The Liberals defied common wisdom and months of abysmal polling numbers to win British Columbia’s election Tuesday, a shocking turnaround for a party and a premier who entered the campaign with many observers writing the government’s obituary.
Premier Christy Clark’s Liberals were projected to remain in power, re-electing incumbents and even stealing a few from the NDP in areas they were never expected to win.
At NDP headquarters, exhausted campaign workers who had been floating through leader Adrian Dix’s stump speeches for a month bouyed by certainty of a win, collapsed in tears.
The election also brought in Canada’s first Green party member to be elected to a provincial legislature. Climate scientist Andrew Weaver defeated Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, near Victoria.
The Liberals jumped into the lead in early returns and never fell behind the Opposition New Democrats. Their victories included both Kamloops-area ridings that have long been considered bellwethers in provincial elections for a century.
Longtime Liberals were privately as shocked as pundits and, likely, pollsters. But publicly, those close to the campaign said they knew it all along.
Former Tory cabinet minister Stockwell Day said the election results show what the campaign team was seeing on the ground around the province.
“We were seeing wherever the premier went, people felt confidence,” he said.
The Liberals took back a seat in the Fraser Valley they lost in last year’s byelection and snatched a seat from longtime New Democrat Harry Lali in Fraser-Nicola, located in the Fraser Canyon.
The vote came after a month-long campaign that saw the Liberals play the part of underdog under Clark, who took over the party from Gordon Campbell more than two years ago.
The Liberals were derided by much of the province over its introduction of the harmonized sales tax and other scandals, including the criminal probe into the sale of BC Rail.
Opinion polls had consistently placed Clark’s main opponent, Dix, as a favourite to win. Dix ran a populist campaign that urged voters it was time for a change,
Dix handily won his riding, but Clark was in a battle for hers in Vancouver-Point Grey. She spent much of the evening within a couple hundred votes of New Democrat David Eby, a prominent civil liberties lawyer who previously ran against her in a byelection in 2011.
Conservative Leader John Cummins, whose party was considered a major threat to the Liberals just a year ago, was soundly defeated in Langley, where Liberal cabinet minister Mary Polak held onto the seat.
Green Leader Jane Sterk lost her riding of Victoria-Beacon Hill to former NDP leader Carole James.
There were other surprises that emerged throughout the night.
John Van Dongen, a former Liberal who switched to the Conservatives and then became an Independent, lost in Abbotsford-South. The riding returned to the Liberals, with candidate Darryl Plecas, a criminology professor, projected to win by a large margin.
In Chilliwack, Liberal John Martin defeated New Democrat Patti MacAhonic. Martin had run as a Conservative in last year’s Chilliwack-Hope byelection but later switched to the Liberals.
Vicki Huntington, a popular former Delta city councillor, was elected again in her riding of Delta-South as an Independent.
During the campaign, Clark attempted to frame the election as a vote on the economy, gambling that her predecessor’s economic record would be enough to convince voters to keep the Liberals in power.
Colin Hansen, a former Liberal cabinet minister who has been helping on the party’s campaign, said high turnout in advance polls will help his party once all the ballots are counted.
“The advance polls, of course, gets counted separately and typically aren’t announced until the end of the evening,” said Hansen said.
“So it could put a different spin on some ridings.”