When ‘fisticuffs ensued’ in BC’s legislature

Fighting Joe Martin and his MLA ilk. Latest in our ‘Some Honourable Members’ series.
By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

Editor’s note: This is the seventeenth in our “Some Honourable Members” series, depicting the more dubious moments in B.C.’s political history, brought to you by veteran muckrakers Tom Barrett and Tom Hawthorn, one a day until election day.

220px-The_Big_PunchEven at the best of times, there are more than a few similarities between B.C. politics and a WWE Hell in a Cell cage match. But on some occasions, honourable members have tried to turn the people’s business into a real bare-knuckle sport.

Consider the Brawl in the Hall, when six foot, 210-pound Liberal tourism critic Rick Thorpe threatened to punch out five foot nine, 160-pound then-premier Glen Clark. The two were having a heated discussion outside the legislative chamber when Clark put his hand on Thorpe’s lapel.

“Get your hands off me or you’ll be down, bud,” growled Thorpe.

Clark wisely beat a quick retreat.

As a two-fisted lawmaker, though, Thorpe doesn’t measure up to “Fighting Joe Martin,” who served briefly as premier in 1900.

In 1902, Martin claimed to be leader of the opposition, even though opposition members preferred to be led by Richard (the People’s Dick) McBride. On Feb. 20, when members of the house rose to pray, Fighting Joe slipped into McBride’s chair.

“When McBride sat down, he found himself in the lap of his enemy,” Martin Robin wrote in his history The Rush for Spoils. “Fisticuffs ensued. Smith Curtis grabbed Martin and was seized in turn by Hugh Gilmour. James Hawthornthwaite, the Socialist MLA, incensed at the display of Predatory Capitalism, throttled Gilmour. E.C. Smith of the Kootenay, now witness to a class war, pummelled Hawthornthwaite.

“All the while, the tenacious Martin clung lovingly to McBride’s neck. A legislative stalemate had obviously been reached.”

In any legislative Lethal Lockdown Match, though, the victor might well have been the tempestuous Waldo Skillings, government whip in the days of W.A.C. Bennett. One night, during one of the around-the-clock sittings that Bennett favoured to push through his agenda, Skillings took on an opposition member who was haranguing the premier in the legislative dining room.

As Bennett biographer David Mitchell wrote in a 1983 piece for the Canadian Parliamentary Review, Skillings “slugged the offending member and shoved him down a flight of stairs. Surprisingly unharmed, the Opposition member climbed back up the stairs, kicked Skillings with great force in the shins, then rapidly retreated from the dining room.

“Waldo Skillings, limping, pursued; but, perhaps fortunately, could not catch up with him.”

Waldo Skillings. He was hardcore.

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

The booted minister who became a great chief

Frank Calder’s legacy far eclipsed a night in jail. Latest of ‘Some Honourable Members.’
By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

Editor’s note: This is the fifteenth in our “Some Honourable Members” series, depicting the more dubious moments in B.C.’s political history, brought to you by veteran muckrakers Tom Barrett and Tom Hawthorn, one a day until election day.

Frank Calder. Source: nisgaatreaty.wikispaces.com
Frank Calder. Source: nisgaatreaty.wikispaces.com

Around 5 a.m. one April morning in 1973, Victoria police came across a car stopped in an intersection a few blocks from the legislature.

The female driver and her male companion were both drunk. The cops took them to the station and locked them up for the rest of the night. The woman paid a fine; the man was not charged.

A fairly routine event except that the man was Frank Calder, the first aboriginal cabinet minister in Canadian history. He was about to become the first aboriginal kicked out of a cabinet in Canadian history.

Rumours of Calder’s night in jail circulated slowly around Victoria. When then-premier Dave Barrett heard the stories, he phoned Calder at home in northern B.C. In their history of the Barrett years, The Art of the Impossible, Geoff Meggs and Rod Mickleburgh recount one of the more unusual conversations between a premier and a minister of the Crown:

Barrett: “Frank, were you arrested in a car with a woman in the middle of an intersection and were both of you inebriated?”

Calder: “No. That did not happen.”

Barrett then phoned the Victoria police chief. Yes, he said, that did happen. When Calder got back to the capital, Barrett fired him. When he announced the dismissal to the media, Barrett refused to give a reason beyond “I’ve lost confidence in him as a cabinet minister.”

Calder revealed the rest of the story, insisting “this is not Watergate.” Said Calder: “This is not a criminal act. It didn’t involve public funds. As a matter of fact, I paid for my girlfriend’s fine, so what the hell are they worried about?”

Barrett has always maintained that he booted Calder because he denied the incident and not because of the incident itself. Others have wondered whether a non-First Nations minister would have been treated the same way.

There was also the question of Calder’s close ties to Barrett’s bitter New Democrat rival Tom Berger, a lawyer who handled what became known as the Calder case. As president of the Nisga’a Tribal Council, Calder spent years pushing his people’s land claims through the courts in opposition to both Social Credit and NDP provincial governments. A few months before Calder’s dismissal, he and Berger scored a landmark victory before the Supreme Court of Canada that would lead to the first modern First Nations treaty in B.C.

Did any of that influence Barrett’s decision?

In the long run, the incident did nothing to harm Calder’s reputation. He abandoned the NDP in 1975 to run successfully for Social Credit, losing his seat by a single vote — 750 to 749 — in 1979.

In 1988, Calder was named an officer of the Order of Canada. In 2004, he received the Order of B.C. In 2005, the Globe and Mail named him one of the greatest British Columbians of all time. When he died a year later, aged 91, the Victoria Times-Colonist wrote that, “thanks to Frank Calder, ‘Chief of Chiefs’ of the Nisga’a people, British Columbia is a different — and better — place.”

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

Keep in mind, BC elections tend to be close…

By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

B.C. elections tend to be close. Over the last 40 years, only two have been decided by more than 10 percentage points. Only one has been decided by more than 10.1 points.

That’s worth bearing in mind as the election polls tighten. The latest poll, from Ipsos, suggests the New Democratic Party leads the BC Liberals by 10 points. The day before that, an Angus Reid poll suggested the NDP leads by seven points.

It’s a long way to election day, but a 10-point victory would be the third-largest margin of the last 40 years. A seven-point victory would be the fourth-largest in that period.

During the 1960s, W.A.C. Bennett’s Social Credit party beat the NDP three times by a margin of 12 to 13 points. But since the W.A.C. era ended in 1972 with an eight-point victory by the NDP, things have been much tighter.

Here are the results of the nine elections of the last four decades. The table shows the winner’s margin of victory in percentage points as well as the percentage of seats in the legislature the winner took.

Election Winner Margin Seat percentage
1975 Social Credit 10.09 64
1979 Social Credit 2.24 54
1983 Social Credit 4.82 61
1986 Social Credit 6.72 68
1991 NDP 7.46 68
1996 NDP – 2.37 52
2001 Liberal 36.06 97
2005 Liberal 4.28 58
2009 Liberal 3.67 58

The median margin of victory for this period is 4.82 percentage points.

The biggest victory by far was 36 points in the New Democrat wipeout of 2001, when voters went to the polls with pitchforks and torches looking to throw the bums out even unto the seventh generation. The narrowest victory was in 1996, when the NDP won with fewer votes than the Liberals. That wasn’t the first time in B.C. history that the party with the most votes lost. In 1952, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation beat Social Credit by four points on the final count, but took one less seat.

As that suggests, in our first-past-the-post system you don’t need to run up a big lead to win control of the legislature. The NDP took more seats in 1996 because their vote was spread more evenly over the province’s ridings, while the Liberal vote tended to cluster in places like West Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

As the table above also shows, the size of a party’s victory doesn’t translate directly into seats in the legislature. It all depends on where a party’s votes are located and the strength of third parties.

The two charts below give a graphic illustration of just how close B.C. elections tend to be. If things get tight on May 14, it won’t be anything out of the ordinary.

(Click on chart to enlarge.)

Source: Elections BC
Source: Elections BC
Source: Elections BC
Source: Elections BC

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

Digging into last week’s blitz of polls

A possible clue to why Forum had NDP, Libs closest. And other notes.
By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

As more people make up their minds, the polls are tightening.
As more people make up their minds, the polls are tightening.

Some random thoughts on a flurry of election polls…

Five of the six polls that were released last week suggest the gap between the New Democratic Party and the BC Liberals has narrowed substantially. At the end of the week, B.C.’s two biggest pollsters, Angus Reid and Ipsos Reid, weighed in. Ipsos found a 10-point gap, Angus Reid found a seven-point gap.

As you can see from the chart here, Reid shows the BC Liberals up three points from the beginning of the campaign and the NDP down four points. Ipsos shows the Liberals up six points from their start-of-the-campaign poll and the NDP down three points. Even that six-point Liberal jump from Ipsos is within the poll’s combined stated margins of error — although it’s near the outside edge.

But a trend is apparent. The polls are tightening — just as pretty much everyone predicted at the beginning of the campaign.

Is the shift due to last week’s televised leaders debate? Could be. Or it could be a result of negative Liberal ads or the relentless, if fanciful, Liberal focus on debt, the deficit and the economy during the first two weeks. Or the media’s focus on the same topics and on NDP leader Adrian Dix’s Kinder Morgan switch.

Or, quite likely, a lot of potential voters are just starting to pay attention to politics for the first time in four years.

We’ll never know the real reason because there isn’t enough information available.

Forum’s four point gap: sample skewed?

Not that there’s a shortage of facts and figures flying around from the week’s polls. Take the Forum poll that suggested the gap between the NDP and the Liberals had fallen to four points.

Here’s something interesting about that poll that my colleague Andrew MacLeod pointed out: out of 1,009 respondents, 459 said they voted for the Liberals in the last provincial election. Another 290 said they voted for the NDP, 78 said they voted BC Conservative, 79 said they voted Green, 49 said they voted for other parties and 54 said they didn’t vote.

Forum is to be commended for publicizing this much detail about their poll; not all pollsters do.

But among those respondents who say they voted in 2009, 48 per cent say they voted for the Liberals, 30 per cent for the NDP, eight per cent for the Conservatives, eight per cent for the Greens and five per cent for other parties. Five per cent of the total sample say they didn’t vote.

Here are the results from the 2009 election: Liberal, 46 per cent; NDP, 42 per cent; Conservative, two per cent, Green, eight per cent; others, two per cent.

And an estimated 49 per cent of all eligible voters didn’t vote in 2009.

Questions like this rely on sometimes faulty memories. Respondents who didn’t vote may feel pressured to lie; saying you voted is the socially acceptable answer, after all. And pollsters who discover their sample doesn’t look like the population use weighting techniques to make up for the difference.

Still, on the face of it, this sample doesn’t look much like the real world of B.C. voters.

Gender gap trap?

One interesting difference between the Ipsos and Reid polls involves the gender gap. Ipsos suggests women favour the NDP by a 20-point margin, 50 per cent to the 30 per cent who would vote Liberal. But Reid suggests the gap is eight points, 43 per cent NDP to 35 per cent Liberal. That’s a pretty big difference, but it’s worth remembering that the margin of error goes up as the sample size goes down. Continue reading

POLL: Ipsos latest puts NDP lead at 10 points

By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

A week full of election polls has ended with a survey from Ipsos Reid that indicates the NDP holding a 10-point lead.

Earlier this week, various pollsters gave the NDP leads ranging between 22 percentage points and four points.

The Ipsos poll, conducted online for Global BC, indicates the NDP’s lead has been cut in half since the last Ipsos poll, taken March 8-12, which put the New Democrats out ahead by 19 points.

The new Ipsos poll found 45 per cent support for the New Democrats among decided voters, down three points from the last Ipsos poll. The governing BC Liberals are at 35 per cent, up six points from the start of the campaign.

The BC Conservatives are at seven per cent, down four points, and the Green party is at 10 per cent, up one point. Other parties, including independents, were at three per cent.

The poll was released a day after three pollsters weighed in on the May 14 campaign. Forum Research suggested the New Democrats lead is four points, Insights West suggested the NDP leads by eight points and Angus Reid suggested a seven-point gap.

In the Ipsos poll, 13 per cent of respondents said they were undecided or stated no preference.

Among decided voters, few –- 15 per cent –- said they think they might change their mind by election day.

Premier Christy Clark still trails NDP leader Adrian Dix on the question of who would make the best premier, but she has jumped a significant eight points since the campaign began. Clark was named by 31 per cent as best premier, compared to 34 per cent who named Dix. Dix’s best premier rating was stable, dropping two points since the campaign began.

Read more…

Making sense of week’s wild poll shifts

One put the NDP 22 points ahead, another only four. What’s going on?
By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

Things can change quickly during an election. Survey timing is key.
Things can change quickly during an election. Survey timing is key.

At the beginning of this week, a poll suggested the NDP was leading the BC Liberals by 22 points. Then another poll suggested a 10-point NDP lead. Then a third poll suggested four points. Then another suggested eight points. Then another one suggested seven.

Given that information, which of the following statements best matches your view:

I believe all these results.
I believe none of these results.
There’s too damn many polls.

On Thursday, Forum Research released a poll that suggested the New Democrats’ lead over the governing BC Liberals has fallen to four points. The Forum poll was followed later in the day by one from Insights West that suggested the NDP leads by eight points among decided voters. Then Angus Reid weighed in with a poll that suggested a seven-point NDP lead.

So what’s a voter to think?

For a start, most of these results fall within the range of the polls’ margins of error. The one outlier is the 22-point Justason poll, which was conducted April 15-23 — about a week before the other results. Things can change quickly during an election campaign; the dates a poll was taken are a key factor.

To see the Tyee’s table showing 17 polls going back to mid-January of this year, click on this Election Hook item published late last evening.

Next time you read a poll, arm yourself

Everyone has their own poll, it seems, and there often seems to be precious little agreement among them. Here are some resources that can help the average political junkie make sense out of all these numbers. Continue reading

New polls suggest BC election is suddenly a lot tighter

By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

Some new polls suggest the B.C. election has suddenly become a lot tighter.

At the beginning of the week, Justason Market Intelligence released a poll indicating a 22-point lead for the NDP. At around the same time, an Abacus poll indicated a 10-point NDP lead.

Then, on Thursday, a poll from Forum Research suggested the New Democrats’ lead over the governing BC Liberals has fallen to four points.

Then a poll from Insights West suggested the NDP leads by eight points among decided voters.

A few hours later, an Angus Reid poll suggested a seven-point gap.

One more poll is expected from Ipsos this evening.

The Forum poll reports 39 per cent support for the NDP, 35 per cent for the Liberals, 12 per cent for the Green party, nine per cent for the BC Conservatives, and three per cent for others. (Those numbers don’t add up to 100, presumably because of rounding.)

The poll was sponsored by the National Post and based on a sample of 1,055 adult British Columbians. It was taken Tuesday, April 30, the day after the leaders TV debate. It was conducted by Interactive Voice Response and states a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Forum was off the mark in the Quebec and Alberta provincial elections, but they weren’t the only ones. During the 2011 Vancouver civic election, Forum released a much publicized poll that indicated Mayor Gregor Robertson held a six-point lead over NPA challenger Suzanne Anton. Robertson won by 13 points.

The Insights West poll gives the NDP 41 per cent among decided voters, the Liberals 33 per cent, the Green party 14 per cent and the Conservatives 11 per cent and others one per cent.

When the undecideds are included in the total, the Insights West numbers get much closer. The undecideds have dropped to 15 per cent from 20 per cent in the last Insights West poll, conducted in March. When the undecideds are factored in, the numbers become: NDP 33 per cent, Liberal 27 per cent, undecided 15 per cent, Greens 11 per cent, Conservative nine per cent and others one per cent. Five per cent said they will not vote.

The Insights West poll was conducted online from Monday, April 29 to Thursday, May 2 among 855 B.C. adults. The pollster states: “While statistical margins of error are arguably not applicable to online panels/online studies of this nature, we have assumed that the same margins of error apply as if it were a true unweighted random probability sample with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.” (See this story for more on this issue.)

The Angus Reid poll showed 41 per cent support for the NDP and 34 per cent for the Liberals. The Conservatives were at 10 per cent, the Greens at 12 per cent and others at three per cent.

The online poll, conducted for CTV and the Globe and Mail, was conducted Wednesday, May 1 and Thursday, May 2 among 808 B.C. adults. It claims a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Read more…

BC’s fight against climate change, explained

In 2007, Gordon Campbell decided the province would lead the world and slash emissions. What happened?
By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

Editor’s note: With voting day just over two weeks away, we look back on big issues that have driven debate in our province during the last 12 years of BC Liberal governance. What did B.C.’s leaders and opposition parties say and do on these major files? What are they saying now? What are the facts? Humbly offered here, a cure for political amnesia among candidates and media alike. Today, we walk you through B.C.’s record on climate policy.

Photo by kvdl http://www.flickr.com/photos/kvdl/ in Your BC: The Tyee's Photo Pool. http://www.flickr.com/groups/thetyee/
Photo by kvdl in Your BC: The Tyee’s Photo Pool

It’s hard to believe today, but back in January 2007 a lot of people cared a lot about climate change.

It had been a weird, warm winter in much of Canada. Al Gore was showing his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Newscasts talked about endangered polar bears.

A Decima poll suggested that Canadian voters thought the environment was at least as important as the economy, which, we should remember, appeared to be steaming along merrily. Even Prime Minster Stephen Harper was trying to look green.

In B.C., premier Gordon Campbell had done some reading about climate change and decided that B.C. would be a world leader when it came to cutting planet-warming greenhouse gases. As was his wont, he threw all the resources of the government into his new enthusiasm.

Word leaked to environmentalists, who speculated that Campbell would commit the province to the kind of GHG reduction targets that California had recently adopted. They weren’t disappointed.

In February, Campbell announced that B.C. would cut its emissions by at least one-third by 2020. Alternative energy sources would be encouraged. Ninety per cent of the province’s electricity would have to come from clean, renewable sources.

Not everything fit into this new green world, however. The 2007 provincial budget talked about expanding the oil and gas industry, including offshore drilling. Environmentalists were not so happy about that. Continue reading

POLL: Abacus Data suggests closer race between NDP and Liberals

By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

A poll from Abacus Data suggests a 10-point lead for the New Democrats -– by far the closest result of any B.C. political poll taken since January.

The Abacus poll was released at around the same time as a Justason Market Intelligence poll that suggested a 22-point lead for the New Democrats.

The online Abacus poll results for decided and leaning voters were: BC Liberals 33, NDP 43, BC Conservatives nine, Greens 12, others three.

The Justason poll results were: Liberals 27, NDP 49, Conservatives 12, Greens 11, others one.

There are issues concerning both polls.

The Justason poll was conducted between April 15 and 23, so some of the interviews are two weeks old; the most recent ones are a week old. Justason’s poll was based on a sample of 600 potential voters –- a considerably smaller sample than other B.C. election polls. (See table below.)

The Abacus poll, conducted for the Sun News Network, had a very large sample –- 1,042 –- and was conducted from Tuesday, April 23 to Friday, April 26. However, Abacus has no track record in polling for B.C. elections, so it is difficult to say how representative its sample may be.

Other pollsters are expected to weigh in over the coming week; their results may help create a more complete picture of public opinion during this election.

Read more…

POLL: NDP’s Adrian Dix won leaders debate, Ipsos Reid suggests

By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

Respondents to an Ipsos Reid poll taken immediately after Monday’s leaders debate named New Democrat Adrian Dix the winner, with Premier Christy Clark a close second.

The poll was conducted for Global TV online among members of an Ipsos panel who were asked in advance to watch the debate.

Popular wisdom around who won and lost such debates tends to take a day or two to form. But if the Ipsos results match the consensus that emerges, they spell big trouble for Clark and the BC Liberals. With the Liberals trailing by 14 to 20 points in recent polls, Clark needed to score a breakthrough with voters.

Instead, she turned off roughly as many Ipsos respondents as she won over.

Thirty-five per cent said Dix won the debate. Clark was chosen by 30 per cent, Green party Leader Jane Sterk was chosen by 10 per cent and B.C. Conservative John Cummins was named by three per cent.

Twenty-two per cent said they were undecided.

Cummins was named by 36 per cent as the debate’s loser. Clark was named by 27 per cent as the loser — about the same as the number who said she was the winner. Dix was named the loser by 16 per cent and Sterk by 11 per cent. Ten per cent were undecided.

There was more bad news in the poll for Clark. More respondents said their impression of the premier worsened during the debate than said it improved. Thirty-four per cent said their impression worsened compared to 25 per cent who said their impression improved. Thirty-nine per cent said the debate did not affect their impression of Clark and two per cent were undecided.

Sterk got a boost in this category: 42 per cent said their impression of the Green leader improved, compared to 15 per cent who said it worsened.

Some 32 per cent said their impression of Dix improved compared to 28 per cent who said their impression worsened.

Cummins scored particularly poorly in this category with 19 per cent improved compared to 45 per cent who said their impression worsened.

The results of this online poll are based on the answers of 677 eligible voters who watched the debate. Ipsos states a credibility interval of 4.3 percentage points.

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.