A pair of NDP victories in two byelections Thursday didn’t come as too much of a surprise for veteran Penticton MLA Bill Barisoff.
In the past 30 years, the Liberal MLA and Speaker of the House said, there have only been two byelections where the ruling party was elected: Claude Richmond and more recently, Premier Christy Clark.
“It’s not an unexpected result of what took place,” said Barisoff. “I think the bigger thing was that the Liberals had a strong second in both. Whenever you split the free-enterprise vote, you are going to end up with the results you got.“
NDP candidate Joe Trasolini was elected with 54 per cent of the vote in Port Moody-Coquitlam, with the Liberals’ Dennis Marsden at 30 per cent and the Conservatives’ Christine Clarke at 15 per cent.
In Chilliwack-Hope, which was considered a particular right-wing stronghold, switching from Social Credit to B.C. Liberal in 1991, the margin was narrower, with the NDP’s Gwen O’Mahony collecting 41 per cent of the vote, Liberal Laurie Throness taking home 31 per cent and B.C. Conservative John Martin following up with 25 per cent.
Barisoff points to vote splitting on the right as one of the reasons for the NDP victory.
“If you split that vote, it becomes that much more difficult to win an election. I think that was shown, particularly in Chilliwack, where the NDP got 41 per cent of the vote and the free enterprisers were closer to 60,” he said. “There is not a division of where the majority of voters want to be, it’s just how they get there.”
Julia Pope, vice-president of the Penticton NDP constituency association, sees the results differently.
“It indicates there is a real sea change afoot and there are no safe Liberal seats anymore,” she said.
“Chilliwack and Port Moody were previously considered to be really secure Liberal seats. The fact that Joe Trasolini, in particular, won with such strong numbers … indicates that we really have seen a dramatic change.”
In the Penticton riding, change may be near. Though Barisoff said he is not ready to comment, there has been speculation for some time he may step down in 2013. And while the NDP do not have a local candidate right now, constituency president David Finnis said they are conducting a search and are looking to have a nomination meeting in the fall.
Pope said the two NDP victories will help invigorate the party, and shows that voters want a change.
“The fact they were able to take those two seats that have been held by B.C. Liberal cabinet ministers and turn them orange, proves what everyone believes is going on, that voters want a change,” said Pope.
“It is really going to light a fire in the belly of the NDP.”
In a statement congratulating all the candidates in the byelections, the premier included some dire warnings about splitting the right-wing vote.
“Voters know that byelections are not about changing government. It’s never been clearer that only a unified free enterprise coalition can defeat the NDP. That’s why we are focused on strengthening our coalition, so that in the next general election voters will have a clear choice between the free-enterprise coalition and the NDP,” Clark said.
“A choice between higher income taxes, reckless government spending and runaway debt or our free-enterprise coalition that is keeping taxes low, restraining government spending and keeping our economy growing with jobs for B.C. families.”
Both the Penticton and Boundary Similkameen ridings are held by Liberal MLAs. John Slater was elected in 2009 to represent Boundary Similkameen, and Barisoff has held his seat for four terms, through a variety of shifts in the electoral boundaries of the riding.