BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark proved campaigns matter and the only poll that counts is on election day as she pulled off a comeback performance for the ages in British Columbia’s 40th General Election, winning 50 of 85 seats. BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix managed only 33 seats – down three seats from the start of the election despite being the perennial frontrunner in the polls for nearly two years – while the Green Party picked up one seat and Independent MLA Vicki Huntington retained her seat.
In the days leading up to election day there was considerable speculation, based on poll results, that the incumbent BC Liberals had narrowed the gap between themselves and the BC NDP among the electorate. But all polls, including one by Hill+Knowlton Strategies, did not predict this result. This mirrors an emerging trend of pollsters incorrectly predicting elections across the country.
Running on the theme of “Strong Economy, Secure Tomorrow” the BC Liberals ran an exceptional campaign that focused the electorate on the economy as the major ballot issue while at the same time re-positioning themselves as the preferred choice for economic management even though they trailed the BC NDP as preferred economic managers heading into the election. BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark also showed the effectiveness of advertising coupled with earned media messages. Her party’s ads promoted the strong economic management of her party and at most campaign stops she held photo-ops wearing a hardhat and talking to people about jobs. The BC Liberal campaign also proved again that negative campaigning works – they defined their opponents in a bad light and while many people turn up their noses at negative campaigning, this election showed again that negative messages stick. In a strange turn of events, Premier Christy Clark did not win her own seat in Vancouver-Point Grey despite leading her party to a historic victory. It is expected that one of her MLAs will step aside to allow her to run in a by-election so she can try to get back into the legislature.
In contrast, the BC NDP, running a mostly positive campaign based on a “Change for the Better” pledge, must now very seriously consider their approach to elections and their relevance to voters. After running ahead of the BC Liberals with few exceptions for nearly two years – at times with a near 30-point popularity gap – party strategists and activists will have to consider every aspect of their organization from the leader down. When Dix was asked last night if he would stay on as leader, he simply said this and many other issues would need to be discussed with caucus. Of note, former BC NDP leadership contestant John Horgan has already done media interviews saying he would not rule out another run for leader if asked.
Recounts are mandatory if two candidates are within 0.2 per cent of the popular vote and candidates can apply for a recount if they feel errors were made. A recount will occur in Saanich North and the Islands, and will likely occur in Coquitlam Maillardville as the difference is close but exceeds 0.2 per cent, therefore the final results will not be immediately known.
A number of incumbents lost their ridings, namely Christy Clark (BC Liberal, Vancouver-Point Grey), Margaret MacDiarmid (BC Liberal, Vancouver-Fairview), Ida Chong (BC Liberal, Oak Bay-Gordon Head), Harry Lali (BC NDP, Fraser-Nicola), Gwen O’Mahony (BC NDP, Chilliwack), Joe Trasolini (BC NDP, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows), Jagrup Brar (BC NDP, Surrey- Fleetwood), John van Dongen (Independent, Abbotsford South), Bob Simpson (Independent, Cariboo North).
New faces of note in the BC Liberal caucus include Andrew Wilkinson, a lawyer, former physician and former Deputy Minister; Peter Fassbender, Mayor of Langley; Sam Sullivan, former Mayor of Vancouver; Linda Larson, an Oliver City Councillor; Marvin Hunt, a Surrey City Councilor; Michelle Stilwell, a paralympic champion; and Coralee Oakes, a Quesnel City Councillor.
Premier Clark will now need to evaluate her caucus and start the process of building a Cabinet and considering changes to the structure of government. We should expect to see the new Cabinet announced at some point after June 5th when Elections BC finalizes the election results.
During the campaign Premier Clark promised if elected she would recall the BC Legislature quickly but she will now need to balance decisions on timing against the need for a by-election to provide her with a seat. We should also see action on other promises she made during the campaign including a comprehensive core review of government, to quickly pass the budget, to move forward quickly on LNG opportunities and take action to reduce backlogs in mining and forestry.