NDP lead by 101 votes in Courtenay-Comox; more ballots to count

The NDP have jumped into a 101-vote lead over the Liberals in the battle for Courtenay-Comox, a riding that could decide which party governs British Columbia.

The final count of absentee ballots continues today, but as of the last update Tuesday afternoon, the NDP’s Ronna-Rae Leonard was leading Liberal candidate Jim Benninger 10,481 votes to 10,380.

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Officials have counted slightly more than half the 2,077 absentee ballots in the riding.

The outcome of the race has the potential to alter the province’s political landscape.

A Liberal victory would give the party 44 seats and a bare majority in the 87-seat legislature. The NDP would finish with 40 and the B.C. Green Party with three.

But, if Leonard manages to keep the lead, nobody would have a majority. In that case, the Greens would have the power to prop up either the Liberals or NDP in a minority government. B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver has said the party is negotiating with both the Liberals and the NDP.

A group of about 50 activists, representing eight organizations, rallied at the B.C. legislature Tuesday to urge the NDP and Greens to work together.

The groups presented NDP MLA Carole James of Victoria-Beacon Hill and Cowichan Valley Green MLA Sonia Furstenau with a 25,000-name petition calling for the two parties to cooperate.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said a majority of voters supported a change of government by backing the NDP or the Greens and not the Liberals, who have been in power since 2001.

“I pray that we will all be, in the next 48 hours or thereabouts, celebrating the change that we’ve all worked so hard for over the last 16 years,” he said.

“I think we are on the brink of some pretty wonderful things here in the province of British Columbia.”

A lot still hinges on the outcome in Courtenay-Comox, where the lead changed hands throughout the day Tuesday.

Leonard, who was in front by nine votes on election night May 9, saw her lead widen to 12 votes following a recount Monday.

But, after officials began counting absentee ballots Tuesday morning, Benninger took a three-vote lead early in the day, before Leonard regained the advantage late in the afternoon.

The results were less dramatic in three other tight races where the lead never changed hands.

The Liberals held on to win in Richmond-Queensboroough and Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, while the NDP has widened its lead in Maple Ridge-Mission.

The final vote count is expected to conclude by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

If the race in Courtenay-Comox remains extremely close, it could end up in court. A district electoral officer must apply for a judicial recount if there is a tie or if the difference between the top two candidates is less than 0.2 per cent of the total ballots.

In the case of Courtenay-Comox, a judicial recount would be necessary if Benninger and Leonard were separated by 58 or fewer votes.

In 2013, a judicial recount was held in Coquitlam-Maillardville where Selina Robinson of the NDP had a 35-vote lead after the completion of the final count on May 28. The recount was held on June 4, widening Robinson’s margin of victory to 41 votes. No appeal was filed and the election was declared final on June 7.

There have been four judicial recounts since 1995, including one in each of the past three elections.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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