Labour 1) despite SoCred polling only 30.2% against 34.3% for the NDP. The SoCred minority became a majority in the 1953 election and the Liberals and Conservatives became irrelevant while refusing to die. BC returned to a tw0-party system: SoCreds, which united the entire anti-NDP group, and the NDP itself. The SoCreds returned to FPTP and ruled until 1991, with the exception of a brief NDP majority between 1972 and 1975. The later SoCreds, apart from being crooks, also became much more socially conservative (under Premier Bill Vander Zalm) and moderates abandoned it. In 1991, the SoCreds lost 40 seats while the NDP gained power and the Liberals (on the back of a great debate performance) were re-juvenated. Despite a scandal, the NDP was narrowly re-elected in 1996. The NDP’s 1996 victory was due in part to a split in the right-wing vote. Former Vancouver Mayor Gordon Campbell became the Liberal leader in 1993 after the then-Liberal leader, Gordon Wilson left the party due to an affair with another MLA (Wilson later founded his own party which won one seat in the 1996 election, but Wilson joined the NDP to get a cabinet job). In 2001, Campbell’s Liberals defeated a scandal-ridden NDP government in a massive landslide, taking 77 seats against 2 for the NDP. The Green Party polled 12.4% and the Marijuana Party polled 3.2%. Campbell won a much more narrow majority in 2005.

BC effectively has a two-party system, Liberal vs. NDP. However, the BC Liberals are independent of the federal Liberal Party and are in fact more conservative or centre-right than anything else. The BC NDP is affiliated with the federal NDP and remains quite left-wing. British Columbia has a strong Green Party, which won 12.4% in 2001 (but declined to 9.2% in 2005), which is similar to the federal Green Party. There also remains a small rump Conservative Party, a continuation of the original Conservatives/PCs. These Conservatives won 0.6% in 2005.

In 2005, British Columbia held a referendum on switching to a single-transferable vote (STV) system. Depsite winning 57.7% of the vote and winning all but two of the 79 constituencies, it failed since the law required a 60% majority for it to pass. The STV option will be on the ballot again this year. If you don’t understand STV, CBC.ca has a slightly silly but basic tutorial online. For a more detailed look, the EBC has a map of the proposed STV constituencies as well as the 85 constituencies in use this election.

Here are the 2005 results, for reference’ sake.

BC Liberal 45.8% (-11.82%) winning 46 seats (-31 on 2001 election)
BC NDP 41.52% (+19.96%) winning 33 seats (+31)
Green 9.17% (-3.22%) winning 0 seats (nc)
22 Others and Indies/NA 3.51%

Hopefully I’ll be able to post some maps and demographic profiles on a few constituencies in play this election, as well as recent polling and all that fun stuff between now and the election. In the meantime, play around with CBC’s riding profiles. CBC has done some very nice interactive maps in the last few elections here in Canada, so hopefully they won’t let us down this time.

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Posted on April 16, 2009, in British Columbia, Canada, Election Preview. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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