FOULDS: Reflecting on a unique election*

The B.C. Liberals — under any name — are not going to disappear.

Can the provincial election results be considered with an asterisk (*)?

Like the current Major League Baseball season and various labour dispute-shortened sports seasons, might the Oct. 24 election that gave the B.C. NDP a healthy majority be asterisked due to the bizarre conditions under which it was held and the historically low voter turnout that ensued?

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When a schedule-shortened sports champion is assigned an asterisk, it means it is not held in the same regard as champions who endured under a longer, normal season. The 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers and 1995 New Jersey Devils are examples.

While the NDP’s claim to government is no less valid than that of B.C.’s previous 41 administrations, might the victory be less about voters disenchanted with what the B.C. Liberals had to offer and more about playing it safe while living under a once-in-a-lifetime health and economic crisis? Might the final vote tally be more indicative of an electorate deciding to stick with a party that has managed the crisis quite well to this point? I'd bet some of those orange blocks in the Lower Mainland would have remained red had this election not been held under the spectre of COVID-19.

Nevertheless, the results are what they are, but it seems a stretch to conclude — as some pundits have — that the New Democrats have started a W.A.C. Bennett-like empire and that the B.C. Liberals are on death’s door.

This is British Columbia, where political parties don’t die — they simply take their ideology and engineer a hostile takeover of another, lesser-known party. This is why the Socreds of yesterday are the B.C. Liberals of today and may very well become the B.C. Conservatives of tomorrow — not to be mistaken for the B.C. Conservatives of today, led by Trevor Bolin.

Since before the elder Bennett gave his futile 1972 warning to voters that the “socialists were at the gates,” British Columbia has been a two-party province. Always.

From 1903 through 1941, the Conservatives and Liberals were the only players on the political stage, trading benches in the legislature through 11 elections. Two coalition governments followed before the remarkable 20-year Social Credit reign began under W.A.C Bennett in 1952, interrupted by a three-year NDP government from 1972 to 1975, before Bill Bennett reclaimed the throne for his father, with the Socreds remaining in power until 1991. That was followed by a decade of New Democrats and 16 years of the B.C. Liberals (nee Socreds). And now, here we are, into the second consecutive John Horgan NDP mandate.

What those 117 years have in common is that each and every one of them featured two main parties (with a smattering of third party seats here and there).

From 1952 to today, B.C. has been a battle between the NDP (formerly known as the CCF) and two right of centre so-called free enterprise coalition parties: Social Credit and B.C. Liberal.

Sixty-eight years of significant support for the non-NDP party in this province does not simply vanish in one election. And it is not as if the B.C. Liberals were eviscerated.

Pending final counts of mail-in ballots in a few ridings, they have about 29 seats, more than a dozen fewer than they held entering the election, but a veritable jackpot compared to where the once-mighty Social Credit found itself after its Roman-esque reign ended in 1991 (seven seats) and to where the NDP found itself in 2001, with a paltry two seats.

Social Credit’s movers and shakers co-opted the B.C. Liberal Party in the early 1990s and built up their free enterprise coalition, which again formed government,. The New Democrats came back from the Joy MacPhail/Jenny Kwan duo of 2001 and are now riding high.

The B.C. Liberal Party is not going anywhere. In this election, the party still managed to garner 35 per cent of the vote. The NDP received 45 per cent. No party — yet again — was the choice of a majority of voters.

The B.C. Liberals (or whatever their monicker may be going forward) will need to figure out how to get back into the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island and how to rejig their free enterprise vision with a more progressive social stance, but that is not an impossible task as political parties on life support have overcome similar challenges in the past.

Twitter: @ChrisJFoulds

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