My take on the 2017 BC Election Results

A quick review

Based on the preliminary results the BC Greens earned 16.7% of the vote and won 3 seats.

CBC’s Poll Tracker average prediction was 18% but only two seats. The BC Greens underperformed in the popular vote, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. It happens often to Green parties, and they underperformed by far less than the GPC did in 2015. The BC Greens underperformed by -7.2% (18% vs. 16.7%) compared to the GPC’s massive underperformance of -22.7% (4.4% vs. 3.4%) nationally.

Moreover, if we focus on target areas (BC for the GPC and Vancouver Island for the BC Greens), you see that the GPC underperformed by -12.8% (9.4% vs. 8.2%) whereas the BC Greens beat the predictions by +6.1% (26.3% vs. 27.9%).

Preliminary popular vote results for Vancouver Island ridings in the 2017 BC Elections. Data from Elections BC.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that both the federal and provincial parties did better compared to predictions in target areas than overall. Given the much higher likelihood of a target area campaign having the volunteers to identify supporters and get them out to vote whereas many (perhaps even most) campaigns outside of the target areas are unable to do much voter ID and GOTV.

What is surprising however is that the BC Greens were able to beat seat projections by winning their third seat. This kind of expansion is what the GPC hoped to achieve (and fell short) in 2015.

My take on what these results mean

While I don’t think it’s possible to boil down a campaign’s success or failure to a single issue, I do want to highlight one that I think was important.

Both the BC Greens and the GPC had excellent candidates in target ridings. Both the BC Greens and the GPC faced an unpopular, right of centre incumbent with a progressive party hoping to form government. Both the BC Greens and the GPC fell on the right side of popular opinion on many issues, especially in target areas, and especially regarding democratic reform and the environment/pipelines. Both had leaders seen positively in BC (although admittedly not to the same degree.) Both the BC Greens and the GPC faced aggressive voter suppression campaigns by their progressive rivals. Where they differed was in response to the voter suppression tactics of the NDP.

I’m using “vote splitting”, “strategic voting”, “tactical voting”, “ABC/L campaigns”, “electoral co-operation”, “voter suppression” to refer to the same thing: voting for the party that has the best perceived chance of beating the Conservative (or BC Liberal) candidate rather than the party that best represents the voter’s values, policy preferences, self-identification, etc…

The GPC has had an interesting relationship with strategic voting throughout Elizabeth May’s tenure as leader. In 2008, May endorsed strategic voting with comments such as:

“I’d rather have no Green seats and Stephen Harper lose, than a full caucus that stares across the floor at Stephen Harper as prime minister, because his policies are too dangerous,” — Elizabeth May to the Toronto Star in 2008.

In 2011, the GPC provided legitimacy to strategic voters by claiming to be the strategic vote in SGI and courting the endorsement of strategic voting campaigns by releasing early polls from SGI.

In 2015, the GPC was hit hard by strategic voting campaigns like the Vote Together campaign from Lead Now and of course did themselves no favours by not running a candidate and endorsing the Liberals in Kelowna — Lake Country and having a candidate drop out to support the NDP in Peterborough — Kawartha.

The GPC messaging on strategic voting has been messy, but the stance behind it is pretty clear. The GPC doesn’t like strategic voting that hurts them in target ridings and likes strategic voting that helps them in target ridings and that overall beating the Conservatives is more important than electing Greens. The key piece is that the GPC generally and Elizabeth May in particular view strategic voting as legitimate and worthwhile, and raising vote splitting fears is a legitimate campaign tactic.

The BC Greens, on the other hand, dismissed the entire concept with candidates and volunteers sharing articles about the folly of strategic voting. Former leader and current Vancouver City councillor Adriane Carr wrote an opinion piece that rejects strategic voting and differentiates the BC Greens from the Liberals and NDP.

The BC Green messaging on strategic voting was clear: don’t do it. More importantly, their underlying position was also clear: strategic voting is not legitimate and using vote splitting fears as a campaign tactic is voter suppression.

So, how does this tie into beating projections? Being a small party with fewer resources (money, experience and volunteers) than competing parties the Greens will always have a more difficult time getting out their vote in areas where it is evident the Green candidate has little hope of winning. However, in target areas, they can run full GOTV campaigns and turn out their vote coming close to projections or like the BC Greens above projections in targeted areas.

So that baseline loss only occurs outside of focus ridings. However, when the GPC legitimizes vote splitting in the eyes of the voters and encourages strategic voting (even if with a wink and nudge), it’s hard to keep that damage out of their focus ridings. The BC Greens shed some votes on election day but were still still able to pick up three seats in a target area because their losses were the result of GOTV execution and capacity and as they grow a larger proportion of their campaigns will have the ability to run full Voter ID/GOTV campaigns. The GPC lost in well-funded target areas due (in part) because of much deeper flaws.

In 2015, the campaign in Victoria spent way too much time on strategic voting since it was a clear NDP vs. Green fight, but once you accept strategic voting as a concept you need to be prepared to defend your stance everywhere, and that means a campaign about poll results rather than a campaign about ideas. It’s ironic given Elizabeth May’s rejection of politics as usual that the GPC’s treatment of strategic voting so often leads to campaigns focused on horserace rather than values and policy positions.

To sum it up, in 2015 the GPC argued that people were doing strategic voting wrong on Vancouver Island. In 2017, the BC Greens argued that strategic voting was wrong everywhere. It’s the stance that all other provincial Green parties should adopt before their next campaign.