Last week's byelections showed people are abandoning the B.C. Liberal party in droves, but aren't flocking en masse to the B.C. Conservatives. And even though it won both seats, the NDP can't point to a significant increase in its own support among voters.
Let's break down the numbers.
In Port MoodyCoquitlam, the B.C. Liberal vote dropped by more than 6,600. But the B.C.
Conservative candidate received just 1,720 votes, suggesting that almost 5,000 B.C. Liberal voters simply refused to vote this time.
That's a staggering number, even when one considers that byelections traditionally have low voter turnout.
The B.C. Liberals weren't the only party hit by a drop in support. The NDP won the riding with more than 52 per cent of the vote - but the number of people voting for the NDP candidate actually dropped by more than 1,500.
The low numbers likely reflect the widespread assumption that the NDP candidate, Joe Trasolini, had a lock on the win anyway.
But the B.C. Liberals have to be very concerned that almost 5,000 of their supporters chose to ignore their candidate.
In Chilliwack-Hope, the turnout was a bit better, but more than 4,500 voters fled from the B.C. Liberal camp. Many of them - more than 3,500 - likely bolted to the B.C. Conservatives, but the rest appear to have sat this one out.
The NDP won, of course, but only increased its vote by a mere 134 people. That shows, if anything, the party had the best ground game in the campaign, as it was able to increase its numbers when overall turnout was down by almost 20 per cent.
What this all means is that the much-ballyhooed "vote splitting" on the right was not a factor in determining the winner in Port MoodyCoquitlam.
It can be argued it may have made a difference in Chilliwack-Hope, but I think the result there speaks more about the severe drop in support for the B.C. Liberals rather than a substantive switch to the B.C. Conservatives.
In fact, the B.C. Conservatives have to be fairly disappointed in the results, particularly in Chilliwack-Hope. At a time when the sitting government is massively unpopular and, given the chance to run an impressive candidate in a traditionally conservative riding, it was only able to finish a distant third-place finish.
The byelection results may actually represent the high-water level for the party, which is unlikely to replace the B.C. Liberals outright as an alternative to form government. It is too right-wing, and thus marginalizes itself with too great a pool of voters.
Nevertheless, the party obviously has enough support right now to be a major factor in determining who wins the next provincial election. It may allow the NDP to win a number of three-way races, but as the Port MoodyCoquitlam result shows, the NDP may win comfortable B.C. Liberal seats on its own merits.
But one has to wonder whether Premier Christy Clark's constant handwringing about the dangers of vote-splitting is not only falling on deaf ears, but may also be having a negative backlash among some voters.
NDP leader Adrian Dix says complaining about vote-splitting is insulting and patronizing toward voters.
That Clark and her supporters presume to tell voters that anything less than a vote for them is somehow dangerous to society may strike some as an essentially antidemocratic message.
Her party's constant harping on this issue is a further indication of just how desperate a situation it finds itself in. The byelection results simply reinforce that.
But to make the votesplitting argument go away there has to be a single, viable alternative to the NDP, which brings us to the ramped-up talk about a "coalition" of interests on the centre-right side of the political spectrum, under the umbrella of a single party.
It won't be the B.C. Liberals or B.C. Conservatives that will hold this umbrella. One party is fatally damaged, while the other is still on the margins (as the byelections demonstrated).
So will there be a new entity formed? And, if so, who will lead it?
Those are tough questions to answer, but they're the kinds of questions that need to be posed by those on the centre-right if they want to continue to run this province.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.
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