The left-of-center New Democratic Party swept to victory on Saturday night in a British Columbia provincial election called amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which Canada’s province-on-the-Pacific has held in check until a recent flareup.
The party’s top official, John Horgan, will be the first NDP leader ever to win two terms as Premier. As of when the CDC ended its livestream at 11 PM Pacific, the New Democrats were ahead in fifty-five of the province’s eighty-seven ridings (which is what Canadians call an electoral district), but counting of a quarter-million mail in ballots could cause the results to change.
The New Democrats were well ahead in the popular vote with more than forty-four percent, to thirty-five percent for the opposition B.C. Liberals and sixteen percent for the Green Party.
The long ruling BC Liberal Party – it governed the province from 2001 to 2017, unexpectedly winning big in 2013 – suffered its worst defeat since 1991.
The free enterprise party was dislodged from such traditional strongholds as Richmond, at the mouth of the Fraser River, and lost seats on Vancouver’s affluent North Shore as well as the traditionally right-thinking Fraser Valley.
The Liberals were left as a party of interior and rural British Columbia with only a handful of remaining strongholds in BC’s populous Lower Mainland.
Nobody expects the COVID-19 pandemic to go away soon.
“The challenges are daunting,” Horgan said in claiming victory.
The last time the NDP took power and stood ready to form government, in 1991, Premier-designate Mike Harcourt declared to cheering supporters: “Let’s party.”
But, speaking to a mostly empty room due to the virus, Horgan declared: “COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down. None of us expected to be here. None of us expected that we would have to endure the challenges we’ve had over the past number of months, but we are far from out of the woods.”
Adrian Dix, who has served as BC Health Minister, said as returns came in: “we’re obviously going to be in this (pandemic) for a long time.”
The election took place on a day when winds out of the Fraser Valley were as chilly as the personality of BC Liberals’ leader Andrew Wilkinson.
Wilkinson’s future as party leader is in doubt. He didn’t concede on Saturday night, saying the outstanding mailed in ballots must be counted.
Under British Columbia’s parliamentary system, the party which wins the most seats in the British Columbia Legislative Assembly gets to form the government. Its leader becomes Premier.
The NDP has its roots in democratic socialism. Counting Saturday night, it has prevailed only four times in provincial elections going back to 1972. Usually, a free enterprise coalition – such as the (not very liberal) B.C. Liberals – has prevailed.
In 2017, however, under Horgan, the New Democrats captured forty-one seats in the Legislature. The Liberals won forty-three. But the insurgent Green Party took three seats on Vancouver Island. The Greens were kingmakers, making an agreement to support the NDP through October of 2021.
Horgan broke the pact and called a snap election a year ahead of schedule. He has the power to do so, but was widely criticized for the move. Horgan argued that B.C. voters needed a voice in how the province recovers from the pandemic.
An unspoken goal of the NDP was to recapture the Greens’ seats on Vancouver Island, and banish them from the Legislature.
Under articulate new leader Sonia Furstenau, however, the Greens emerged with three seats – and will continue to have a presence in the legislative chamber.
The NDP government has won applause for its treatment of the COVID-19 pandemic. Horgan did not hog the limelight.
Instead, Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry held daily briefings. The province was transparent about progress of the virus.
With the pandemic’s early arrival in nearby Washington, the Horgan government pressed Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to shut down the U.S.-Canada border to all non-essential traffic. Trudeau’s government obliged.
Bonnie Henry has become something of a provincial (and national) hero for her straight talk, and an embodiment of the Canadian ideal of peace, order and good government.
With his government popular, Horgan went to the voters. A Progressive Conservative Party government in New Brunswick did likewise. It, too, won.
(And yes, the Progressive Conservatives are a real party in New Brunswick; there are other provincial parties that go by that name as well.)
Horgan was once considered an angry opposition leader in the Assembly. He has become avuncular as premier, in the satisfying role of a do-gooder put in a position to do good. He now has a majority to lead B.C. through difficult times.