Reading the BC by-election tea leaves

All parties, even the BC Liberals, take away positives from Thursday night's results

Once the by-election results were in Thursday evening, the collective sigh of relief from the BC Liberals could be heard around the province. The predictions from the pundits for the governing party had been dire.

There's no question that Premier Christy Clark and her team have been down in the polls, and not the flavour of the moment for many British Columbians. Given their good track record on taxes and the economy, there's no clear reason for this, it's just that momentum has not been in their favour. Could they actually come third in the by-elections? That would be a deep hole to climb out of.

But Thursday night's results did not turn out to be as bad for the BC Liberals as some predicted.

In Port Moody-Coquitlam, four-term former Mayor Joe Trasolini won easily. No surprise there given the support the community has shown him over the years, but it is surprising how poorly the BC Conservative candidate did, claiming only 15% of the vote. The great BC Conservative resurgence didn't come through at all.

It was Chilliwack-Hope which had the potential for a much more interesting post-mortem. But the results surprised all the pundits. The NDP won — just as opposition parties win most by-elections in BC (Point Grey, the Premier's riding, excepted).

The BC Liberal candidate came second with 32%, and the BC Conservatives a more distant third, with only 25% of the vote. If the BC Conservatives can't do better than that in one of the most conservative ridings in the province, it does not bode well for them a year from now.

The BC Conservatives try to blame their lack of success on lack of funds, members and volunteers – but what is a political party without any of the above?

The three way split in Chilliwack-Hope allowed the NDP candidate, Gwen O'Mahoney, to win with 41% of the vote. The combined free enterprise vote was 57%, confirming all the predictions of splitting the right. It's no wonder Stockwell Day and other Federal Conservatives are strong in their support for the BC Liberals. Split that vote, and the Prime Minister gets an unfriendly government in BC.

It's worth noting that the BC NDP got their traditional 40% vote out last night — there was no big Orange Crush like with Jack Layton in 2011. Trasolini does present a unique situation as a long time Liberal who took away traditional centre-right support. The BC Liberal candidate drew better results in Chilliwack-Hope than what pollsters suggested, and the BC Conservatives received a lower number of votes in Port Moody-Coquitlam than predicted.

And what of BC's Green Party? In a general election, the Greens will run candidates and take some votes away on the left in a future contest.

Results in the two ridings last night might have looked slightly different, but it's clear that the NDP come out on top as long as the centre-right coalition is split. Unite the right and Premier Clark wins the next election, with a coalition which has successfully governed the province for the past decade.

The NDP have had momentum in their favour over the last few months, mainly by keeping quiet. Their policies, for now, are hidden. Their platform has been ready since last fall but they're not prepared to let you or me know what's in it. There will be a point where the media and voters will demand to know what the NDP has in store for us should they form government.

What will Adrian Dix do as premier? He has already promised to tax more and spend more, and based upon that less than visionary platform he hopes to be Premier.

Now with two by-election victories under his belt, it's time that the spotlight shifts to Dix and the NDP.

In the meantime, the Premier will continue with her jobs, economy and families platform. BC is in good shape, and, leading up to the next election, you have to expect that she and her team will be pulling out all the stops to get that message out to all British Columbians.

By-election Results

Port Moody-Coquitlam

Candidate's Name Affiliation Total Valid Votes % of Popular Vote
Christine N. Clarke BC Conservative Party 1,720 15.40%
Dennis Marsden BC Liberal Party 3,377 30.24%
Joe Trasolini BC NDP 6,070 54.36%



Candidate's Name Affiliation Total Valid Votes % of Popular Vote
Lewis Clarke Dahlby Libertarian 137 1.00%
John Martin BC Conservative Party 3,465 25.36%
Gwen O'Mahony BC NDP 5,666 41.47%
Laurie Throness BC Liberal Party 4,395 32.17%


– post by Suzanne Anton. Listen to Suzanne each Monday morning at 7:40 on the CBC Early Edition BC political panel.

Thanks to our @CityCaucus followers who had us trending on Twitter in Vancouver during last night's election coverage!

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  • “Given their good track record on taxes and the economy, there’s no clear reason for this”

    Ha! Not much respect for public opinion there. People care about more than just the economy and taxes, they care about social failures all around without the usual basic competence and directness of purpose that Campbell at least brought.

    I didn’t know there was a party called “Free Enterprise” wow the NDP’s going to get clobbered. This kind of BCLib sense of entitlement to all conservative votes is half the reason the cons have broken away in the first place.

  • Daniel Fontaine

    Talking points for each of the parties:

    BC Conservatives: Hey, we might not have won, but we increased our share of the vote. Look, we have momentum.

    BC Libs: Hey, pundits said we’d come in 3rd…and we placed a decent 2nd. And more importantly, the Conservative “wave” never materialized…hence we remain the best option to defeat the NDP.

    BC NDP: Hey, this is the first time ever that a right of centre community like Chilliwack-Hope has elected a left of centre MLA. The Orange Crush is now in charge and we’re the government in waiting.

    Always fascinating to see how each of the parties position themselves after a by-election…this morning is no different.

    • Right on Daniel!
      Your take, reminded me of the “meet’ between three deaf old men, holding fishing rods.

      First: “You two… going fishing?”
      Second: “Naah, we are going fishing!”
      Third: “Oh. I thought we were going fishing!”

      See what I mean? 🙂

  • P Kelly

    Susan Anton: failed Mayoral candidate from the BC Liberal farm team, NPA. Your writing can hardly be seen as objective and neutral. Parroting the vote split line right out of the BC Liberal party talking points.
    This vote split of the right is no less illegitimate than the vote split on the left that allowed your friend Harper to win a federal election with only 39% of the national vote.

    • Max

      @P Kelly:

      It is Suzanne Anton, not Susan Anton. Shouldn’t be that hard, her name is listed above…..

      • P Kelly

        whoops…my bad…same message though.

  • jesse

    Instead of the “free enterprise vs NDP” pie chart, why not the “Liberal vs non-Liberal” pie chart. Just to be fair and all that.

    The Pt Moody one was a huge blow for the Liberals, we’re talking 54% of votes cast for the winner; in FPTP that’s a healthy margin, and a sign that the NDP is attracting those with a business focus who think they can work effectively in an NDP government. The label “free enterprise” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either; Trasolini’s no pinko.

    • Actually, the BC NDP got 1,457 fewer votes in Port Moody-Coquitlam than they did in 2009 general election. Will be interesting how the chips would fall with Greens in, and higher voter turnout. Trasolini would be formidable, but that assumes he hasn’t fallen out of favour with his NDP brethren by that time.

      • Reid

        I’m not sure of the relevance of this observation about the NDP having fewer votes this time. From the information I could quickly gather, roughly 7,000 fewer votes were cast in the by-election than in the last election. Big surprise then than the NDP received fewer votes. One could make a similar observation to what you did and discover that the Libs received 6,000 fewer votes.

        Given the difference in voter turnout it seems pointless to talk about or compare absolute numbers of votes, doesn’t it? At best, comparing percentage of votes is about all one can do, isn’t it?

      • Ryan

        Only the Conservatives increased the number and percentage of votes in both ridings. The Liberals decreased the number and percentage of votes in both ridings.

        • greg

          It has to do with being electable and the Conservatives arent. John Cummins should forget about it and open up a fish and chip store in Steveston.

    • Pat Johnstone

      At least ad the 2% “other” to the blue side, who is more “free eneterprise” than the Libertarians?

  • Brilliant

    The Couve-Social failures? Like what, funding all that social housing that Gregor likes to take credit for? Or taking on the overpaid, overbenefitted and overentitled teachers?

  • Reid

    “Given their good track record on taxes and the economy, there’s no clear reason for this …”

    That is part of the problem. The folks running the Liberal party just DO NOT get it. It’s not “all” about taxes and the economy.

    How about this for a reason(s) for their poor showing? People are sick of the current crop of politicians representing the Liberal party. The current group has been in power too long, they are arguably berefit of new policy ideas that resonate with the public and they have too much baggage (HST, BC Rail, a perception that they cater too much to insiders and the business community and they have a leader who is arguably in over her head).

    The Libs are deluding themselves by rationalizing their current electoral popularity to vote splitting. (It is beyond me why this line of thinking is being perpetuated by the media.) It seems their only “appeal” argument is people “have to” vote for them to prevent the NDP coming to power. Please – that’s just lame. The Libs desperately need a wholesale infusion of new people (candidates) with new ideas to give voters someone or something to vote FOR rather than staying home.

    • Max


      You are familiar with Adrian Dix and his ‘baggage’ right? The man is far from ‘new’ into politics and sorry, but I have a truly tough time thing this leopard has changed his spots. Don’t even get me started on Harry Bains, I hear his voice and I want to drive a knife through my ears….

      As for the NDP – they represent the union vote and not people like me that work in the private sector. I mean, look at the BCTF hell bent on working to get rid of this government – for their benefit.

      I remember all to well the dark days of the 90’s and many of NDP players from those days are still kicking the dust around now.

      • Reid

        Hi Max,

        Yes, I am familiar with the NDP’s baggage and share a number of the same reservations you apparently do.

        Just to be clear, my comment was not intended to be supportive of the NDP. Rather, I was expressing my belief that the Libs and/or oft-talked about “right wing coalition” appear to be clueless as to the reasons for their poor electoral showing. They can talk about “vote splitting” all they want but until they address some or all of the points I raised I do not see them turning their fortunes around.

        I do not know about you but I would like someone to put forward a platform and/or inspire me to vote for them (Ideally, one that has a better balance between the two “traditional” opposing sides) as opposed to having to hold my nose and vote for the “least worst” of several less than palatable options.

  • Stuart

    I am always amazed when pundits and others assume that there is a “free enterprise” vote and a “progressive vote” that can be split. Not all Greens would vote NDP, not all Conservatives would vote Liberal. Some would stay home, others might choose a protest candidate, others still might cross the spectrum and vote for the other side because populists come from all political stripes. If you add up all the voters who did not choose Steven Harper you get a majority, but no one would seriously suggest the NDP and Liberals are splitting the vote federally. People choose to vote for a candidate for a variety of reasons. Take away one option and they don’t necessarily go where you want them too.

    • P Kelly

      In the 2004 federal election, the hope was that after the merger of Alliance and PC to form today’s Conservative Party, they would bring all their respective supporters with them. Well, in 2000, the Alliance scored 25.5% and the PC party got 12.2%. By merging and reducing the conservative options to one, they figured that they could take the almost 38% of the vote and win a minority. They got 29.6% instead. I guess the merger wasn’t supported by all on the conservative side of the spectrum. It wasn’t until 2006 when the Liberals bled a little to the NDP, Greens and lost some to the tories that the Conservatives finally got to a place where they could form a government. So, merge if you want…it might totally backfire.

  • Mira

    What “free enterprise”? What “progressives”? BS. It’s always been “them” against “us”. Sometimes “them” wins and sometimes “us” wins. As a rule, whoever wins screws the other, and it went like that for hundreds of years. Period. Following an NDP decade, there was a BC Liberals decade, now back to another NDP “decade-nce”.

    • Steven Forth

      A friend is thinking of starting a group “a platform in seach of a party.” The political choices in Canada are not great (unless one compares them to the US).

  • Steven Forth

    There is nothing particularly Free Enterprise about the BC Liberals, except when compared with the BC Conservatives. This is pure posturing by people who think that subsidizing corporate monoploies and allowing private companies to shift costs to the commons is somehow good economic policy. The BC Liberals are the power establsihement party. The Conservatives are a revolt against local elites. The NDP are, well, I am not sure what they are except I know they want power.

  • Jacko

    Clark has to go.

    Her first year has been one gaffe after another. Guys like Coleman and Falcon and anyone else who went out of their way to support Gordo should get the silver bullett as well. People don’t trust the BC Liberals and they want a housecleaning.

    Not sure if that will be enough but coupled with a leader like Abbott it will be a good start.

    Sure the NDP needs to be scrutinized more especially when considering how the unions are salivating at an NDP win. There is a message in there. We don’t need another government who bends to their supporters demands at the expense of the taxpayer.

    • Max


      I disagree about Coleman – he has made great strides in creating social housing throughout the Province.

      • greg

        Coleman is coming across as a bully and people wont stand for it.

        His continual adamant support of the HST and his excuse making around the smart meters means the guy is toxic.

        • Max


          Not all of us agree that losing the HST is a good thing, and I count myself among those that see distinguishing it as a mistake.

          Two days ago I read an interesting article put out by the forestry industry on how losing the HST is going to negatively impact that industry – an industry that is already struggling. It costs them more to operate under the GST/PST tax scheme.

          I bet that a couple of years down the road, the HST will be back – most progressive governments are heading that way.

          My opinion, a lot of people voted against the HST because it was the Liberal government that brought it in – not because it was bad policy.

          But hey, we get to hire in roughly 300 new government employees to go back to the old tax way – and we get to pay for them and their benefits for the rest of our working lives.

  • jenables

    Max, (and suzanne) as someone who works in a small business, I can tell you the hst hurt us on more ways than it helped. I have watched my quality of life and all of the things I used to love about living here decline year after year for the last decade. I have watched my hometown get whored out beyond recognition, I have watched cost of living double, leaving a lot of people getting by without much disposable income, impacting all the business around me. so much money poured into attracting foreign investment and creating minimum wage jobs, poverty, and crime. Again and again it has been proven, this government does not believe in equality, they have racked up insane amounts of debt while selling off piece by piece our means to pay it off. Can you please tell me, I often think you make so much sense, how on earth you can support these #1 in child poverty, lowest corporate tax BC liberals. Though I suppose there are many people who don’t really care about anything other than their corporate tax rate. PS – those empty businesses you see on west fourth? Why don’t you ask the landlords what happened to their property tax between 2009 and 2011? A great location means nothing when people are too squeezed getting by to spend money in the community.

    • Max


      First, BC is not #1 in child poverty – I am not supporting the fact that the child poverty rate is still high, but Manitoba took over the #1 spot some time back. Child poverty is linked to so many factors – immigration being one, and as BC pulls the highest immigration rates country wide, well, with that comes the good and the bad. Divorce is another factor – kids going from a double income household to a single income household.

      As for kids born into welfare families – it always amazes me people can find money for alcohol, smokes and drugs, but can’t find money for food for themselves and their children.

      BC, of all the provinces waded the economic downturn the best – so that says something about those that were steering the rudder at the time.

      I worked for a small business (5 people) when the HST was put into place, and I know that the owner was getting money back – quarterly, under the tax credit inputs. Money that she was not getting back previously – seems to be different stories from different people.

      Corporate tax cuts – who employs people? If Alberta is offering tax cuts and BC isn’t – which is more likely to attract new business? Corporate performance and employment goes hand in hand. BC is not a manufacturing province – we rely on our resources and tourism. That is what we have to offer.

      And don’t forget, under the Libs, we have the lowest personal income tax level – again, country wide. Some how I think if the NDP get in – that will no longer be the case. They seem to be making a lot of financial promises and have yet to say how they are planning on paying for it all. Just like Vision Vancouver – and NDP farm team, and what they have done to the citizens of Vancouver.

      The landlords on West 4th – their lease costs went up and some opted to go where the rent was lower. That has to do with the overall ownership of the buildings and what their agenda is, not property so much taxes – which are city driven.

  • jenables

    Corporations don’t work for the people, especially when they are American corporations, like one that administrates our health care. I mean in terms of creation of good jobs, ones that people can live off here in Vancouver, what are the stats? I don’t like vision either, but surely you see Robertson is in bed with some liberals as well. For your previous comments, I would just like you to consider making a budget for a single parent with a crappy job or on welfare and think very seriously about what their monthly costs are without using any idealism. Scary. I certainty understand what input tax credits are, and why they are good for business, but when your customers who don’t necessarily benefit from these have less cash to spend, your business suffers. And if you are a retailer you never paid pst on the goods which were to be resold, I am amazed at how many times I saw people argue pst was charged all the way down the line (ahem, including the cgas!) , that’s a blatant lie, we had pst numbers, our suppliers did not charge us pst, and I am sure in an industry where they did, they worked that cost into their pricing, butI have yet to see prices go down. Again, max, I agree with much of what you say and I appreciate the fact that you pay attention, that you are passionate, that you stand up for what you believe in. but you have it wrong about Fourth ave. You pay your taxes to the city of vancouver, but what you pay is decided by BC assessment, and they are very much a provincial govt organization. Surely you have seen, especially at Christmas, less people shopping than before as people everywhere have less money to spend. But imagine, being triple net as most are, the powers that be value the space your business occupies much higher, even though there is less business. I don’t mean an anticipated increase. I am not even taking about land value- one can expect that to steadily appreciate. I am taking about the building value going up by a million dollars in two years with no improvements. And I know that of which I speak..