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EDITORIAL: In Canada, a mobilized base can swing an election

 Green Party’s Paul Manly celebrates with his family after Monday’s federal byelection in Nanaimo.
Green Party’s Paul Manly celebrates with his wife, Samantha, after results come in for the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection in Nanaimo, B.C., May 6. — Handout/File photo

The Green Party snagged the B.C. byelection with less than 40 per cent of the vote.

You’ve probably heard that, way out in British Columbia, the federal Green Party won a byelection this week, doubling the party’s presence in the House of Commons.

That’s certainly the hot take from the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection.

But dig down into the numbers, and you can see some pressing reasons to not only vote in the next federal election, but to also make sure to take the time to find out what the parties and candidates are going to be talking about.

Some caveats: first off, it was only a byelection, mere months before the next federal general election — and byelections generally mobilize voters who are angry with the sitting government. Secondly, the federal riding is an odd one, an amalgam of pieces of other districts without a long track record. One section of the riding was traditionally Conservative, the other, NDP. Third, turnouts in relatively minor byelections can be quite small.

But what is worth looking at, beyond the fact that the Green Party actually won a second seat in the House of Commons, is the makeup of the vote itself.

Here are the most recent results released by Elections Canada, in alphabetical order by candidate.

  • The NDP’s Bob Chamberlin got 9,392 votes, or 23.1 per cent.
  • The People’s Party candidate, Jennifer Clarke, got support from 1,246 voters, or 3.1 per cent.
  • Liberal Michelle Corfield: 4,478 votes, or 11 per cent. Conservative John Hirst had 10,093 votes, or 24.8 per cent.
  • The National Citizens Alliance’s Jakob Letkemann had 66 votes, or 0.2 per cent.
  • The Green Party: Paul Manly got 15,188 votes, or 37.3 per cent.
  • And, alphabetically last, the PC Party’s Brian Marlatt got 248 votes, or 0.6 per cent of the votes cast.

Almost 41,000 people voted, just under 41 per cent of eligible voters.

But what is worth looking at, beyond the fact that the Green Party actually won a second seat in the House of Commons, is the makeup of the vote itself.

What does it all mean?

Well, the simple lesson is that as votes get split up across a broad range of candidates, it’s possible to win a byelection with the positive support of just over 15 per cent of eligible voters.

The Conservative candidate, who came second, got only one out of every four votes cast. The winner got basically one out of every three.

Think of it this way: six people go out to dinner together. One of them loves lima beans and, as it turns out, is the only one who orders, and orders for everyone.

The end result? Everyone has to eat lima beans.

A winning margin can be as simple as which party has the best ability to mobilize its diehard supporters.

But that mobilization doesn’t mean the elected candidate represents the majority of the population, or even the majority of those who voted. More than 60 per cent of the voters didn’t pick the Green candidate.

And yet …

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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