Last week’s election painted Columbia River-Revelstoke a different colour, changing shade to Liberal red from NDP orange, and gave B.C. a dose of political uncertainty, with the province-wide outcome anything but clear at the moment.
Locally BC Liberal candidate Doug Clovechok made the most of his second stab at running for public office, sweeping past his NDP rival Gerry Taft, with Clovechok taking 45 per cent of the vote compared with Taft’s 35 per cent. Provincially everything is up in the air, and it may take weeks for it to settle definitively, but as is stands as of press time the BC Liberals were in a minority government position, with 43 seats, ahead of the NDP’s 41 seat, and with the Greens holding the balance of power after breaking through to have three MLAs elected. Absentee ballots had yet to be counted, and could change the outcome, but both Liberal leader and incumbent Premier Christy Clark and NDP leader John Horgan were courting Green leader Andrew Weaver in the wake of election day.
Here in Columbia River-Revelstoke, Clovechok’s victory marked just the second win for the BC Liberals in the seven elections since the current riding boundaries were established in 1991, and followed on the heels of three successive electoral wins for former NDP MLA Norm Macdonald, who spent those 12 years in opposition.
The benefit of having an MLA as part of the sitting government was touted by Clovechok throughout his campaign, but as University of Victoria political scientist Michael Prince told the Echo, it’s not yet certain that will be the case, despite Columbia River-Revelstoke’s embrace of a Liberal candidate.
“Obviously we are in uncharted territory in terms of who might be government and whether it will be a minority or a majority,” said Prince. “But what may happen is that the role of individual MLAs may become more crucial that it has in the past.”
Prince said the in past governments (the Liberals have had comfortable majorities since 2001), a new Liberal MLA, unless he or she is a star candidate, is likely to be a backbencher in his or her first term.
“Typically that person won’t have a lot of influence and might feel they need to follow the party line. But looking at this new election result, both the Liberal and NDP MLAs suddenly have a lot more clout than they did in the past,” said Prince. “If somebody were to choose to sit as an independent or cross the floor it would throw the entire government in disarray.”
Prince added there tends to be a feeling among residents of areas long represented by opposition MLAs (such as Columbia River-Revelstoke, or the lower portion of Vancouver Island, where Prince lives) that they are ignored by the governing party, but said in his opinion “I don’t think that actually happens. It’s just a perception.”
Clovechok, for his part, credited his continued efforts — following his loss to then-NDP Columbia River Revelstoke incumbent Norm Macdonald in the 2013 election — to use his Liberal party connections to help Columbia River-Revelstoke residents as a big factor that helped him win this time.
“The work I did in the last four years, people recognized that, and I think it paid off,” he said, agreeing that in some respects his efforts were like a four-year job interview (“I got hired,” he said).
He also explained that his crew of volunteers was much larger than in 2013, and that this also played a role in his victory.
Among other factors, Clovechok pointed out that Premier Christy Clark visited the riding twice during the election, as did several prominent Liberal cabinet ministers.
“There were also a lot of people saying ‘we want something different’,” he said, adding it helped that Macdonald decided to step down as MLA in advance of this election.
“There’s no question that when you don’t have to face a popular incumbent, it bodes well,” said Clovechok.
He did not think the Green Party’s surge in the Columbia-River Revelstoke (this year’s Green candidate got close to 1,600 votes votes, while in the 2013 the party’s candidate got a bit more than 900 votes) was a factor, since he feels the Greens draw evenly from both Liberal and NDP supporters. But he did agree that Liberal dominance of interior ridings may have helped here, saying rural B.C. has unique issues, and the Liberals do a better job on those issues than other parties.
Taft pointed to many of the same factors and a few others as potential reasons behind the riding’s switch from NDP to Liberal.
“It could be the retirement of Norm, and with that losing people who are voting for the person, not the party. Doug has been campaigning for the better part of six and half years and the connections he made no doubt helped. There were the controversies around the equity mandate and the defamation lawsuit, which may have removed some votes,” said Taft. “There was a growth in the Green vote in B.C., and there has been a lot of negative commentary about the NDP in Alberta. It’s a different province, but perhaps it may have influenced the image of the NDP here.”
Ultimately Taft opined that’s its hard to figure out exactly which of these many factors were the critical ones that turned the tide, saying “we’ll never know.”
Green party candidate Samson Boyer put his finger on the province-wide surge for party under leader Andrew Weaver as one of the major reasons for the jump in Green votes in Columbia River-Revelstoke.
“I think people are starting to see the Green party as a viable option. They are sick of the old two-party system,” said Boyer, adding the Greens here offered a left-ist option “with no scandals” (alluded to the equity mandate controversy and defamation trial that plagued Taft).
“I think that definitely helped the Green party,” he added, saying the equity mandate policy “showed the NDP are not the way to go. They have policies in place that are discriminatory.”
Clokvechok couldn’t confirm whether or not — as has been suggested — he will set up a constituency office in Fairmont Hot Springs, but did say there will almost certainly be two such offices, likely one in Revelstoke and one in the more southeastern portion of the riding.
He did confirm, however, that he will take his trademark moosehide jacket to Victoria.
“I’m a Kootenay boy,” he said by way of explanation.
As of press time two of the province’s ridings were to hold recounts, and B.C.’s nearly 180,000 absentee ballots were to be counted from May 22nd to May 24th, both of which could change the potential makeup of government.