The municipal election results in three key areas should cause alarm bells to ring in NDP circles, and celebration fireworks to go off in Green Party ones and perhaps among B.C. Liberals as well.
In Vancouver, Surrey and the capital region, voter turnout increased significantly – but relatively few of those new voters opted for NDP-linked candidates. Instead, the Green Party and centre-right parties were the chief recipients of the flood of new voters.
Those in the left in Vancouver are tearing their hair out because they think that the far-left COPE party split the vote and cost Vision Vancouver support, but that’s not necessarily what happened. The real story is that the NDP is not getting new voters out, and that has dire implications for the party in the next provincial election if that trend holds.
In Vancouver, for example, the Green Party’s Adrienne Carr shot to the top of the council polls as she increased her support by more than 25,000 votes, which is somewhat staggering. The right-leaning NPA boosted its council vote by roughly 12,000 votes.
But while incumbent Mayor Gregor Robertson boosted his own totals slightly, the Vision/NDP vote was essentially stagnant, as its top candidate this year got slightly less than its top candidate in 2011.
The party also flatlined in the vote for school board, and lost control of the park board (this, even though 37,000 people voted who did not vote in 2011).
It’s hard to see a credible argument that if COPE were to disappear tomorrow, all of its supporters would flock to Vision. a significant number would, of course, but I fail to see any evidence to suggest most would.
In fact, the vote for COPE city council candidates actually dropped in this election, despite all those new voters.
No, the story in Vancouver is that the Green Party was able to greatly increase its support, while the NPA also boosted its vote by a significant amount (the Greens also elected two parks board commissioners and hold the deciding vote on the school board, as their support shot up by 10,000 to 15,000 votes).
In Victoria, the outcome was slightly more encouraging for the NDP, but the party lost the seemingly impregnable mayor’s chair to a Green-like candidate. Lisa Helps beat incumbent Dean Fortin, despite the fact the capital region’s NDP MLAs all strongly endorsed him and publicly campaigned for him. Helps’ victory sent a number of New Democrats reeling. Unlike Vancouver, Victoria’s municipal scene is less party-oriented, so it’s hard to make apples and apples comparisons on the council front, but it appears NDP-leaning candidates were able to take advantage of a higher turnout (almost 7,500) to slightly boost their winning totals from 2011.
No so with Fortin. His support actually dropped by almost 1,000 people, despite that higher turnout. Helps was propelled into office by new voters, many of them young and likely Green-oriented.
Considering the fact the Greens almost won the federal byelection in Victoria two years ago, Helps’ win shouldn’t come as a total surprise. The capital region itself saw other Green candidates elected, including a new mayor in Central Saanich.
These events suggest the NDP has work to do to consolidate one of its traditional strongholds. but I’d say right now, the odds favour the Greens stealing at least one more seat in the capital region in the 2017 provincial election.
In Surrey, the centre-right Surrey First party steamrolled to victory in both city council and school board races, as again more new voters backed that party than any of the other alternatives. This put a big smile on the faces of BC Liberals, who know Surrey – not Vancouver – is one of the keys to them holding power in this province.
There are two dozen provincial ridings spread among these three cities and regions. If a similar wave of new voters materialize in the 2017 provincial election and vote in similar patterns, the Greens could be the biggest benefactors.
Of course, this latest round of municipal elections – with the spike in voter turnout – may be an anomaly. but if it isn’t – if it is a sign of renewed interest in politics among those who never bothered to vote before – it could point to a big shake-up in future election outcomes in this province.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.