Politics of British Columbia

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The Politics of British Columbia involves not only the governance of British Columbia, Canada, and the various political factions that have held or vied for legislative power, but also a number of experiments or attempts at political and electoral reform.

History of politics in British Columbia[edit]

The chamber of the provincial legislature in Victoria

Prior to 1903, there were no political parties in British Columbia, other than at the federal level.

Sir Richard McBride was the first Premier of British Columbia to declare a party affiliation (Conservative Party) and institute conventional party/caucus politics.

Since party politics were introduced to British Columbia, there have been a number of political parties which have controlled the government for more than ten years, including the Conservative government of the early 20th century, the interwar Liberal government, the post-war Social Credit ("Socred") government of W.A.C. Bennett and, following a further brief reign by the New Democratic Party (NDP), another Social Credit government under his son, Bill Bennett, the NDP government of the 1990s and the BC Liberal Party Government in the 2000s under Gordon Campbell.

During the 1940s, the government was controlled by a coalition of the Liberals and Conservatives. Neither party had the electoral strength to form a majority, so a coalition was used as a means to prevent the B.C. Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) (the forerunner of the NDP) from taking power.

From 1972 to 1975, an NDP government led by Dave Barrett held power but was defeated after a showdown with organized labour. Social Credit was returned to power with a new leader, and the son of the former Premier, Bill Bennett, who had been recruited by the party's old guard but brought in a new style of politics. In 1986, the younger Bennett retired from politics and his successor was Bill Vander Zalm. Under his leadership, he and his party became increasingly unpopular. In the face of mounting unpopularity and numerous scandals, the party was defeated by the NDP who went on to lead the province for the next ten years.

Currently, the province is governed by the NDP under John Horgan. In western Canada other than Alberta, typically politics have featured the CCF or NDP on the left and some other party on the right. The present incarnation of the BC Liberal Party fulfills this role in BC. The party is neutral federally and derives its membership from the centre to the centre right. Since its takeover by supporters of Premier Gordon Campbell following the ouster of Gordon Wilson (who led the party from effective oblivion to Official Opposition in the 1991 general election), many consider it to be effectively a rebirth of the defunct BC Social Credit Party.

After the introduction of partisan politics (1903–1952)[edit]

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia (1903–1949) – seats won by party
Government Conservative Liberal Conservative Liberal Coalition
Party 1903 1907 1909 1912 1916 1920 1924 1928 1933 1937 1941 1945 1949
    Conservative 22 26 38 39 9 15 17 35 8 12
    Liberal 17 13 2 36 25 23 12 34 31 21
    Liberal-Conservative coalition 37 39
    Cooperative Commonwealth Federation 7 7 14 10 7
    Socialist 2 3 2 1
    Labour 1 3 3 1 1 1 1 1 1
    Provincial Party 3
    Non-Partisan Independent Group 2
    Unionist 1
    Social Democratic 1
    People's Party 1
    Independent Conservative 1
    Independent Liberal 2
    Independent Socialist 1
    Independent 1 3 2 1 1
Total 42 42 42 42 47 47 48 48 47 48 48 48 48

The Social Credit era (1952–1991)[edit]

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia (1952–1986) – seats won by party
Government Social Credit NDP Social Credit
Party 1952 1953 1956 1960 1963 1966 1969 1972 1975 1979 1983 1986
    Social Credit 19 28 39 32 33 33 38 10 35 31 35 47
    Cooperative Commonwealth Federation 18 14 10 16
    New Democratic Party 14 16 12 38 18 26 22 22
    Liberal 6 4 2 4 5 7 5 5 1
    Progressive Conservative 4 1 2 1
    Labour 1 1 1
Total 48 48 52 52 52 55 55 55 55 57 57 69

After the Socreds (1991 to present)[edit]

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia (1991–2017) – seats won by party
Government NDP Liberal NDP
Party 1991 1996 2001 2005 2009 2013 2017
    New Democratic Party 51 39 2 33 35 34 41
    Liberal 17 33 77 46 49 49 43
    Social Credit 7
    Reform 2
    Progressive Democratic Alliance 1
    Green 1 3
    Independent 1 1
Total 75 75 79 79 85 85 87

Electoral reform[edit]

Recall and initiative[edit]

British Columbia is the only province in Canada with recall-election and initiative legislation. These measures applied following the 1991 referendum.[1]

Only one recall petition was ever deemed[by whom?] to have had any success: that compelling MLA Paul Reitsma to resign his seat in 1998 – hours before he would have been removed from office.

Fixed election dates[edit]

British Columbia was the first province in Canada to institute fixed election dates. Previously, British Columbia elections were like most parliamentary jurisdictions, which only require an election within a specified period of time (being five years in all jurisdictions of Canada).

Alternative voting systems[edit]


By the 1950s, the Liberal-Conservative coalition had begun to fall apart. One of the last acts of the coalition government was to introduce an alternative voting system, which was implemented for the 1952 general election.

Rather than voting for one candidate by marking in their ballots, electors would rank their choices for the candidates running in their constituency by placing numbers next to the names of the candidates on the ballot. If a candidate received an absolute simple majority of votes, that candidate would be elected. If not, the candidate with the least number of votes was dropped and the second choices were allocated among the remaining candidates. This procedure would be repeated until a candidate received a majority of votes.

The result was the election of enough candidates of the new Social Credit party to form a Socred minority government, with the CCF forming the official opposition. The Liberals were reduced to four members in the Legislature. The Conservatives (who changed their name to “Progressive Conservative” in tandem with their federal counterparts) were reduced to three.

The Socred minority government lasted only nine months. The alternate voting system was again employed for the ensuing general election. The result was a Socred majority. During this term of office, the Socreds abolished the new voting system and returned the province to the traditional voting system, a system that used both single-member districts and multi-member districts elected with a block voting system, both using first past the post system.[citation needed]

First decade of 21st century[edit]

In 2004, a Citizens' Assembly recommended replacing the First Past the Post system with a Single Transferable Vote system to be implemented in 2009, and a referendum was held on May 17, 2005 to determine if this change should go ahead. The proposal received majority support (57% of the popular vote), but the government had required 60% to make the proposal binding. A second requirement was a simple majority in 60% of the current ridings and 77 of the 79 ridings achieved this, far more than the 48 minimum. The close result has provoked further interest in electoral reform. As a result of this, the Provincial Government promised a second referendum on the issue. The second referendum was held in conjunction with the 2009 general election but it also failed, garnering just over 39% of voter support.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Electoral History of British Columbia Supplement, 1987–2001" (PDF). Elections BC. March 2002. p. 60. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-10-09. Retrieved 2008-01-02.

External links[edit]