The NDP will form a majority government in British Columbia, CBC News projects, as voters opted to stay the course in an otherwise tumultuous year and send leader John Horgan back to the legislature as the only consecutive two-term premier in his party’s history.
CBC News is also projecting Horgan and B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson will hold their seats in the ridings of Langford-Juan de Fuca and Vancouver-Quilchena, respectively.
With 86 of B.C.’s 87 ridings now reporting results from a portion of polling stations, there are 50 seats for the NDP, 32 for the Liberals and four for the Greens. It takes 44 seats to form government in B.C.
The end of election day marked the end of a campaign unlike any other in the province’s history with the aim of choosing who will lead the population through its next wave of COVID-19 and, eventually, its recovery.
The final results show Horgan’s snap election gamble paid off. The B.C. Liberals and Greens had hoped the gambit would backfire and create the opportunity for a legislative takeover.
The beginnings of election day were business as usual for roughly a third of voters in the province, as more than a million of B.C.’s 3.5 million registered voters cast their ballots in advance or by mail-in ballot before general voting day.
“Never before have so many voters voted before election day in British Columbia electoral history,” Elections BC’s chief electoral officer Anton Boegman told reporters on Friday.
Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau cast her ballot early Saturday at a community centre in the Vancouver Island community of Shawnigan Lake. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson voted at a Greek community centre in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy neighbourhood.
Horgan was among just over 681,000 people who cast their ballots during the week-long advance voting period this past week, voting Monday at Luxton Hall in Langford, B.C.
The NDP leader called the snap election on Sept. 21, citing a need for stability and certainty in the legislature during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic-era election — the first to be held in B.C. during a provincial state of emergency since the Second World War — saw its battles waged mostly online. Rallies were replaced by virtual debates and townhalls, hand-shaking by distant waving and smiles by cloth masks.
At dissolution, the NDP and Liberals were tied with 41 seats in the legislature, while the Greens held two seats. Two seats were held by Independents and one seat was empty.
The NDP campaign was often more defensive than offensive, striking a stay-the-course tone with policy re-announcements and the hope of capitalizing on a widely acclaimed public health response to COVID-19. (Though it should be noted all candidates endorsed B.C.’s highly regarded, non-partisan Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry during the campaign.)
Both the Liberals and Greens attacked Horgan continuously over the course of the 32-day campaign, his chief opponents and former allies questioning how the public could trust a “selfish” leader who betrayed his confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party in order to call what they saw as an opportunistic snap election.
Horgan’s task was convincing voters the election was undertaken for their benefit, providing them an opportunity to replace a shaky, bygone NDP-Green agreement with a fresh, stable government — regardless of party — that could definitively see them through the rest of the pandemic.
Final results could take days
The outcome of the election itself might be uncertain after Saturday night, if the races are close.
More than 720,000 mail-in ballots were requested during the campaign and nearly 498,000 had been returned as of Friday. Vote-by-mail packages are collected centrally and cannot be counted for at least 13 days after general voting day, according to decades-old legislation.
If a riding is neck-and-neck by the end of the night, it could be too close to call without including the mail-in ballots. If ridings are won by landslide, it’s unlikely the mail-in ballots will change the preliminary results released Saturday.
Elections in B.C. have been, historically, declared by wide margins, though that was far from the case in the last two provincial elections in 2013 and 2017.
Officials with Elections BC hope to deliver the final results by Nov. 16, but the date isn’t set in stone as it’s unclear how much time will be needed to count the mail-in ballots — which are counted by hand, one at a time.