Premier Christy Clark’s embattled Liberals might be crying the blues that John Cummins’ Conservative upstarts split the vote to allow the NDP orange banner to surge up the middle and take it all in last Thursday’s byelection. But there’s no saying for sure that if there hadn’t been a B.C. Conservative option, those votes would have automatically gone to the Liberal candidate. They might just have topped up the NDP quota or splintered further.
The lesson here: Stop blaming others for your own mistakes.
In the lead up to the byelection, the Liberals spent money on personal negative ads against the NDP but it backfired. Badly. The NDP won by strong majorities in both Chilliwack-Hope and Port Moody-Coquitlam. For Chilliwack, this is the first time the electorate has voted an NDP to the Legislature. Gwen O’Mahony captured 5,772 votes for 41.2 per cent of the vote; the Liberals’ Laurie Throness garnered 31.4 per cent with 4,399 votes and John Martin received 3,548 votes taking 25.3 per cent.
NDP leader Adrian Dix and O’Mahony are clearly thrilled with the results of their sweep which is seen as a major breakthrough in the run-up to next year’s provincial election. The thought is that if they can win here, they can win anywhere. And that could be true, given the public’s frustration and loss of confidence in the Liberal Party. But generally speaking, a sitting government doesn’t do well in byelections. And after ten years, many folks believe it’s time for a change
From Clark’s point of view, defining that change is to unite the right. The Liberal Party is a mixed blend of former Social Credit, Conservative and Liberal supporters who came together and were swept up in that heady rise to power over a decade ago. Remember that magnetic election night in 2001 when they won 77 of 79 seats and Gordon Campbell became the first Liberal premier in almost 50 years? But by 2010 Campbell’s popularity had free-fallen to a terminal nine per cent.
Now, that whole coalition is starting to show cracks under the strain of public grievances piling up, bitter union disputes, the terrible management of the HST, and questions that still swirl around BC Rail and the legal payoff. The woulda-coulda-shoulda syndrome must be playing heavily on Clark’s shoulders.
This upset is a major wake-up call for her party, not that they weren’t having sleeping problems before. But losing their long-time safe seat here rattles nerves. The concept of uniting the right isn’t new. Despite all odds against them at the federal level – and very deep, bitter odds at that – the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance did, finally, unite in 2003 to form today’s Conservative government. You do what you’ve got to do to reach a set goal. PM Harper and his conservative right-wingers slogged on, dumping copious amounts of frustration and disappointment along the way, before finally winning that so-coveted majority election just a year ago.
That’s likely Clark’s mindset right now. Pull in everything right of centre, re-brand, re-name if you have to and float a whole new set of powerful machinery to win next year’s election.
But Conservative John Cummins has already said he has no interest in uniting or cutting any merger deals with the Liberals. He was just elected leader less than a year ago and sees his revitalized party as on the way up while the Liberals are in free-fall. Why brand with that? Plus who would run the new show? Clark? Cummins? Both? Neither?
The road ahead is rocky, full of bumps and bruises in the journey to next year’s brawl-for-it-all. There’s not much time and the clock is ticking.