The NDP will form a 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.
As of 9:30 p.m. PT, Horgan and the NDP are projected to take 55 of 87 seats in the B.C. Legislature. It will be the first NDP majority since 1996.
The Liberals are projected to hold 29 seats, while the Greens have three.
CBC News is also projecting the three main party leaders — Horgan, Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson and Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau — will hold their seats in Langford-Juan de Fuca, Vancouver-Quilchena and Cowichan Valley, respectively.
Just 50 seats would constitute a decisive victory in any B.C. election, as it only takes 44 to form government. Fifty-three seats for the NDP would break the previous party record of 51 seats in 1979.
Adrian Dix, who helped lead B.C. through the first nine months of the pandemic as provincial health minister, is projected to hold his seat in Vancouver Kingsway.
The projected results show the gamble of calling an election in the middle of a pandemic paid off handsomely for Horgan, who stayed comfortably high in the polls throughout the campaign.
In contrast, it is 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 three-and-a-half years of a minority NDP government.
The end of election day marked the conclusion 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 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.
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.
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.
The precise 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.