Splits happen: A look at the upcoming B.C. election this October

Click to play video: 'Kevin Falcon’s pitch to BC Conservatives shot down'
Kevin Falcon’s pitch to BC Conservatives shot down
BC United leader Kevin Falcon is releasing more details about negotiations with the BC Conservatives aimed at preventing a vote split -- and how they fell apart. Legislative bureau chief Keith Baldrey reports. – May 24, 2024

There is a lot of talk about potential “vote splitting” in the upcoming provincial election set for October and given the impact that could have on the election outcome, it is worth examining our previous experiences with it.

The mother of all vote-split elections occurred in 1996 when the NDP government was re-elected despite getting almost 40,000 fewer votes than the BC Liberals province-wide. The NDP, with 39.5 per cent of the vote, won 39 seats while the BC Liberals, with 41.8 per cent of the vote won just 33 votes.

This anomaly occurred because the upstart Reform Party of BC took almost 10 per cent of the vote and two seats, and it can be reasonably argued that most of those voters would otherwise have voted BC Liberal had the Reform Party not existed.

The Reform Party may have not attracted a lot of voters (about 146,000) but they were spread over enough ridings to allow the NDP to win four seats with less than 40 per cent of the vote as Reform and the BC Liberals “split” the anti-NDP vote.

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Click to play video: 'Surrey MLA Elenore Sturko defects to BC Conservatives'
Surrey MLA Elenore Sturko defects to BC Conservatives

For example, in the northern riding of Bulkley Valley-Stikine, the NDP won with just 37 per cent while the Reform Party and the B.C. Liberals split 57 per cent of the vote between them. Similar scenarios unfolded in the ridings of Kootenay, Prince George North and Cariboo North, while the NDP won another six ridings on vote splits.

If these splits had not occurred and had the Reform Party not existed, the BC Liberals would likely have won around 43 seats while the NDP may have been reduced to around 30 seats.

Another vote-split election occurred in 1991 when the NDP likely won at least nine seats because the Social Credit Party and the upstart BC Liberal Party split about 57 per cent of the voters. The 2017 election, which elected three Green Party MLAs, wasn’t really a typical vote split result because it was far from clear which party lost the most voters to the Greens.

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Fast forward to the October election and if you apply a vote-split scenario based on the assumption the NDP will go into the campaign with a lead (based on a series of polls) the potential impact can be seen from past election results.

A split of even minor proportions would likely strengthen the NDP’s hold on the 15 ridings it took from the BC Liberals in the 2020 election and increase its chances of winning other ridings such as Skeena, Columbia River-Revelstoke, Kamloops-North Thompson and Surrey-White Rock.

Click to play video: 'Another B.C. United M.L.A. defects'
Another B.C. United M.L.A. defects

Vote splitting will almost certainly occur in the looming election, as the BC United Party and the BC Conservatives are increasingly at each other’s throats in a bid to be the lone alternative for those not wanting to re-elect the NDP government to a third straight term.

But neither Opposition party shows signs of going away. While another BC United MLA defected to the B.C. Conservatives last week, most of the party’s incumbent MLAs said they are sticking with their party and another 40 candidates have been appointed by it.

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And the BC Conservatives continue to be a strong second choice in public opinion polls, which puts considerable wind in the party’s sails as it appoints more and more candidates.

Get ready for it, folks. Splits happen.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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