NDP and Liberals running neck and neck in tight B.C. election

By , on May 10, 2017


The Liberals and the NDP were locked in a tight race in British Columbia's election on Tuesday with a handful of ridings in the province's 87-seat legislature still to be determined. (Photo:  Ian D. Keating/Flickr)
The Liberals and the NDP were locked in a tight race in British Columbia’s election on Tuesday with a handful of ridings in the province’s 87-seat legislature still to be determined. (Photo: Ian D. Keating/Flickr)

VANCOUVER — The Liberals and the NDP were locked in a tight race in British Columbia’s election on Tuesday with a handful of ridings in the province’s 87-seat legislature still to be determined.

Forty Liberals were elected to the legislature compared with 38 New Democrats, with the NDP gaining ground in the seat-rich Lower Mainland where it had focused its campaign.

The Greens achieved a historic breakthrough by electing two members to the legislature: Leader Andrew Weaver, who kept his seat in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, and Adam Olsen, elected to Saanich North and the Islands.

The chance of the Green party holding the balance of power in a minority government situation was a possibility. The last time there was a minority government in the province was 1952.

The election campaign began four weeks ago with Liberal Leader Christy Clark and the NDP’s John Horgan facing what was predicted to be a close battle to become B.C.’s next premier, and Weaver looking to make gains for his third-place party.

Attorney General Suzanne Anton lost her Vancouver riding in one of the first upsets of the night for the Liberals as election results were still rolling in. Peter Fassbender, another cabinet minister, also lost his seat in Surrey-Fleetwood.

The NDP nearly swept the city of Vancouver and won a handful of battleground ridings in the suburbs of Metro Vancouver, including seats in Burnaby, Surrey, Coquitlam and Delta.

The Liberals were trying to win a fifth successive majority government after holding power for 16 years.

Horgan won his seat in Langford-Juan de Fuca, while Christy Clark won in Kelowna West.

There was plenty of smiles and laughter early on at Liberal headquarters as the party took an early lead in the polls. But the mood became more tense as the evening progressed, and faces became more serious as the NDP began to catch up.

Supporters applauded as Liberal candidates were declared elected, especially when news came in that Clark had retained her seat. Silence greeted news that the NDP had taken the lead in several swing ridings in Burnaby and Surrey in the Vancouver area.

Inside the Green headquarters in Victoria, the room was filled with applause and cheering as the party appeared close to electing a third candidate, Sonia Furstenau in Cowichan Valley.

Clark’s campaign strategy marked a return to the Liberals’ winning approach in 2013, when she promoted her party as the only one that could create and protect jobs while portraying the NDP as disastrous managers of the economy.

While Clark’s promise of a booming liquefied natural gas industry has not materialized over the past four years, Clark was able to point to B.C.’s strong economy as proof of the Liberals’ financial savvy. The province has Canada’s lowest unemployment rate and has led the country in economic growth two years in a row.

Horgan sought to portray Clark as out of touch with regular British Columbians who feel the economy is not working for them, while Weaver cast the Greens as political outsiders.

The New Democrats’ platform contained big-ticket promises including $10-a-day childcare, freezing hydro rates for a year and eliminating tolls on two major Lower Mainland bridges. Horgan said the NDP would balance the budget by raising taxes on the top two per cent of earners and by using a $500-million “LNG prosperity fund” that Clark created out of general revenue.

But the Liberals sowed doubts about the NDP’s ability to pay for its promises, repeatedly accusing the party of a massive “crater” in its platform that could only be filled with new taxes.

Weaver reminded voters that his party was the only one to ban corporate and union donations and his promises included electoral reform, increasing the carbon tax and investing millions in clean technology jobs.

Weaver, a climate scientist who became the first Green elected to the B.C. legislature four years ago, said if the party only won one seat this time he would not run again.

B.C.’s campaign finance laws dominated headlines before the election began. The province allows unlimited corporate and union donations and the RCMP is investigating fundraising by the province’s political parties.

After months of pressure, the Liberals committed to convening a panel to review political fundraising. The NDP and Greens have promised an outright ban on corporate and union donations.

The campaign was thrown a curveball when U.S. President Donald Trump announced a 20-per-cent tariff on softwood lumber in late April. More than half of B.C. softwood lumber exports go to the U.S.

Clark called for a retaliatory ban or tax on U.S. thermal coal exports moving through B.C. ports.

Horgan blamed Clark for the softwood tariff, saying that if she had managed the file better the duties could have been avoided.

— With files from Geordon Omand and Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver.