The BC government survives by-election despite the Green Party

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The Nanaimo provincial by-election was a lose-lose situation for the Green Party.  If they had run a strong campaign and improved on their score, they risked the collapse of the NDP government they are supporting.

Thankfully for both partners, it is the Green vote that collapsed while the NDP prevailed, meaning that the governing alliance of the NDP and Green parties will keep governing.  The BC Greens ended up with only seven per cent of the vote.  This is a massive loss from the nearly 20 per cent they received in the 2017 general election.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver was disappointed once the results were known:  “Clearly this isn’t the result we wanted,” he said.  So what was the result the Greens wanted?

A victory in Nanaimo was never really in the cards.  It was a sour but predictable outcome for the Greens.  Their chances of winning the seat were slim, at best.  The risk of the BC Liberals taking the seat were higher because the Greens were running.

The NDP was campaigning on this message.  A “fear campaign”, if you ask the Greens.  Perhaps so.  The Liberals threw everything they had at this by-election.  Candidate Tony Harris was campaigning on a post-partisan brand, running away from the BC Liberals, barely using their logo even.  With a screw up of the speculation tax roll out, the Liberals had a golden opportunity to defeat the NDP, and, at one point, were ahead in the polls by 13 points.  This was the Liberals’ best chance in a long time and they blew it.

But why would the Greens risk losing their current power over a by-election?  Why open the door to the Liberals?

The Greens simply couldn’t resist the temptation to cast themselves as an equal party in a three-horse race.  The Greens are also currently struggling to preserve their own identity, which is why they were in this race.  They are supporting the NDP government, they’re tied to the government’s policies, but they are not New Democrats.  They needed to plant that Green flag.

But they are also not as Green as they used to be.  Their brand is tainted by the government’s actions they are actively supporting.  Yet, voters right now are quite happy with the governing arrangement.  In Nanaimo, they didn’t want to risk it.  The danger for the Greens is that this thinking spreads out across the province.

They need to make the argument that this government is a good one because they hold the balance of power.  They need to use that balance of power in a smarter way.  In Nanaimo, this would have meant endorsing NDP candidate Sheila Malcomson and claiming part of the credit when she won.

It is not a given that the Green vote would automatically have gone to the NDP if they hadn’t contested the by-election.  In fact, the BC Liberals increased their vote share by eight per cent while the NDP increased its vote share by only three per cent.

Still, Malcomson won despite the Greens.  The government survived despite the Greens.  The voters are happy with the results.  Despite the Greens.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from Karl Bélanger.    Follow Karl Bélanger on Twitter at @KarlBelanger.

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