Thursday, December 23, 2010

The 1984 NDP Leadership Convention

I thought given the current leadership races in BC it would be interesting to look at some of the more interesting races in the past generation.   The first one is the 1984 NDP leadership race on May 20.


David Vickers, Bill King, Bob Skelly, Margaret Birrell, Dave Stupich, and Graham Lea were all in the race.  Four of the five of them served in the NDP government from 1972-1975 in some manner.

At age 48, former deputy attorney general David Vickers was the favorite in the race.   He was appointed deputy AG at age 36 by Barrett.   

53 year old Bill King was first elected in a 1968 by-election, defeated in the 1969 election and then elected again in 1972 and severed as an MLA till the 1983 election when he was defeated.   The Revelstoke riding he ran in was marginal for the NDP.  He was minister of labour for Dave Barrett.

Bob Skelly was 41 and had been an MLA since 1972.   I became a member of the NDP at the time so that I could vote for delegates that supported him.   I met him in person and he impressed, but keep in mind I was 19 and did not know much about how politics worked and what made a good party leader. 

Dave Stupich a 63 year old fixture on the NDP who would eventually have play a role in the end of Mike Harcourt's term as premier.   He was first elected in 1963 and served as a minister under Barrett.  If I were to venture a guess as to why he ran, I think it was because he wanted his Nanaimo based NDP machine to be a factor in the race and used the race to build a larger network for his machine.   He should have done better in the race.
Graham Lea was 50 and first elected in 1972. He served for two years as the minister of highways.   He did badly in the race and seemed to take it badly and left the NDP.  He started the Unity Party of BC which did not go very far at all.   Of interest is that he showed up at the 1986 Social Credit Leadership convention as an observer.   I do not think that Graham Lea was a natural New Democrat.

Margaret Birrell was not an MLA and not a senior member of the 72-75 government.  I think Margaret Birrell ran primarly to ensure that there was a woman running for the leadership.


First ballot:

  • David Vickers - 269 - 25.5%
  • Bill King - 240 - 22.8%
  • Bob Skelly - 171 - 16.2%
  • Margaret Birrell - 141 - 13.4%
  • Dave Stupich - 132 - 12.5%
  • Graham Lea - 101 - 9.6%
  • TOTAL - 1054
The race was Vickers versus King.   Vickers a younger urban reformist element of the NDP versus the older labour oriented CCF element in the NDP.   The two camps were clearly at each others throats and going for blood.

I honestly think Bob Skelly ran for the job not because he expected to win, but because he wanted to build his profile and standing in the party so that he would be a senior cabinet minister after the next election.  I remember people being surprised that Skelly placed third and Stupich came fifth.

First ballot Graham Lea was eliminated and endorsed Dave Stupich, for all the good it did.  I really do not understand what he was doing in the race and what he intended when he endorsed the fifth place finisher.


Second Ballot:

  • David Vickers - 308 - 28.8% +39
  • Bill King - 263 - 24.6% +23
  • Bob Skelly - 218 - 20.4% +47
  • Dave Stupich - 147 - 13.7% +15
  • Margaret Birrell - 134 - 12.5% +2
  • TOTAL - 1070
Interestingly it was Bob Skelly that gained the most votes from Graham Lea.

Margaret Birrell was eliminated and she did not formally endorse someone else, though supported Bob Skelly in the end.  I never understood why she did not endorse David Vickers, her endorsement should have gained her the status for her to get a nomination and then a cabinet post in a Vickers government.   Her endorsement would have put Vickers out of reach and left King in second.


Third Ballot:


  • David Vickers - 339 - 32.0% +31
  • Bob Skelly - 313 - 29.6% + 95
  • Bill King - 292 - 27.6% +29
  • Dave Stupich - 114 - 10.8% -33
  • TOTAL - 1058

The Birrell delegates seem to have gone to Skelly.   Dave Stupich lost support, likely going to King.  With this ballot Skelly moved into second and it is this movement that likely made it impossible for David Vickers to win.   If Skelly had been running behind King and been eliminated, he would likely have endorsed Vickers.

Stupich dropped off and did not endorse anyone.  Given the people that were his delegates, I would have expected Bill King to have benefited, actually I would have expected Stupich to have used his delegates as a way to gain influence with King.

Fourth Ballot:


  • David Vickers - 383 - 36.0% +44
  • Bob Skelly - 349 - 32.7%+36
  • Bill King - 333 - 31.3% +41
  • TOTAL - 1065
After the fourth ballot it was Skelly that grew the least but he held onto to second and that ultimately doomed the NDP in the 1986 provincial election.  16 more votes for Bill King and David Vickers would have won the race because it would have been Skelly that was dropped off after the fourth ballot.

Bill King dropped off the ballot and could not bring himself to back Vickers and therefore endorsed Skelly.   His camp could not stomach the reformist agenda of Dave Vickers.  Maybe they even saw Skelly as controllable and a way his faction could gain the most cabinet weight.  Everyone was certain that Bill Bennett and the Socreds would be defeated in the next provincial election no matter who was the leader.


Fifth Ballot:
  • Bob Skelly - 606 - 57.3% +257
  • David Vickers - 452 - 42.7% +69
  • Total - 1058


In the end Bob Skelly was accidentally elected leader of the NDP.

(Leadership button images from Ron Gunzburger's website of Canadian political buttons)
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