Politics of British Columbia

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

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 until 2015), 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)

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia (1903–1949) – seats won by party
Government Conservative Liberal Conservative Liberal Coalition
   Liberal-Conservative coalition3739
   Cooperative Commonwealth Federation7714107
   Provincial Party3
   Non-Partisan Independent Group2
   Social Democratic1
   People's Party1
   Independent Conservative1
   Independent Liberal2
   Independent Socialist1

The Social Credit era (1952–1991)

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia (1952–1986) – seats won by party
Government Social Credit NDP Social Credit
   Social Credit192839323333381035313547
   Cooperative Commonwealth Federation18141016
   New Democratic Party1416123818262222
   Progressive Conservative4121

After the Socreds (1991 to present)

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia (1991–2017) – seats won by party
Government NDP Liberal NDP
   New Democratic Party5139233353441
   Social Credit7
   Progressive Democratic Alliance1

Electoral reform

Recall and initiative

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 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

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

1950s to the 1980s

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

Under this system single-member districts and preferential voting was used. Rather than voting for one candidate by marking an X on their ballots, electors ranked their choices of candidates 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 fewest votes was dropped and the second choices marked on the candidate's ballots were allocated among the remaining candidates. This procedure was 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 had 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 alternative 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.

This mixed multiple-member and single-member district system with Block voting, was abolished in the 1980s, bringing single-member FPTP into use consistently.

First decade of 21st century

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


  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.
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