A step away from the razor’s edge

Well, well, well. Isn’t this an interesting turn of events? The NDP has held the Nanaimo seat in Wednesday’s by-election.

Early polls this week — at least one poll had two BC Liberals at 44.7 and the NDP at 32.2 — indicated that the Nanaimo riding was going to go the BC Liberal way, surely causing night sweats for NDP and Green MLAs alike, and great joy in the hearts of BC Liberals.

But polls can be wrong, or they can swing wildly in a matter of hours. And they did one or the other of the latter this week

Earlier this week, local Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok told me that if the BC Liberals won, he was 100 per cent sure that he would be pounding campaign signs into the ground by June. Or fall at the latest.

Because if the BC Liberals had won this by-election, the Legislature would have been deadlocked with the BC Liberals holding 43 seats and the Green/NDPs holding 43 seats. And the newly-rehabilitated Speaker holding one.

That was not a situation that was going to have a long shelf life, especially with the Throne Speech and budget vote looming.

But now we are at least spared another provincial election in a year that already holds a federal election.

BC Liberal Tony Harris took a pretty sound thumping, considering his supposed lead in the polls. He took 40.47 per cent of the vote, while the NDP’s Sheila Malcolmson took 49.22 per cent. The Green Party did surprisingly poorly, only getting 7.38 per cent of the vote. Was this a result of those leaning in the Green/NDP direction knowing they’d better vote NDP or the victory would go to the BC Liberals? Possible. Strategic voting is a thing.

The remaining three per cent or so of the vote was split between Conservative, Libertarian and the Vancouver Island Party. And even if all those who voted for those more obscure parties voted BC Liberal, the NDP still would have won.

There were 45,350 registered voters in the electoral district, but only 21,410 voted. That’s a good turnout for a by-election, but a poor turnout for an election with this much importance province wide.

So how are they spinning it?

Well, some are saying that the poll that showed the BC Liberals ahead should never have been given much attention. I was skeptical of that poll all along! they shout.

Nanaimo has been a pretty safe seat for the NDP for quite some time, and if there was a riding to place the future of the NDP government upon, that was the one, say others. Can’t really argue with that.

Some are insisting that the poor showing for the Greens (down to seven per cent from 17 per cent in the last election) is not merely strategic voting but an indication that the BC Greens are shrinking. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver insists it was strategic voting. Nothing to see here, everything is fine, move along folks.

But some suggest that the poor showing by the Greens could cause Premier John Horgan to push his legislative agenda a little harder, not worrying quite so much if the Green MLAs love everything he is doing. The Green Party is in a weakened state right now, first losing the fight for proportional representation in the recent referendum, and now, failing to maintain their support in Nanaimo. Something to watch.

And for the BC Liberals? Well, it’s a crushing defeat, there’s no other way to spin it, even though they did actually improve their overall numbers in that riding over 2017. The BC Liberals had a candidate, Tony Harris, that they were very high on.

The winning candidate, Malcolmson, says that the recent report from Speaker Darryl Plecas was far more damning to the Liberals than to the NDP, citing a “culture of entitlement” under the BC Liberal Party stretching back years.

Were Nanaimo voters thinking about that? Were they thinking about all of the above? Or were they just picking the candidate they felt best suited to represent them in the Legislature?

Doesn’t really matter. All that matters to the NDP is that they have a teeny, tiny bit of breathing room. And you can bet they are feeling mighty relieved.

Governing on the razor’s edge can be exhausting.

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