The NDP will form a historic majority government in British Columbia for the first time in more than 20 years, CBC News projects, as voters opted to stay the course in a tumultuous year and send Leader John Horgan back to the legislature as the only consecutive two-term premier in his party’s history.
Horgan and the party are projected to take 55 of B.C.’s 87 ridings as of 11:30 p.m PT on Saturday, compared to 29 for the Liberals and three for the Green Party.
It will be the first NDP majority since 1996.
Just 50 seats would constitute a decisive victory in any B.C. election, as it only takes 44 to form government. Fifty-five seats for the NDP would break the previous party record of 51 seats in 1991.
Horgan, Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson and Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau are all projected to hold their seats in Langford-Juan de Fuca, Vancouver-Quilchena and Cowichan Valley, respectively.
The projected results show the gamble of calling an election in the middle of a pandemic paid off handsomely for Horgan, who enjoyed a high personal approval rating before the election and stayed comfortably high in the polls throughout the campaign.
He made his election-night speech at 10:45 p.m. PT, stopping short of a fulsome victory speech to acknowledge the final count won’t be finished until nearly 500,000 mail-in ballots are counted in November.
“There are many, many hundreds of thousands votes yet to be counted [but] … One thing we know for certain is Monday, I’ll be going back to work,” Horgan said.
“This has been an extraordinarily difficult election for many, many reasons, but it’s one that I believe had to happen and I’m grateful for all British Columbians that we can put the election behind us and we can get back to focusing on the things that matter.”
Watch: John Horgan’s election night speech
In contrast, it was a bleak night for the B.C. Liberals and Greens. Both parties had hoped Horgan’s snap election risk would backfire and create the opportunity for a legislative takeover after 3½ years of a minority NDP government.
Twenty-nine seats is a major blow to the Liberals, which held 41 seats at dissolution. The poor performance will bring Wilkinson’s future as party leader into question, as any loss of seats would have been considered a rebuke of his leadership and defeat for the party.
Wilkinson addressed constituents and the media at 10:15 p.m. PT. He acknowledged the NDP were “clearly ahead” based on preliminary results, but did not concede, saying the race isn’t over until the mail-in ballot count.
“We’ll have more to say going forward but for now we all have a responsibility to be patient, to respect the democratic process and to await the final results,” he said before leaving the stage at his campaign headquarters.
Watch: Andrew Wilkinson’s election night speech
During her own speech, Sonia Furstenau — who became Green Party leader just seven days before the election was called — focused on how the sitting Greens will work in the legislature. The party is projected to maintain its three-seat count from 2017 on Saturday night, losing Oak Bay-Gordon Head but gaining its first on the B.C. mainland, with Jeremy Valeriote expected to defeat the Liberals in West Vancouver-Sea to Sky.
“The NDP engineered this election to get a majority and wipe out their opponents. They were half successful … while they may have their majority, British Columbians have returned Green MLAs to hold government accountable — and there are still many votes to be counted.”
The difference-maker for the NDP during the election was flipping ridings from old Liberal strongholds, including those in which the NDP has rarely been competitive — such as the ridings of Chilliwack and Langley in the province’s Fraser Valley, which have been staunchly Liberal for years.
As of 11:30 p.m. PT, nine ridings are too close to call definitively with mail-in ballots still to be counted. Historically, though, mail-in ballots rarely deviate from the trends observed on election night in a way that would significantly impact a riding’s projected outcome.
Watch: Sonia Furstenau’s election night speech
The campaign was 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.
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.
Furstenau cast her ballot early Saturday at a community centre in the Vancouver Island community of Shawnigan Lake. 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.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement congratulating Horgan and the NDP on behalf of the federal government at 10:30 p.m. PT.
“I look forward to continuing to work closely with Premier Horgan and the Government of British Columbia, so we can keep Canadians safe and healthy and offer support to those who need it, as we address the impacts of the global pandemic.”
Horgan 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.
Adrian Dix, who helped lead B.C. through the first nine months of the pandemic as provincial health minister, was projected to hold his seat in Vancouver Kingsway.
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.
The party platform was largely built on the party’s record and promises to continue what it started, including expanding $10-a-day child care and implementing a rent freeze until the end of next year. There was also a promise to provide a $1,000 recovery benefit for families with annual household incomes under $125,000.
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.
It was ultimately Wilkinson’s leadership that was widely criticized for what many saw as a lacklustre response to sexist comments from candidate Jane Thornthwaite toward NDP candidate Bowinn Ma.
Days later, the leader was under fire again for failing to oust the divisive Chilliwack-Kent candidate Laurie Throness — who compared free contraception to eugenics — from the party roster before it was too late to put forward another candidate.
All three parties were criticized for failing to focus on the opioid crisis and Indigenous relations as key election issues. They were also criticized for a largely white and male slate of candidates.
Arguments about the leaders’ understanding of racism intensified after both Horgan and Wilkinson were taken to task for their answers during the sole televised debate of the campaign on how they have reckoned with their own privilege as white people. Horgan spoke of playing lacrosse with Indigenous young people and suggested, “I did not see colour,” while Wilkinson told a story about working as a doctor and delivering an Indigenous baby who was later named after him.
The precise outcome in close ridings might be uncertain after Saturday night.
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, as per the B.C. Election Act.
For the nine ridings neck-and-neck by the end of the night, it is too close to call without including the mail-in ballots. For ridings won by a clear majority, it’s unlikely the mail-in ballots will change the preliminary results released Saturday.
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.