The psychology of B.C. voters

At first glance, it looked like the split between interior and lower mainland voters was along the usual lines of social values.

   image: Macleans

Cities tend support liberal social values such as gay marriage, women’s rights, support of immigration, treatment for drug addicts, and poverty reduction. Rural dwellers support conservative values such as the integrity of the conventional family, individualism, and a no-nonsense approach to addiction.

An electoral map illustrates the divide between conservatives (BC Liberal) and progressives (NDP-Greens) with the interior coloured red and the coast and lower mainland orange and green.

This time the split was something else. Closer inspection of swing ridings indicates that something other than social values was at play. The south-east corner of B.C., including the Kootenays, is typically progressive. However Columbia River/Revelstoke swung from NDP to BC Liberal. It’s unlikely that those voters stopped being socially progressive. The Fraser Valley turned orange. It’s unlikely that the farming communities of the valley stopped being socially conservative.

There’s a close correlation between employment and how people voted. The lack of jobs creates a sense of uncertainty, whereas job growth creates optimism.  The interior has not recovered from jobs lost in the Great Recession of 2008. In 2016, the interior lost jobs while the lower mainland and Vancouver Island gained jobs. The Kootenay area was hard hit with a job loss of 2.3 per cent. The lower mainland had a job growth of 4.7 per cent while Vancouver Island had a growth of 2.6 per cent.

Shannon Daub, a director for the CCPA, believes he has the psychology of voters figured out. After talking to resource-sector workers for years, he has seen how government cutbacks in social services create insecurity. It erodes the social safety net and enforces the sense that governments can’t create jobs; that only the resource extraction industry can. And the notion of jobs in a green economy seems vague and remote.

Yet it was the BC Liberals that helped create that uncertainty in the first place. In the early 2000s, the BC Liberals cut public service jobs unevenly across the province with reductions to the interior being about twice that of the lower mainland in terms of percentage. In small communities, one of the top employers is often public service jobs. The loss of even a few well-paying jobs has a greater impact there than in urban areas where the economy is more diversified.

In addition to cuts in public services, the BC Liberals failed to restore jobs lost in the forestry sector to the pine-beetle disaster and deregulation of the industry. The government could have created jobs through value-added products, use of wood waste, and greater reforestation.

Rural B.C. voted for the BC Liberals despite the fact that the Clark government contributed to their uncertainty. Voters see resource-extraction jobs as their only hope and that’s just what the BC Liberals promised with pipelines and dam construction.

Also, energy corporations have been promoting resource-extraction jobs which offer hope. Enbridge has placed full-page ads in The Walrus and on TV Life’s moments, made possible by energy. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have regular ads from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers featuring a heartfelt discussion between a son and dad about cleaning up mining sites once they close.