Thursday, November 22, 2012

What if after May 2013 there were four independents elected?

An interesting scenario is emerging for the BC 2013 election, we could have a number of independents elected.   There is a reasonable chance that four of them could win in the coming election and this is important because by the rules of the BC legislature takes four MLAs to have a recognized caucus.   A recognized caucus in the legislature gets a much more formal role in how the place operates, they get more space in the building and they get more money for staff in Victoria.

Since 1975 BC has only had one period where there has been more than two parties recognized as caucuses in the legislature and that was from 1991 to 1996.  During those years the small Social Credit caucus, which then became the BC Reform Party caucus, was a remnant political force which was a on the way to the grave(1).   The last party in BC to be the third caucus in the legislature on a consistent basis were the Liberals from 1952 to 1975.   Our politics in BC have really been exclusively NDP v "Brand X", as Ron Cheffins calls the other side, for the last 37 years.

A caucus of four independents elected to the legislature would be something very different in BC politics, something we have not only never seen in BC, but as far as I can tell we have never seen in Canada.   The idea of a caucus of independents also seems to be in sync with what a lot of the public would like to see.

The four people who might be elected as independents in 2013 are Vicki Huntingdon, Bob Simpson, Arthur Hadland and John Van Dongen.

In 2009 Vicki Huntingdon managed her second try to win in Delta South.   I think her odds of being re-elected are very high, my current estimate is 95% for her(2).

Bob Simpson was elected in 2005 and 2009 as a New Democrat but has been an independent since October 2010.   He has worked very hard as an independent MLA and I think he has developed a strong enough personal following that he has good odds of winning in 2013.  I give him 90% odds.

In Peace River North Arthur Hadland came second in 2009 with a respectable 31.33% of the vote as an independent.   He is running again.   I think the dropping popularity of the Liberals, the personal unpopularity of MLA Pat Pimm along with a Conservative candidate make the odds of Arthur Hadland winning reasonable.   My estimate of him winning is 75%.

Former Liberal MLA John Van Dongen is planning on running as an independent in Abbotsford South.   I would not have given him much chance of winning against the Liberals in the upcoming election but with the resignation of the whole Liberal board of directors I think his odds have gone up.   Assuming there is a Conservative candidate in the race, I expect to see a four way race and the NDP being the most likely winners but there is still a much better chance of John Van Dongen winning than there was only a couple of days ago.   I am not sure at what I think his odds are, but I think 25-30% is the sort of range that seems reasonable give the circumstances this week.

Overall I think there is a less than one in five chance that all four would be elected.  

If all four of them can win this is enough to form a caucus in the legislature and get extra resources that political party caucuses get in the legislature.   But could these four be one caucus?   Could they convince the speaker of the house that they are a legitimate political faction?

Bob Simpson is a rural left of centre populist.  Arthur Hadland is a right of centre rural populist, the sort of guy that a generation ago would have been a Socred.   Vicki Huntingdon is of the red tory ilk, the opposite of a populist.   John Van Dongen is right of centre but also apparently, according to many people I know, is very hard to work with.    What unifies this group?   Could these choose a leader?  Could they really cooperate?  Are they enough of a unified group to be recognized?

There is one other possible addition to this group, what if Andrew Weaver were to win for the Greens in Oak Bay Gordon Head?(3)  Or if in a long shot Green leader Jane Sterk were to win?   My current estimate is that Andrew Weaver has a 50% chance of winning and Jane Sterk 5%.  Adding them to the mix moves the odds of four or more MLAs being elected that are not either NDP or Liberal at close to 50%(4).

Could one or two Greens work with the independents that are elected as a caucus?    The Greens are choosing not to run anyone against Huntingdon, Simpson or Hadland so from their end they are willing to cooperate in the legislature if they win.  Would these independents be willing to be so closely connected to the Greens?

Let us say we did get four MLAs elected that could form a caucus that was recognized in the legislature, how would this change the politics of BC?

  • First off we would have three parties speaking on issues in the legislature which alone would change the form of the debate we here.   The media would have a third voice to go to in politics.
  • Second, you would have a caucus of MLAs focused not on winning government and therefore would be without the normal jockeying for political advantage.
  • Third, this would be a caucus were no MLA was restricted from speaking their mind or voting as they thought they should.  The whipped MLAs of the NDP and Liberals would not look good in comparison.
  • Fourth, we would see more and better research on issues would be conducted on issues that matter to people

It would make for an interesting legislature but it is still a long shot and even if four MLAs wanted to band together. The NDP and Liberals would have an interest in not seeing it happen and could very well change the rules of the legislature to ensure that it does not.

Some notes:

  1. I think that the NDP did grant party status to the PDA with a caucus of two in 1994, if you remember let me know
  2. In my calculations no one is at over 99% odds of being elected and at this time only some of the NDP MLAs are at the level.   
  3. While many think the Greens have no chance of winning seats, I think there is a fundamental change in the party from 2009.  The party has built up a concentration of supporters in the Victoria area.   Andrew Weaver probably the best known person from outside of the political world to chose to run for any party in many years in BC.   Jane Sterk and Andrew Weaver are likely to have fully funded campaigns and access to about 150 and 250 volunteers respectively.   In Esquimalt Royal Roads the Green candidate Susan Low looks like she will have more financial resources to spend than Jane Sterk did in 2009.   All this together with the election of Elizabeth May federally in 2011 means the Greens have a concentration of resources that makes winning possible.
  4. I currently do not see any realistic chance of any BC Conservative winning a seat in 2013.   The best odds in theory would be with John Cummins the leader but without knowing where he is running I can not assess his odds of winning.  I do not see any strong regional concentrations for the BC Conservatives at this time.

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