British Columbians went to the polls yesterday in Canada’s second COVID-era election. After a contentious start to the election with those in opposition questing the need, voters gave Premier John Horgan the majority government he was seeking. Having garnered the public support of the previous Green Party leader, Horgan and the BC NDP will no longer have to rely on the Greens to prop them up.
As of writing, Horgan and the BC NDP won 55 of the Legislature’s 87 seats, an increase of 14 seats from 2017. Andrew Wilkinson and the Liberals won 29 seats, a decrease of 14 seats, while Sonia Furstenau and the Greens won 3 seats, matching their 2017 results.
With 500,000 mail-in ballots yet to be counted (under BC law they cannot be counted for at least 13 days) and official voting results yet to be finalized, the NDP’s vote total and large lead in a number of seats would indicate that the final seat count is unlikely to change dramatically, or enough to change the NDP’s majority government. This is the largest win in BC NDP history.
How We Got Here
As we noted in our election preview, Horgan and the NDP were clearly seeking to repeat what Blaine Higgs did in New Brunswick by turning a difficult minority into a clear majority. At the outset of the campaign and for the first few days, Horgan took a fair amount of criticism from opposition parties for calling an election in the middle of the pandemic. Yet, as was seen in New Brunswick, once initial complaints about the timing of the election subsided, the election took on a sense of normalcy.
Prior to the campaign, the NDP rolled out a “StrongerBC” package that then morphed into their “Working for You” campaign message. The NDP proposed pandemic-related emergency benefits with $300 million in grants for small businesses and $400 million in community infrastructure projects. They also committed to increase minimum wage, with the rate tied to inflation once it reaches $15/hour next year. They also promised to spend $1.4 billion over ten years on publicly owned long-term care homes. Climate commitments included a “carbon neutral” pledge over the next 30 years, a ban on disposable plastic products, as well as support for LNG projects.
Under Andrew Wilkinson, BC Liberals made their key campaign plank the elimination of the 7% provincial sales tax for one year, with a return to 3% after one year to help stimulate a post-COVID recovery. Liberal infrastructure commitments included a $31 billion infrastructure plan, $10 a day childcare, a path to balancing the budget post-pandemic, and investments in renewable energy, promotion of LNG and resource development, and a general promise to go carbon neutral. The BC Liberals also pledged a billion dollars to refurbish or build new long-term care suites along with a review on how the sector was impacted by the pandemic. Of note, they also pledged an end to an NDP “speculation tax” on housing, which was intended to reduce foreign ownership. The speculation tax would be replaced by a capital gains tax on condominium pre-sales, coupled with higher property taxes for non-Canadian residents.
The Green Party promised an end to provincial subsidies to oil and gas, consultations on a universal basic income as well as allowing employers to adopt a four-day work week, higher carbon levies, carbon neutrality within the next 25 years, an expansion in long-term care beds for seniors, and almost $2 billion in new social housing investments.
Clearly, the result of the BC election is that voters sought stability after living through the roller coaster of a very narrow minority government. John Horgan and the NDP are also bolstered by new bench strength with former federal NDP MPs Nathan Cullen, Murray Rankin, and Fin Donnelly all joining the caucus. All three are likely front-runners for the new cabinet. Of note, the NDP also won traditionally Liberal seats in the Fraser Valley with seats in Richmond, Langley, and Maple Ridge, which adds to the geographic mandate to govern.
As for the BC Liberals, the election result is their worst result since 1991. This seat loss should certainly merit reflection. While BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson has not yet officially conceded electoral defeat due to the ballots yet to be counted, little is expected to change. In the meantime, the pressure may increase for Wilkinson to rethink his leadership of the party.
For Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau, who was only elected as leader just over a month ago, the results are double-edged. She returned the Green Party’s three MLAs to the legislature but the party has lost the balance of power so their voice will be vastly diminished in this new legislative session.
Now that Premier Horgan has his majority, we can expect the BC NDP to push its agenda forward quickly once the official results are tallied after November 6. This will include a Speech from the Throne, a new legislative session, and a fresh start for governing with a clear mandate over the next four years.