The polls said it was a toss up, but what a toss up it was.
In the wildest finish in modern B.C. political history, the election has resulted in a minority government for Christy Clark and the BC Liberals.
With the night wrapped, the BC Liberals hold 43 seats, the NDP 41, and the BC Greens 3.
It’s the first time the province has seen a minority since 1952-1953.
But it’s not a done deal, with a recount certain in at least one Vancouver Island riding that could still flip to the Liberals, handing them a majority.
“Something very different”
“Well, some things only happen in British Columbia,” said Clark to a jubilant crowd of Liberal supporters around 12:15 a.m. Wednesday morning.
“Tonight is the beginning of something very different. And it’s something that I think could be very exciting for the future of our province.”
Clark made clear her plans to remain as premier, saying she would continue to lead government, hinting events could perhaps deliver her a majority yet.
“We have won the popular vote, and we have won the most seats, and with absentee ballots still to be counted, I am confident they will strengthen our margin of victory,” said Clark.
Clark did go on to concede that her party had lost seats, noting that “British Columbians want us to do some things differently,” including working more across party lines.
Not giving up yet
But while Clark’s remarks had the tone of a victory speech, BC NDP Leader John Horgan told an equally boisterous crowd he had no plans to concede quite yet.
“British Columbians have waited 16 years for a government that works for them, and we’re going to have to ask you to wait a little bit longer until all the votes are counted and the final results of this election are known,” Horgan told a cheering crowd.
“But this is what we do know. A majority of British Columbians voted for a new government, and that’s what they deserve.”
“A historic day”
Green Party Leader Andrew called the outcome “historic,” noting B.C. had elected North America’s first Green caucus above the municipal level.
“We worked tirelessly for years to lead up to today,” he told ecstatic supporters, saying the party had finally given people something to vote for, rather than against.
Weaver, now holding the balance of power, also hinted at how his party would handle votes in the legislature, saying the Greens would take an issue-by-issue approach, with all decisions on an “evidence based” and “principled” position.
Weaver said negotiations on what his party’s role would be would begin Wednesday.
The night started out looking good for the BC Liberals, but as the votes came in the results began to see-saw, with both parties taking the barest of leads, each pushing briefly into majority government territory.
But it didn’t hold, and before long the parties found themselves locked in a dead heat with 42 seats, a result that held for much of the evening, keeping British Columbians around the province on the edge of their seats.
With B.C.’s 87 ridings, a party requires 44 seats to form a majority.
In the end, the BC Liberals were able to hold on, pulling in key last minute wins in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain and Vancouver-False Creek – pushing them briefly, at the 11th hour, back into majority territory.
Not long before midnight, the NDP scraped to victory in Courtenay-Comox by a bare nine-vote margin, leaving the Liberals with 43 seats, one short of absolute power.
That vote will be destined for a recount, and could be vulnerable to absentee ballots that won’t be counted for nearly two weeks, between May 22 and 24.
In the 2013 election, under the riding’s former incarnation as Comox, the NDP logged 780 absentee votes, to the BC Liberals’ 712.
And in a major development for B.C. politics, the Green Party finally broke through, capturing three seats, one short of the number needed for official party status, but enough to hold the balance of power.
The outcome marks something of a defeat for the BC NDP, who led the polls early in the campaign and managed a relatively gaffe-free campaign.
However, it marks a rebuke for the governing party, who have been reduced from the 47 seats they held going into the election.
While the party appears to have been damaged by a string of scandals including cash-for-access fundraising and the botched health ministry firings, at the end of the day the Liberals’ message of job creation and image as the party best suited to manage the province’s economy look to have won the day.
NDP Leader John Horgan focused his campaign primarily around Metro Vancouver, with just a handful of stops in the interior and never venturing North of Prince George – a strategy that in the end failed to deliver the party the 10 seats it needed to form government.
The party lost in the northern riding of Skeena, which the Liberals haven’t picked up since 2001, but picked up seats across Metro Vancouver, knocking off four cabinet ministers, including Attorney General Suzanne Anton, TransLink Minister Peter Fassbender, and Naomi Yamamoto in North Vancouver-Lonsdale — a riding that hasn’t gone orange since 1991, when the vote was split on the right.
Whether the Liberals will attempt to govern on an ad-hoc basis with case by case support of the other two parties, or seek a more formalized agreement with the BC Greens remains to be seen.