Byelection offers glimpse at future for BC Liberals

Byelections indicate NDP will likely win next election

Barring major unforeseen events, the NDP will likely win the next election. That was made clear in last Thursday’s two byelections. The NDP won Port Moody-Coquitlam by a sizeable margin. They had a popular candidate in recently retired Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini, and results were much as expected.

The real surprise and key result was in Chilliwack-Hope, where the NDP won a seat they have never held. Gwen O’Mahony took the seat in a three-way fight, with the BC Liberal vote melting away, and the resurgent BC Conservatives coming third with 25 per cent of the vote.

Liberal candidate Laurie Throness got 4,399 votes and 31 per cent of the vote. This compares with Barry Penner in the 2009 general election, who got 8,985 votes. So the Liberals, in the course of three years, lost more than half their support, with a large proportion of that going to the BC Conservatives, whose candidate John Martin got 3,548 votes.

There is another factor – the voter turnout. In the 2009 election, 16,865 votes were cast in Chilliwack-Hope. Last Thursday, despite the scrutiny this race has been under, and numerous visits by the premier and other party leaders, 14,013 people voted.

That means more than 2,800 stayed home — likely because they wouldn’t vote for the Liberals, and did not want to vote for anyone else. If the Liberals can convince most of those people to come back to them in the next election, the Liberals will win these kinds of seats.

However, the vote splits in other ridings put the NDP in position to form the next government. The Liberals won a number of seats in 2009 by narrow margins, with little or no Conservative opposition.

If the Liberals can convince enough disaffected voters to come back to them, they will keep some traditional strongholds. But unless their political fortunes improve drastically, in three-way election fights they will lose many of their seats.