Battleground BC

Let the Battle Begin

Election Central’s riding-by-riding predictions to be posted daily.

By Will McMartin, 27 Mar 2005, TheTyee.ca

Welcome to Battleground BC, 2005.

During the next eight weeks, Election Central will provide daily updates by using an exclusive seat projection model designed to estimate how British Columbia voters will allocate the province’s 79 legislative seats.

Election Central will utilize historic election results and selected demographics, as well as public opinion polls, regional sources and input from Election Central readers (send yours to will@thetyee.ca). This information will be viewed through a unique model that divides B.C. into 13 sub-regions, from which estimated seat totals for the province’s political parties will be derived. Those evolving seat totals will be updated daily, in the “jousting” box featured at the top of this page.

Historic results British Columbia’s population has doubled over the past nine elections, from 2.06 million in 1969, to an estimated 4.2 million in 2005. During the same time, the number of electoral districts has grown from 55 to 79.

Prior to the 1991 general election, many electoral districts elected two MLAs, and there were huge population discrepancies between districts. In 1986, for example, a mere 2,301 voters in Atlin elected one MLA, while in Coquitlam-Moody, 30,618 voters also returned a single representative.

In 1989, the B.C. Supreme Court found those electoral districts to be unconstitutional, and in 1990 legislation abolished dual-member seats and introduced the electoral quota‚ to ensure that all ridings have near-equal populations. The electoral quota is determined by dividing the provincial population by the number of legislative seats. For example, 4.2 million divided by 79 equals 53,165. In theory, all districts must have a total population that deviates no more than 25 per cent, plus or minus, from the electoral quota.

Nine provincial general elections have been conducted in British Columbia since 1969. Six of those contests were won by centre-right parties -- Social Credit and the BC Liberals -- and three by the province’s dominant centre-left party, the New Democratic Party.

A total of 577 seats were contested over that period. Centre-right parties won 347 seats — Social Credit, 203; Liberal, 138; Progressive Conservative, 3; Reform, 2 and Progressive Democratic Alliance, 1 — or 60.1% of the total.

The New Democrats won 230 seats, or 39.9% of the total. This latter figure is remarkably close to the NDP’s average share of the popular vote over the same period, 38.6%.

Preparing For Battle

In order to make the province a bit easier to conceptualize – and to apply historic results to modern riding boundaries – Battleground BC will configure the province’s 79 ridings into 13 geographic sub-regions. Here’s an introduction, grouped by their historic leanings:

RIGHT-OF-CENTRE: 25 SEATS. Centre-right parties won nearly 93 per cent of the 178 seats contested in these districts since 1969. Any NDP or Green candidate competing in the following five sub-regions faces a historically uphill battle.

Battleground BC’s North Shore sub-region includes the four ridings of North and West Vancouver.

The Fraser Valley South sub-region includes nine ridings: Abbotsford-Clayburn, Abbotsford-Mt Lehman, Chilliwack-Kent, Chilliwack-Sumas, Delta South, Fort Langley-Aldergrove, Langley, Surrey-Cloverdale and Surrey-White Rock.

The Okanagan sub-region includes five ridings: Kelowna-Mission, Kelowna-Lake Country, Okanagan-Vernon, Okanagan-Westside and Penticton-Okanagan Valley.

Richmond includes the three Richmond ridings.

And the Vancouver Westside sub-region includes four right-leaning urban ridings: Vancouver-Fairview, Vancouver-Langara, Vancouver-Point Grey and Vancouver-Quilchena.

INDETERMINATE: 14 SEATS. Right-leaning parties won 65 per cent of the 114 seats contested over the past nine general elections in these two indeterminate sub-regions, while the NDP won 35 percent.

The Thompson-Nicola sub-region follows the Trans-Canada Highway through BC’s Interior. It centres on the traditional bell-weather ridings of Kamloops and Kamloops-North Thompson, extending east to the Shuswap riding, and west to Yale-Lillooet. Keremeos, Princeton and Hope all fall within this sub-region.

The vast North sub-region includes both solid-right Peace River ridings, the traditionally left North Coast seat, as well as the three Prince George ridings, two Cariboo seats, Skeena and the Bulkley Valley-Stikine. These ten rural districts could play a pivotal role in choosing the next government.

LEFT-OF-CENTRE: 40 SEATS. The NDP has won 63.5 per cent of the 285 seats in the following left-of-centre sub-regions since 1969. (This is remarkable in that the New Democrats’ average share of the popular vote exceeded 50 per cent in only one area: Vancouver’s eastside.) Battleground BC’s Vancouver Eastside sub-region includes the six ridings of Vancouver-Burrard, Vancouver-Fraserview, Vancouver-Hastings, Vancouver-Kensington, Vancouver-Kingsway and Vancouver-Mount Pleasant

The Vancouver Island North-Coast sub-region includes seven ridings: Alberni-Qualicum, Comox Valley, Cowichan-Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Nanaimo-Parksville, North Island and, across the straight, Powell River-Sunshine Coast (where Green Party leader Adriane Carr is running).

The Kootenays sub-region includes four ridings: Columbia River-Revelstoke, East Kootenay, Nelson-Creston and West Kootenay-Boundary.

The Fraser North sub-region includes ten ridings: three Burnaby seats, one Port Coquitlam, one Port Moody, two Maple Ridge, along with Burquitlam, Coquitlam-Mallairdville and New Westminster.

The six-seat North-Central Surrey sub-region groups Delta North with five Surrey ridings: Surrey-Green Timbers, Surrey-Newton, Surrey-Panorama Ridge, Surrey-Tynehead and Surrey-Whalley. And Battleground BC’s Vancouver Island South sub-region includes the seven ridings of the capitol region: Esquimalt-Metchosin, Malahat-Juan de Fuca, Oak Bay-Gordon Head, Saanich North and the Islands, Saanich South, Victoria-Beacon Hill and Victoria-Hillside.

The seat allocations within these sub-regions are admittedly arbitrary. For example, the decision to place the riding of Delta South in Fraser Valley South is based on electoral history rather than strict geographic concerns.

Unlike the results of the 2001 general election, when the Liberals captured a massive 77 seats and the NDP was left with just two, the 2005 contest can be boiled down to one simple question: Of the seats now held by the Liberals, how many will they lose, and how many will the NDP win?

The Liberals must concede no more than 37 if they are to retain power; the NDP must enjoy a net gain of at least 38 if they are to form government.

If the results of the past nine general elections offer a useful guide to the future, we may expect that the bulk of the districts to be targeted by the NDP, and defended by the Liberals, are in the traditional left-of-centre sub-regions, with a smattering from the indeterminate areas. At this point it appears highly unlikely that the governing Liberals will lose seats, or the NDP make any gains, in the ‘right-of-centre’ sub-regions.

Contact Will with your scouting reports. Send your battleground tips, data, insight to will@thetyee.ca

Tomorrow in Battleground BC: Population differences between electoral districts.

Will McMartin is a veteran political analyst and regular contributor to Election Central.  [Tyee]