For the first time in 24 years, the NDP is poised to form a majority government in B.C. and continue leading the province through the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.
Preliminary election results released Saturday night showed the party leading or elected in 55 of the province’s 87 constituencies, with the Liberals ahead in 29 and the Greens leading in three.
If the results hold, the party will surpass the 51 seats it won in 1991 and John Horgan, who took a gamble by calling a snap election in the middle of the pandemic, will become the first NDP premier to be re-elected in the province’s history.
“I want to assure people I’m going to keep the focus right where it belongs, on helping people get through this pandemic, making sure they have the services that they need and all British Columbians can sleep safely knowing we’re going to do everything we can to keep them safe, healthy and secure,” Horgan said.
The final results won’t be known for weeks, with Elections B.C. scheduled to begin counting about half a million mail-in and absentee ballots on Nov. 6.
But the major television stations, which rely on complicated formulas to project winners and losers, declared an NDP majority government less than 90 minutes after the polls closed.
Political observers attributed the NDP’s strong showing to overall satisfaction with the NDP government and particularly its handling of the pandemic to date. “I think it just says overall — ‘We think you’ve done well. Stay the course,’ ” said Daniel Reeve, a political science instructor at Camosun College.
By contrast, it was clear from the results that Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson failed to connect with voters during the campaign, despite promising to scrap the provincial sales tax for one year at a cost of about $7 billion.
His party, which won 43 seats in 2017, could have 14 fewer this time around.
Reeve said the Liberals seemed “flat-footed” throughout the campaign, and he predicted the party will be looking for a new leader in the coming months. “Wilkinson will either resign or be pushed out,” he said.
Wilkinson acknowledged in a short speech in Vancouver just after 10:15 p.m. that it appeared the NDP will have the opportunity to form government.
“But with almost half a million mail-in ballots still to be counted, we don’t know what the final outcome will be,” he said. “And we owe it to every voter, no matter how they express their intention, to await the final results.”
The B.C. Green Party, meanwhile, will no longer hold the balance of power after propping up Horgan’s minority for the past three years. But the party seemed likely to hold its two seats on Vancouver Island, with Green Leader Sonia Furstenau leading in Cowichan Valley and Adam Olsen winning in Saanich North and the Islands.
The party was also in the lead in West Vancouver-Sea to Sky.
Hamish Telford, associate professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley, said the Greens benefit from a good party brand and strong environmental awareness, particularly on Vancouver Island.
“So it’s not surprising to me that they’ve held their support,” he said. “I felt that Sonia Furstenau found her footing mid-campaign and I think really worked to shore up that Green support.”
The Greens, however, were unable to re-take Oak Bay-Gordon Head, where former leader Andrew Weaver won back-to-back elections before leaving the party to sit as an independent.
Furstenau attacked Horgan throughout the campaign for breaking his agreement with the Greens and calling a “completely unnecessary” election one year before the fixed election date.
“This is politics at its worst,” she said.
But Horgan, who called the election on Sept. 21, argued that a vote was necessary to ensure that British Columbians have a stable government to deal with the challenges ahead.
“We are far from out of the woods,” he said at the time. “We are not at the end of COVID-19, we’re at the beginning. This pandemic will be with us for a year or more, and that’s why I believe we need to have an election now.”
Voters appeared to accept that argument in returning Horgan and his team to office with a record number of seats for the party and its first majority since 1996.
The NDP appeared likely to snatch Oak Bay-Gordon Head from the Greens. Former NDP MP Murray Rankin, who came out of retirement to run provincially, was leading and could pick up a cabinet post in the process.
In other notable races, Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne won the Mid Island-Pacific Rim seat previously held by Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser, Michele Babchuk was ahead in Transportation Minister Claire Trevena’s North Island constituency, and Grace Lore was leading in Victoria-Beacon Hill, where Finance Minister Carole James announced in March that she would not run again.
In a possible upset, two-time incumbent Liberal MLA Michelle Stilwell was trailing the NDP’s Adam Walker in Parksville-Qualicum.
Elections B.C. will begin counting mail-in ballots Nov. 6 and expects to deliver the final election results Nov. 16, although that could get pushed back.
Prior to the election, the NDP and Liberals were tied with 41 seats in the legislature. There were two Green MLAs, two Independents and one vacant seat.