With the final British Columbia voting results now in, the NDP has further added to its seat count in an election that has significantly redrawn the province’s political map.
Gone is the old one where the Fraser Valley and Richmond were almost certain bets for the BC Liberals, note observers. Long gone is the map where voters in B.C.'s north and Interior tied to fishing, logging and mining voted in New Democrats. What emerges, as one professor put it, is “a stark regional divide.”
Premier John Horgan said Monday it was “humbling” to receive the support. “We have a strong mandate to make sure we get through this pandemic safely and effectively and that’s going to be our commitment going forward.”
Since the preliminary election night count the NDP has added wins in Abbotsford-Mission and Vernon-Monashee, two constituencies few expected the party to take, bringing its total to 57 of the legislature’s 87 seats.
The BC Liberals finish with 28 seats and the Greens with two.
The Greens had led in West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, but ultimately Jeremy Valeriote finished 41 votes behind Liberal incumbent Jordan Sturdy, a result close enough to trigger an automatic judicial recount. The timing of the recount will be up to the B.C. Supreme Court.
Other seats the NDP won from the Liberals included three in Richmond, two in Langley, two in Chilliwack, one in Surrey, Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, North Vancouver-Seymour, Vancouver-False Creek, Parksville-Qualicum and Boundary-Similkameen.
The NDP also picked up Oak Bay-Gordon Head on Vancouver Island where former Green party leader Andrew Weaver didn’t run again.
Significantly the Liberals held onto both seats in Kamloops, both in Prince George and three rural ridings — Fraser-Nicola, Skeena and Columbia River-Revelstoke — that the NDP had held previously and hoped to win again.
The results show a “stark regional divide,” said Hamish Telford, a political science associate professor at the University of the Fraser Valley. “The Liberal party maintains a strong base of support right through the core of the province.”
Ironically the NDP did well in areas where the economy has been most weakened by the pandemic and poorly in rural areas where the economy has been less affected, he said, adding it suggests other issues were at play.
Many voters were focused on the government’s response to the pandemic and running strong candidates in ridings like Chilliwack and Abbotsford-Mission helped, he said, as did the presence of BC Conservatives in some races where they split votes with BC Liberals.
There have also been significant changes to the populations in some Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland communities that have grown with younger families seeking affordable housing, Telford said. “Those demographic changes boded well for the NDP and that was most obvious in Langley.”
Kimberly Speers, an assistant professor in public administration at the University of Victoria said it will be a challenge for the NDP to deliver on their promises while dealing with the fiscal impact of the pandemic.
“There’s high expectations for the NDP and I think they’ve got some big battles ahead of them in the next four years,” she said.
Meanwhile the BC Liberals will want to decide what they stand for, whether or not they want to be a socially progressive or conservative party, and whether a complete overhaul of their brand is needed, Speers said. “They’re going to have four years to figure it out and battle it out.”
The Greens did well considering they had just finished a leadership race, she said. “I think this election demonstrated they do have a voice in B.C. politics, people do support them.”
The next election will be pivotal, she said, especially if voters are looking for a change from the NDP government. “Who will people look to?” she asked. “Could it be the Green party? Could they be that alternative?”
Bill Tieleman, a political consultant and strategist who was the director of communications in former NDP premier Glen Clark’s office in the 1990s, said it will be easy for two Green MLAs to disappear in the 87-seat legislature.
“They’re losing a lot of influence and ability to get into the media,” he said. “They will have to find ways to attract attention to themselves or they will be in a much worse position in four years, next election.”
The challenge for the BC Liberals will be to unite the coalition of federal Liberals and federal Conservatives who support the party, the same as it has been for decades, Tieleman said. If that support solidifies, several of the seats the NDP has won could flip back to the Liberals, and Green voters may feel more pressure to strategically support the NDP, he said.
He also said it’s noteworthy that the NDP’s gains came without winning back seats in the Interior and north where the party had previously been strong, something he attributes to declines in mining, fishing and particularly logging jobs.
“There isn’t in those rural areas the kind of base the NDP once had in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Tieleman said.
Two days after election night BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson announced he will step down so the party can have a leadership contest to replace him.
In a message to supporters over the weekend, BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau said she and MLA Adam Olsen were grateful to be re-elected. “Now that the BC NDP have a majority, our job of holding the government accountable has never been more important,” she said.
“We will be the only voices in the legislature standing up for true climate action, a sustainable economic vision, and better funding for schools. We will not stop pushing for alternatives to the NDP/Liberal fracked gas industry, their Site C boondoggle, and their destructive old-growth logging.”
Horgan said he plans to announce the new cabinet in the next couple weeks and to recall the legislature in December, but that the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the Lower Mainland has added to the challenge.
Read more: BC Election 2020