NDP win in Courtenay-Comox; Clark will try to form government

The NDP recorded a 189-vote victory over the Liberals in Courtenay-Comox on Wednesday, a result that only adds to the uncertainty of B.C.’s political future.

After three days of counting and recounting ballots, the NDP’s Ronna-Rae Leonard defeated Liberal Jim Benninger, 10,886 votes to 10,697.

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The final tally leaves the province exactly where it was on election night, with neither the Liberals nor the NDP holding a majority of seats in the 87-seat legislature, while the B.C. Green Party retains its role as a potential king-maker.

The final count in Courtenay-Comox puts the Liberals one seat short of a majority, with 43 seats to 41 for the NDP and three for the Greens.

Liberal Leader Christy Clark remains the premier and announced in a statement that she will try to form a government.

“With 43 B.C. Liberal candidates elected as MLAs, and a plurality in the legislature, we have a responsibility to move forward and form a government,” she said. “The final result reinforces that British Columbians want us to work together, across party lines, to get things done for them.”

But without enough MLAs to ensure she can win crucial votes, Clark might need help from the Greens to continue governing.

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, who has been in talks with both the Liberals and NDP, has given no indication which party he might be prepared to support in a minority government.

He said Wednesday that Clark erred in her statement by suggesting she had a responsibility to form government.

“The premier has a responsibility to ensure that she gains the confidence of the house to form government,” he said. “So I would suggest that that was a bit premature, because we have not tested the confidence of the house yet, but negotiations are ongoing and that may happen, or it may not happen, depending on the negotiations that we have.”

Weaver said the Greens hope to give British Columbians certainty by announcing an agreement with one of the other parties by next Wednesday. He said British Columbians have no appetite for another election and that the Greens would be open to reaching a multi-year deal with one of the parties.

NDP Leader John Horgan said he’s optimistic that he and Weaver can “put together a framework that has a majority of support in the legislature.”

Horgan disputed that Clark has a responsibility to form the next government, noting that nearly 60 per cent of voters cast ballots against the Liberals.

“Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals came up short and after 16 years it’s time for a new government,” he said. “I believe I can address that in the days ahead and I’m looking forward to that.”

The final count of absentee ballots tightened the popular-vote standings across the province, leaving the Liberals and NDP separated by just 1,566 votes. The Liberals have 40.36 per cent of the popular vote to 40.28 per cent for the NDP and 16.84 per cent for the Greens.

There will be no automatic judicial recounts in any of the ridings.

The district electoral officer must apply for a judicial recount if the difference between the top two candidates is less than 0.2 per cent of the total ballots considered, or if there is a tie. No electoral districts meet that criteria, Elections B.C. said.

In the case of Courtenay-Comox, a judicial recount would have been necessary if Benninger and Leonard were separated by 58 or fewer votes, but Leonard won by more than three times that amount.

A judicial recount can still be requested, however, on the basis that errors were made in the acceptance or rejection of certification envelopes or ballots, or that ballot accounts are not correct.

A voter, candidate or candidate’s representative can apply for the judicial recount through the Supreme Court of B.C. within the next six days.

Leonard’s victory in Courtenay-Comox came after a tense three days that began with a recount before election officials started to tally more than 2,000 absentee ballots.

Leonard, who was in front by nine votes on election night May 9, saw her lead widen to 12 votes after the recount and then evaporate early Tuesday when Benninger pulled into a three-vote lead.

But late Tuesday, she had a 101-vote advantage, which expanded to 148 votes at noon Wednesday before securing the victory in the late afternoon.

“I’m feeling terrific,” Leonard said shortly after the final count was announced. “I knew certainly that the mood for change was large here in B.C. and that certainly came through on election night.

“But in terms of how close it was going to be? We knew it would be close between myself and Mr. Benninger, but I didn’t expect it to be this close.”

Leonard, a former Courtenay councillor, called the wait for a final count a “roller coaster ride” as the lead went NDP, then Liberal, then NDP over the course of three days.

Benninger, former commander at CFB Comox, said he didn't expect his campaign to be at the centre of the province's attention.

“Who thought that ground zero would be here in Courtenay-Comox?” he said. “But it’s a great riding, which I think reflects the opinion of the province, when it comes to the B.C. Liberals and the NDP. We really just about split [the vote],” he said.

Benninger’s loss leaves the Liberals with just one of 14 seats on Vancouver Island, down one seat from the 2013 election results. The loss also underlines the failure of the Liberals’ Island-specific platform, with which the party hoped to expand its seat count.

The NDP now holds 10 seats on the Island, down one, while the Greens expanded from to three from one.


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Popular vote

B.C. Liberals - 40.36 per cent, 796,672 votes

B.C. NDP - 40.28 per cent, 795,106 votes

B.C. Green Party - 16.84 per cent, 332,387 votes

Libertarian - 0.40 per cent, 7,838 votes

Other - 2.12 per cent, 41,911

Source: Elections B.C.

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Update, 4:45 p.m. The NDP's Ronna-Rae Leonard has won the Courtenay-Comox seat, with a 189 vote lead over Liberal Jim Benninger, Elections B.C. says.

Final result from Elections B.C. for Courtenay-Comox:

Ronna-Rae Leonard, NDP - 10,886

Jim Benninger, Liberal - 10,697

At the conclusion of the final count, the party standings are:

B.C. Liberal Party 43 seats

B.C. NDP 41 seats

B.C. Green Party 3 seats

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12:24 p.m.   The NDP has widened its lead over the Liberals to 148 votes in the battle for Courtenay-Comox, a riding that could decide who governs B.C.

The final count of absentee ballots continues today, but as of the last update at noon, the NDP’s Ronna-Rae Leonard was leading Liberal candidate Jim Benninger 10,618 votes to 10,470.

Officials have finished counting absentee ballots in all but four electoral districts.

The popular vote numbers continue to tighten with the Liberals now leading the NDP by just 1,645 votes. The Liberals have 40.36 per cent of the popular vote to 40.28 per cent for the NDP.

In Courtenay-Comox, officials have counted about 70 per cent of the 2,077 absentee ballots in the district.

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.

If Leonard keeps 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 the NDP’s Carole James of Victoria-Beacon Hill and Green Sonia Furstenau of Cowichan Valley with a 25,000-name petition calling for the two parties to co-operate.

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

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 after 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 a 101-vote 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-Queensborough and Coquitlam-Burke Mountain Tuesday, while the NDP secured a victory in Maple Ridge-Mission.

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

If the race in Courtenay-Comox tightens, 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.


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