For the first time in memory, political observers believe the NDP may have a chance of winning in Chilliwack. Certainly, Gwen O’Mahony, who won the nomination this weekend, will not be going into this by-election like NDP candidates have in the past. That is, with no hope.Which is all true. BC's political winds are not very favourable to the Christy Clark Liberals right now, and despite an initial bump when she became Premier, it's pretty clear the Liberal's decade in power could be ending soon. This puts a riding like Chilliwack-Hope, which as you'll see just below is a moderately safe seat but could be easily prone to swings during by-elections, square in the sights of both the BC NDP, as well as the newly-invigorated BC Conservatives.
In fact, she told party members on the weekend she is running to win. As we say, it doesn’t seem as farfetched as it once might have. There is certainly a scenario where it could happen, and if it does, it will confirm in stark terms the prevailing wisdom that the Liberal government is in big, big trouble in B.C.
2009 Results - Chilliwack-Hope
Barry Penner (Lib) - 8,985 - 53.3%
Gwen O'Mahoney (NDP) - 5,638 - 33.4%
Hans Mulder (Con) - 1,198 - 7.1%
Guy Durnin (Grn) - 951 - 5.6%
Dorothy-Jean O'Donnell (Oth) - 93 - 0.6%
So could the NDP really win this riding? It's notoriously hard to predict how by-elections will go without proper polling, which I hope will happen, much like how they did polling in Quebec for their by-elections which were, surprisingly enough for riding-specific polls, very accurate (I have a theory about that, but I'll leave it for another time). But here's what I've got so far, first from my polling average of BC, and then with the most recent Forum poll, at the riding level for Chilliwack-Hope:
Polling Average of BC:
36% - BC Lib
30% - BC NDP
27% - BC Con
Forum Poll (Jan 23) of BC:
37% - BC Con
28% - BC NDP
28% - BC Lib
So in other words... I don't think its the NDP that should be getting the most attention. The BC Conservatives, led by former Delta MP John Cummins, is looking at a major boost, just based on the polls alone. And according to G&M, they also have a somewhat-star candidate to boot.
Now, again, don't take these numbers at face value - they're not meant for you to do so. But just based on how the polls have moved lately, sure, Adrian Dix and the NDP have a shot at the riding - but it's the Conservatives who look set to benefit the most.
In fact, my own gut feeling says that the Conservatives should actually be the favourite in this riding. I'm not kidding. Yes, there is a good chance of a vote split in the riding, but here are the facts: this is Conservative-friendly territory. The NDP have a good ground game but ideologically and historically, this is a riding that should shift to the Conservatives over the NDP, vote split be damned.
Take a trip back in time to the 1990's in this riding's predecessor (Chilliwack, which Penner used to represent before redistribution) and the point is made even clearer.
In 1991, when the NDP won government and the Liberals fought the Social Credits for the anti-Dipper vote (and won), one could assume that, based on the numbers in 1986 (59-30 split between SoCreds and Dippers, with the Libs at 8.5%), that a split in the right-wing vote would allow the NDP to ride up. Instead, in '91 the Liberals won with just under 39%, the SoCred incumbent second with 34%, and the NDP below 26%.
The next election in 1996, when the BC Lib incumbent ran as an independent and presumably would have allowed for the anti-NDP vote to split (that's generally how the NDP won the 1996 election), plus the existence of a right-wing third party called BC Reform, Barry Penner won the riding with 37.9%, compared to 24.9% for the NDP, 23.4% for the ex-Lib and 13.2% for Reform.
Chilliwack has never voted NDP nor has it actually come close, and this is all throughout the era of anti-NDP vote splitting between various parties, including when it first became an issue during the 1940's.
Can the NDP buck the trend? Absolutely, there's a giant opportunity for them to. But historically speaking, and even momentum-wise, I'm going to say that the NDP aren't going to win. If anything, it'll either continue BC Liberal or, more likely, it'll become the first Conservative riding since 1979.
Next I'll give a look at the Port Moody-Coquitlam riding, also up for a by-election soon.