British Columbia general election, 1991

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British Columbia general election, 1991
British Columbia
1986 ←
October 17, 1991 → 1996

75 seats of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia
38 seats were needed for a majority
  First party Second party Third party
  Mike Harcourt.jpg
Leader Mike Harcourt Gordon Wilson Rita Johnston
Party New Democratic Liberal Social Credit
Leader since 1987 1987 1991
Leader's seat Vancouver-Mount Pleasant Powell River-Sunshine Coast Surrey-Newton (lost re-election)
Last election 22 0 47
Seats won 51 17 7
Seat change +29 +17 -40
Popular vote 595,391 486,208 351,660
Percentage 40.71 33.25 24.05
Swing -1.89 +26.51 -25.27

Premier before election

Rita Johnston
Social Credit


Mike Harcourt
New Democratic

The British Columbia general election of 1991 was the 35th provincial election in the Province of British Columbia, Canada. It was held to elect members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. The election was called on September 19, 1991, and held on October 17, 1991. The incumbent Social Credit Party of British Columbia, which had been beset by scandals during Bill Vander Zalm's only term as premier, was defeated by the New Democratic Party of Mike Harcourt. Liberal Party leader Gordon Wilson surprised observers by leading his party to winning one-third of the votes cast, and forming the official opposition in the legislature. The new legislature met for the first time on March 17, 1992.

The election was held at the same time as a referendum on recall and initiative.[1] It was also the first British Columbia general election with only single-member districts.[2]


Under Vander Zalm's leadership, Socred's control shifted from urban fiscal conservatives to social conservatives, causing the coalition to unravel and pushing many moderates to eventually switch to the Liberals. This process was exacerbated by Vander Zalm's eccentricity, and the constant scandals that plagued his government, cumulating in one which was a conflict of interest. As well, Vander Zalm allowed his principal secretary, David Poole, to amass a substantial amount of power, despite being unelected.

After Premier Vander Zalm resigned, Socred members elected the lesser-known Deputy Premier Rita Johnston, a close ally of Vander Zalm, to be their new leader, over Grace McCarthy, a longtime associate of former Premier Bill Bennett. Many viewed this as a mistake, as Johnston was close to the Vander Zalm legacy; even NDP leader Mike Harcourt admitted later that he preferred Johnston over McCarthy, as the latter would be a much tougher opponent in an election.


The third place Liberals, who had not been represented in the legislature since 1979, gained slightly in the polls due to great resentment against the ruling Socreds and skepticism towards the NDP. A turning point came when Wilson successfully took legal action to be included in the televised leaders' debate. During the debate Johnston and Harcourt exchanged many bitter attacks, while Wilson, still not considered a serious contender, was able to successfully portray himself as an "outsider" who was above the partisan bickering of the other two parties. Liberal support surged dramatically as a result of Wilson's performance.


The Socreds were swept from power in a massive NDP landslide. Johnston herself lost her own seat in Surrey-Newton to NDP challenger Penny Priddy. The defeat was magnified by moderate Socred supporters voting Liberal, continuing a shift that dated to early in Vander Zalm's tenure. The combined effect was to decimate the Socred caucus, which was reduced from 47 members to only seven—only three over the minimum for official party status. The Liberals returned to the legislature as the official opposition after a 12-year absence.

Party Party leader # of
Seats Popular vote
1986 Elected % Change # % % Change
  New Democrats Michael Harcourt 75 22 51 +131.8% 595,391 40.71% -1.89%
Liberal Gordon Wilson 71 - 17   486,208 33.25% +26.51%
Social Credit Rita Johnston 74 47 7 -85.1% 351,660 24.05% -25.27%
Green   42 - - - 12,650 0.86% +0.62%
  Independents 16 - - - 10,281 0.70% +0.57%
Reform Ron Gamble 4 * - * 2,673 0.18% *
Family Coalition   8 * - * 1,310 0.09% *
  Libertarian   11 - - - 860 0.06% +0.04%
  Western Canada Concept Doug Christie 5 - - - 651 0.04% +0.02%
  Conservative Peter B. Macdonald[3] 4 - - - 426 0.03% -0.70%
  Human Race   2 * - * 110 0.01% *
  Green Go (Green Wing/Rhino)   1 * - * 93 0.01% *
  Communist League   3 - - - 92 0.01% -0.02%
  Interdependence Party   1 * - * 62 x *
Total 317 69 75 +8.7% 1,462,467 100%  
Source: Elections BC


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Macdonald was not eligible to run as a candidate in 1991. He moved to Canada at the age of 10 and only discovered during the election campaign that he was a British subject and had never obtained his Canadian citizenship. (Matas, Robert, "B.C. Tory leader ineligible for election He discovered just two weeks ago that he isn't a Canadian citizen", Globe and Mail, October 2, 1991

x - less than 0.005% of the popular vote.

* Party did not nominate candidates in the previous election.


This was considered a realigning election due to the high turnover in MLAs and the effective end of the Socreds as a political force. The party was completely shut out of the legislature in the 1996 election, never to return. Meanwhile, the Liberals replaced them as the main non-socialist party in British Columbia.

However, neither Harcourt, Wilson, or Johnston would contest the subsequent 1996 election as leaders of the major parties, with Johnston and Harcourt having retired from politics by that campaign. Johnston, having lost her seat, resigned the leadership of the Socreds immediately in early 1992. Harcourt resigned as premier in 1996 due to a scandal among one of the MLAs in his caucus. Wilson proved unable to consolidate the party's leadership due to inexperience and he was eventually deposed in 1993, and he crossed to the NDP in 1997, serving as an MLA and minister until his defeat in 2001.

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