An epic misstep by the BC NDP

Take off your partisan hat for a moment to take in this wild moment of provincial election strategy disaster.

Currently in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, the leader of the BC Green Party holds the riding. This isn’t because it’s a traditionally green riding. Andrew Weaver has a seat because he’s a star candidate. In ’09, the previous green candidate struggled to garner 2330 votes. In ’13 Andrew Weaver pulled in a dominant 10,722 votes compared to the second place Liberals with 7,767 votes. 2017 should be an even stronger year for Andrew. As the leader of the party he will get a disproportionate amount of media coverage during the election and he has been working hard for his riding in the previous four years.

This isn’t that bad of an outcome for the NDP as it keeps the riding out of the hands of the Liberals which is something that they have been unable to do. The last time an NDP candidate won the riding was 1991 when the political landscape of BC was dramatically different and the other parties included Social Credit and Reform. After ’91, the Liberals won in every election until Andrew Weaver entered the scene. Although the NDP and Green Party don’t agree about everything, they are closer on policy issues than the NDP and Liberals and they could certainly work together on a wide range of issues.

Further up island, Bryce Casavant was running to be the NDP candidate for the Courtenay-Comox riding. Bryce was previously a provincial conservation officer who became a superhero for many people on Vancouver Island when he stood up to his superiors by taking two orphaned baby black bears to a rescue center instead of destroying them. The bears were successfully rehabilitated and released. His story is very well known on Vancouver Island and beyond and he has even received international support from Ricky Gervais. That is by no means Bryce’s only accomplishment as he also served for the country in Afghanistan.

Put it all together and Bryce was shaping up to be the candidate that the NDP needed to be able to win in the Courtenay-Comox riding. Wildlife, recreation, and hunting are very important to this riding and the bear story would resonate with the voters. CFB Comox is also a huge part of the riding and Bryce’s military service would give him a notable advantage over other potential NDP candidates. Since 1986, the party that wins in the Comox Valley has also won the government. The three most recent elections have been close with the NDP never being too far behind. However, the boundaries have been significantly adjusted for this election and so there is an element of uncertainty for both parties.

Looking at all of the above, things were coming together nicely for the NDP. Andrew Weaver was almost a sure thing to keep Oak Bay-Gordon Head out of the hands of the Liberals and Bryce Casavant had a very strong chance to win the Comox Valley for the NDP for the first time since the Liberals took the government in 2001.

Then without any provocation, the NDP decided to self destruct. On Saturday, January 7th, Bryce surprised everyone when he dropped out of the nomination race in Courtenay-Comox and on Tuesday, January 10th, it was announced that Bryce would be the NDP candidate for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.

If the NDP thinks that they can drop in a parachute candidate to win against Andrew Weaver, they are dreaming. Their best case scenario is that they lose and Andrew Weaver still goes on to win for the Green Party. Their worst case scenario is that they manage to split the vote significantly enough to hand the riding on a golden platter to the Liberals.

More importantly, this is a war-call from the NDP against the Green Party. Across the entire province, there are Green Party supporters who begrudgingly accept that their candidate won’t win and check the “NDP” box instead. That’s not going to happen this year. With the NDP relocating a strong candidate to attack the Green Party leader, there will be no collaboration on the battlefield. The end result will be more swing ridings going to the Liberals while the NDP and Green Party split their votes.

In Courtenay-Comox, things aren’t any better. Bryce had a reasonable chance to take the riding for the NDP. That will be an almost impossible task for any of the other candidates who have a cold-start just months before the election and without the benefit of already being a household name. No doubt, the controversy will also leave the local riding volunteers with a lack of enthusiasm.

Contrast this with the Liberals who selected their candidate in October to give him enough time to be properly introduced to the community. By the way, the Liberal candidate is as strong as they come. At 51, he is a retired commander from the local air force base and his family has many deep volunteering connections in the community.

Can the NDP win the government in 2017? In theory, absolutely. The BC Liberals have shown that they are a one-trick-pony. They are only capable of moving in one direction and after sixteen years, the cuts to basic services and the concessions to corporations and foreign interests are no longer rational. Their entire platform in 2013 was based on an LNG pipe dream that never materialized. Even people on the most conservative side of the spectrum are becoming weary.

However, the NDP won’t win. John Horgan continues to be missing in action from the public discussion. The candidate selection process has been full of controversy and severely delayed. They don’t have the money required to run campaigns. They lack the benefit that the Liberals have of being able to use taxpayer funds as if they were campaign dollars.

Obviously the NDP will put up a good fight but it’s becoming more and more accepted that the real work will start in June. The party needs to be stripped down and rebuilt from the ground up.

As for Oak Bay-Gordon Head. It’s not too late for John to show some real leadership and to clean up the mess.