Vote Splitting Canard!

Rick Peterson

Rick Peterson, nomination candidate for the BC Conservatives in Vanouver-Quilchena, steps in this morning to explain the myth of vote splitting in BC.This originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun. Here is the piece in it’s entirety!

On Tuesday, B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins addressed a sellout crowd from the business community at a major fundraising luncheon in downtown Vancouver. I’d like to follow up with a look at the vote-splitting argument that the B.C. Liberals are flinging about in the business community with increasing desperation as polling results seem to indicate a death-spiral for their party in this province.

This vote-splitting thesis is, in reality, a “canard” — a false report that is deliberately misleading.

Purveyors of this myth love to point to 1996 and the vote split that resulted in the provincial NDP victory — keeping in mind that the NDP retained power that year, and didn’t come from opposition.

It’s a convenient argument, but a closer look shows that the those orchestrating this canard are using the wrong election to draw parallels and are also historically incorrect in using 1996 as an analogy.

The 1991 provincial election is best comparable to the one upcoming in May next year because both feature a long-in-the-tooth, very unpopular, crumbling governing party. The incumbent 1991 Socreds and today’s Liberals both tossed out old leaders and exchanged them for untried and overwhelmed replacements (Rita Johnson in ’91 and Christy Clark today) in a search for renewal. In both cases the parties slumped further.

Like the 1991 campaign, today’s features a rising opposition NDP that had not been in power for well over a decade, and therefore ripe for taking advantage of voter amnesia. Both periods also feature a resurgent and well-organized third party, with a long respected history in the province, which has not governed or elected MLA’s in decades.

In 1991, Gordon Wilson was leading the B.C. Liberals. The party had been in the political wilderness for ages, had not elected an MLA since 1975 and had not formed government since 1941. (Sound familiar? B.C. Conservatives have not governed since 1933.)

Just as today, in 1991 voters were leaving the governing party and were looking for alternatives. Just as today the coalition was failing because the party holding that alliance was floundering.

On the televised debates in 1991, Gordon Wilson scored a major blow when he interrupted Rita Johnson and Mike Harcourt and said, “This is why nothing gets done in Victoria.” It was a moment many of us remember. The coalition began to coalesce again, to a degree, around Gordon Wilson and the B.C. Liberals.

However, in the following general election, latent Socred voters handed the election to the NDP. The Socreds were decimated, receiving 351,000 votes and only seven seats.

The B.C. Liberals came from nowhere, winning 17 seats and 486,000 votes. The NDP won 51 seats and a majority with only 110,000 more votes than the B.C. Liberals.

The problem was that not enough voters realized, early enough, that the coalition needed to coalesce under the new B.C. Liberal tent. They didn’t realize until it was too late that the old regime was long gone.

The 1996 election, which simply kept the NDP in power, offered completely different dynamics.

By that point Gordon Wilson had lost an internal race and Gordon Campbell had taken over the B.C. Liberals. A group of marginalized and bitter Socreds, who had been defeated badly in the 1991 election, instead of joining the growing coalition, migrated to the B.C. Reform Party.

At the same time, another defeated and disgruntled politician, Gordon Wilson, started the Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA).

In the subsequent election, the combination of votes siphoned off to these two parties (nine per cent for Reform and six per cent for the PDA) allowed the NDP to remain in power.

In both 1991 and 1996 it was those who still believed in the old coalition tent that handed the election, and the province, to the NDP. It was not those who understood that a new tent was required where everyone needed to regroup.

So history and mathematics are both providing us guidance and giving us the data needed not to make the same mistake twice. Unlike 1991 when the NDP were at 39 per cent in the polls, they are now at 50 per cent.

The danger is clear and present. A new free enterprise coalition will be formed sooner or later in B.C., and history tells us it will not take place under the fading B.C. Liberals.

The clear alternative is the Conservatives.

It’s only a question of when it happens. If free enterprise supporters look at history, and ignore the quacking of the vote-splitting canards, they will see that this needs to happen before next May — not after.

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