Analysis: Nanaimo-Ladysmith By-Election

With only six months until the federal election, the voters of Nanaimo-Ladysmith went to the polls yesterday to elect Green candidate Paul Manly as their Member of Parliament. This marks the second ever Green seat in the House of Commons, joining Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who represents Saanich-Gulf Islands, the riding next door.

Here is a summary of the results:

  • 37%  Paul Manly, Green
  • 25%  John Hirst, Conservative
  • 23%  Bob Chamberlin, NDP
  • 11%   Michelle Corfield, Liberal
  • 3%    Jennifer Clarke, PPC

Manly, who previously captured 20 per cent of the vote in the same riding in 2015, said his win four years later suggests Canadians are ready for a “different kind of politics,” and are focused on working across party lines. In his acceptance speech, Manly touched on numerous party platform items, from universal pharmacare and basic dental plans to funding substantial green energy products.

Nanaimo-Ladysmith was created out of Nanaimo-Cowichan and Nanaimo-Alberni, former NDP and Conservative strongholds respectively. The Liberals were never going to win this one, and the NDP were expected to have performed much better.

In our weekly political look-ahead, we predicted this election would be a race between the Greens and the Conservatives. After the over-inflation of Green polling in PEI, we curbed our expectations in Nanaimo-Ladysmith – but the Greens sailed ahead with ease.

Read below for insights from our firm, and what this by-election means for the federal election later this year:

Shae McGlynn, Green perspective:

The Green Party has been experiencing a meteoric rise. As we noted after the recent PEI election, the Greens are becoming a reasonable rather than a radical vote – appealing to both environmentally conscious voters, and voters increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo and entrenched powers.

The success of this by-election will resonate on Vancouver Island and allow the Party to pick up a few more seats in the region – likely Victoria, Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, and potentially Cowichan-Malahat-Langford (although more challenging). While this year’s “Green Wave” will pick up seats, it is not likely to catapult the Party to official Party status in the House (12 or more seats).

Should the Green Party elect more than a handful of MPs this fall, it’s likely we will see even bigger gains over the next round of provincial elections. They can only go up from here.

Kevin Tetreault, Conservative perspective:

In 2011, British Columbia formed a critical basis of Stephen Harper’s majority government. In 2019, if the Conservatives want to form government, they will need to pick up seats in this key province.

In 2011 and 2015, British Colombia was a three-way race, with the NDP, Liberals, and Conservatives all having a fair shot at running a competitive race and picking up seats. In 2019, if anything, the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election demonstrates that the Green Party is building itself up to be a contender in some regions, chipping away at left-leaning NDP and Liberal voters.

From a Conservative perspective, the increasing success of another left-leaning party presents a grand opportunity, as their competitors will split the left and position them with the possibility of coming up the middle in battleground ridings.

Robert McCreight, NDP perspective:

It is certain that the NDP will be disappointed to have fallen to third place with 23 percent of the vote given that they won the riding in 2015. It does not bode well for their chances going into the federal election this fall, and they will need to take a hard look at how the Greens’ messaging resonated with voters in that riding and identify the lessons learned.

British Columbia is the key to the NDP’s potential success in the federal election, as they have lost too much ground in Quebec since their 2011 heydays. We should not be too naive to conflate strong NDP sentiment provincially with federal electoral predictions, but the Party will need to lean on Horgan’s popularity and resources to secure victory in the province.

The most important thing the NDP can do to shape up ahead of the federal election is to double down on their efforts in the field – recruiting volunteers and knocking on doors.

Daniel Kelter, Liberal Perspective:

Listen, this isn’t great for the Liberals but this is really bad for the NDP.

Right now, they’re having their lunch eaten by the Greens. Overall, this bodes poorly for any party on the left of the political spectrum as we see yet more fragmentation of the left-leaning vote, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom.

It’s sometimes easier to vote your conscience during a by-election. Compared to a general election there are significantly fewer variables at play in a by-election: a majority or minority government has already been decided, and we also know the performances of the parties so far. However, the most important difference is that there is less of an impetus to vote strategically in a by-election because one seat to whichever party wins won’t change much.

I think any idea that the Liberals could turn the boat around and somehow eke out another majority government has officially been tested and dashed. With that said, I don’t think we will see a repeat of 2011 when the Liberals became a third-place party; a weak minority or strong opposition are not out the window if the Liberals and Trudeau can run a good campaign.