The New Democratic Party has won two British Columbia byelections, with the Liberals second and the Conservatives third in both races.
The victories will add to the NDP's momentum on the way to the May 14, 2013 general election and will be used by the BC Liberals to argue that Conservatives are splitting the anti-NDP vote.
Former Port Moody mayor Joe Trasolini won the April 19 contest in Port Moody-Coquitlam with 54.3 per cent of the more than 11,000 votes cast.
Trasolini replaces Liberal cabinet minister Iain Black who resigned to take a job heading the Vancouver Board of Trade. The Liberal candidate Dennis Marsden received 30 per cent of the vote and the Conservative Christine Clarke got 15 per cent.
In Chilliwack-Hope, which was expected to be a tight three-way race, the NDP's Gwen O'Mahony had 41 per cent of the nearly 13,000 votes counted by 9:50 p.m. with a small number of ballot boxes yet to report.
O'Mahony came ahead of Liberal Laurie Throness at 32 per cent and Conservative John Martin at 25.7 per cent. The constituency was previously held by former attorney general Barry Penner who quit politics for a job in a law firm and greater work-life balance.
In 2009 Penner won with 53 per cent of the vote, ahead of the NDP's O'Mahony at 33 per cent and a Conservative at seven per cent. Penner had won the constituency with large majorities in 2005 and 2009.
Unity matters, says Clark
Adrian Dix was unavailable for a phone interview on election night, but was quoted in other media saying the byelections were about change. In recent days he had congratulated and thanked the candidates and the volunteers who helped on their campaigns for all their hard work.
Premier Christy Clark said earlier this week she would be working in Vancouver on election night and would be unavailable, but would release a statement. For weeks she'd been reminding reporters it's difficult for governing parties to win byelections.
"Congratulations to Joe Trasolini and Gwen O'Mahony on their wins today," said the statement provided by the premier's office shortly after 10 p.m., which said she was "so proud of the great work of our strong BC Liberal candidates" Throness and Marsden.
The statement was later re-sent by a party communications person.
"Voters know that by-elections are not about changing government," it said. "It's never been clearer that only a unified free enterprise coalition can defeat the NDP. That's why we are focused on strengthening our coalition so that in the next general election voters will have a clear choice between the free enterprise coalition and the NDP.
"A choice between higher income taxes, reckless government spending and runaway debt or our free enterprise coalition that is keeping taxes low, restraining government spending and keeping our economy growing with jobs for B.C. families."
Clark has a media event scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday along with Justice Minister Shirley Bond to make an announcement at the RCMP's B.C. headquarters.
Conservative leader pleased
Earlier in the week Clark had said the party was spending the legal limit in each of the campaigns, an amount that doesn't include advertising and expenses before she called the byelections.
Conservative leader John Cummins pointed out in an election night interview on CKNW radio that the Liberals spent at least five dollars for every one dollar his party spent.
The Liberals also would have had extensive lists of identified voters, having fought and won in both constituencies in 2009, as would the NDP, he said.
"We didn't have the ability to get the vote out the way the old line parties did in this riding," he said.
The NDP in particular did a good job of getting their voters to the polls, he said. "They have that ability to get that NDP vote out and they did it today and I congratulate them for it."
The Conservatives grew their vote substantially from the 2009 election and they will be better organized in 2013, he said. "We're quite pleased. It was a tough fight... We're up 18 per cent or something like that from our result in the 2009 election. That's significant."
He dismissed claims the Conservatives are splitting similarly minded voters with the Liberals. "The reality is people are walking away from them in droves," he said. "It's not just because we're here... We offer the best hope for the so-called free enterprise vote if they're looking for something other than the NDP."
Upon defeat, Throness said the BC Liberal and Conservative parties need to figure out a way to join forces before the provincial election in May of 2013.
But Cummins made it clear he isn’t interested in merging parties: "I just don't see a merger with a discredited organization like the BC Liberals."
'It's only a year': voter
While a small sample of voters on the streets of Chilliwack said they wanted a change from the Liberals, those votes appeared more likely to go to the Conservatives.
"I voted Conservative this time," said Greg Adams. "I'm more of a right wing guy. Don't like the NDP. Don't like what the Liberals have been doing lately and so I think it's time for a change."
While former premier Gordon Campbell seemed to have control of the financial situation the Liberals have lost their way, said Adrian Krabbendam. "We're going to give the Conservatives a try and see what happens."
"It's only a year," said a former Liberal voter who voted Conservative. He gave his name as Alan and declined to provide a last name. "I figured it can't hurt anybody."
Elections BC will conduct its final count of the ballots on April 30, with Trasolini and O'Mahony expected to take their seats shortly after that.
The NDP victories will leave the Liberal government with 46 MLAs and the NDP with 36. There are also three independents in the Legislature including former Liberal John van Dongen who recently joined the Conservatives.