British Columbia·Analysis

Liberals drop two byelections, but Green results should make NDP worry

The New Democrats have two byelection victories to celebrate as support for the B.C. Liberals drop. But the strong results for the Greens may throw a wrench in the NDP's plans for 2017.

Byelection results signal malaise with governing Liberals, but also Green inroads

B.C. NDP candidates Melanie Mark, on the left, and Jodie Wickens on the right, won the byelections in Metro Vancouver on Tuesday night. But that doesn't mean they will be in government come 2017. (B.C. NDP)

The New Democrats won two ridings in Tuesday's provincial by-elections, as the governing party put up its worst results in the two seats since before 1991. But the two victories by the NDP does not mean they are on track for another victory in next year's provincial election.

As expected, the New Democrats held on to their seat of Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, which was vacated by Jenny Kwan when the former MLA made a successful bid for federal office. Melanie Mark of the NDP captured 60.8 per cent of the vote, down five points from the 2013 provincial election. The Greens' Pete Fry finished second with 26.4 per cent of the vote, up 14.5 points, while the Liberals were down 7.4 points to just 11.3 per cent.

The result in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain might be more revealing. That riding, vacated by Douglas Horne in an unsuccessful bid for federal office with the Conservatives, has been a swing riding in the past. While Horne did win it twice, the New Democrats won its predecessor riding in 2005 and held it throughout the 1990s.

The New Democrats' Jodie Wickens increased her party's share of the vote by 8.8 points, capturing 46.2 per cent of ballots cast to wrest the riding away from the Liberals. Joan Isaacs saw her party's support drop 11.8 points to 38.1 per cent, while the Greens were up eight points to 13.8 per cent.

The win in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, at first glance, might seem like a very positive omen for the New Democrats. There are 14 ridings that would have been easier for the NDP to win, based on the Liberals' margin of victory in the 2013 election. If a swing similar to what happened last night is replicated in next year's election, the NDP would easily win a majority government.

Of course, byelections can only say so much. Turnout was low in both ridings. The New Democrats were unable to use byelection victories prior to the 2013 provincial vote as a springboard to power. And byelections have traditionally been rough for governing parties in British Columbia.

Nevertheless, the Liberals dropped an average of 9.6 points across the two ridings, suggesting some malaise among voters concerning Christy Clark's government. Less than one-third of the people who voted for the party in these two ridings in 2013 cast a ballot for the Liberals last night.

Moral victory for the Greens?

But this drop in Liberal support cannot be credited to a significant increase for the New Democrats. The average vote share for the party only jumped by 1.9 points across these two ridings, and the number of votes was less than half of what the NDP took in 2013. Coquitlam-Burke Mountain was won by the NDP because the party lost fewer of their votes than the Liberals did (3,753 to 6,830).

The Greens, however, saw their vote share increase significantly from an average of 8.9 per cent in these two ridings in 2013 to 20.1 per cent last night. While their total number of votes did decrease, it only slipped by 83 ballots in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain and 181 votes in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant.

It might be tempting to dismiss the Greens' increase as nothing more than a byelection oddity, but the party has not fared well in recent byelections — when the Greens have bothered to field a candidate. When they have contested byelections in the recent past, their vote share has decreased compared to the previous general election. Instead, their vote share more than doubled here.

Whether this will mean much come 2017 remains to be seen. But strong results for the Green Party should put a damper on the NDP's celebrations following last night's two victories. The last time the NDP won a provincial election —  in 1996 — the Greens took just two per cent of the vote.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.


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