Contributed as member of The Tyee election reporting team | May 14, 2013 | Circulation: 1 million unique monthly readers
“Well that was easy.”
With that opening line of her victory speech, Premier Christy Clark delivered a subtle rebuke to her doubters in the polling companies and the media — and brought down the house at the BC Liberal celebration that many thought would end up being a wake.
“Tonight we received a mandate from the people of British Columbia, and I say to the citizens of British Columbia you have humbled us tonight with this opportunity and the tremendous obligation you have placed on our shoulders,” Clark told about 1,000 supporters.
Clark made a nod to her winning argument in the election — that economic growth was more likely to occur under her leadership than with the NDP.
“It’s a growing economy that allows us to build schools and build hospitals and build roads.”
As she has in many speeches, Clark paid tribute to her late father Jim Clark who ran unsuccessfully for the BC Liberals in Burnaby when that party was in the wilderness.
“My father would have been 85 today; it’s his birthday. He never got to see me get elected in politics, but I know that tonight he would be proud of all of you and all the British Columbians that we have decided that we need to pursue the values that make us strong as a province.”
Throughout the night, the mood at the BC Liberal party shifted from quiet apprehension to surprised optimism and then jubilation as one TV station after another declared Clark’s party the victors.
Michael Geller, the prominent real estate consultant and pundit, said the upset win shows that chattering classes are having less impact on voter intention.
“Isn’t (it) wonderful that the pundits and the pollsters can no longer determine the outcome of an election,” he said. “In this case, it was the voters who decided. And none of us predicted this.”
Geller said the Alberta Conservative Party’s unexpected win over the right-wing Wildrose Party last year was a “foreshadowing” of what just happened in B.C.
Pamela Martin, the former TV anchor who became an aide to Clark, cried tears of joy as she watched the local TV networks declare victory for the BC Liberals. She said the polling companies will have less credibility after this election.
“Something about the system is not working. I’m sure the polling companies are going to look at that pretty closely. And they should.”
Jubilation echoed across the strait
Jubilation at Liberal headquarters was echoed across the Strait of Georgia at the post-election party of Green candidate Andrew Weaver.
Weaver told a packed room of Green supporters that “tonight we’ve made history” after winning the party’s first ever seat in B.C.
“We didn’t split the vote,” he said, flanked by family, his campaign team and two large bundles of green balloons. “We are the vote.”
Weaver said his win “was only made possible” by Green MP Elizabeth May’s historic win in the 2011 federal election.
The star candidate wasted no time taking shots at Clark’s Liberal government, which defied months of poll predictions by winning the B.C. election Tuesday evening.
“Pipe-dream economics” is how Weaver referred to the party’s ardent support for liquefied natural gas.
Weaver told reporters after his victory speech he was “absolutely shocked” by the election night performance of Adrian Dix’s NDP.
“This was their election to lose, and apparently they’ve done [it],” he said.
Nearby, a supporter declared: “This is the place to be tonight.”
Green leader Jane Sterk lost her bid to replace the NDP’s Carole James in the riding of Victoria-Beacon Hill.
Sterk recently told media she’d step aside as leader if she didn’t win a seat. But Weaver said he will continue serving under her leadership “for many months to come.”
Weaver will make a “tremendous MLA,” Sterk said Tuesday evening.
‘Sometimes it rains’: Dix
At the New Democratic Party’s election night headquarters at the Vancouver Convention Centre the mood shifted from confident, to wary, to shocked in the space of a couple hours.
“Never a dull moment in B.C. politics,” said leader Dix, taking the stage at about 10:20 p.m. “In a democratic system sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. In British Columbia, sometimes it rains.”
He tried to look on the bright side of a defeat that was widely expected to be a win. “We’ve elected a very strong team that will hold the government accountable,” he said, adding that NDP MLAs will do their best to bring change from the opposition benches.
“If there’s one disappointment, other than the obvious, it’s that we haven’t managed to address questions of participation in our democracy yet,” said Dix.
Asked in a scrum with reporters if he would remain as leader, Dix said the party would make that decision in the days ahead. “I’m going to respectfully meet the caucus. We’re a democratic party.”
Dix defended the positive approach the party took in the campaign. “I believed and I still believe running a positive campaign was the right approach,” he said, though the BC Liberals were “relentlessly negative.” The goal was to get young people involved and interested in politics again, he said. “One way to address that is to stop attacking people personally… I’m not naive about it. I think it was the right thing to do.”
The party will have to assess what went wrong, he said, but added, “The fact we appeared to have a lead may have been destabilizing.”
Party president Moe Sihota declined to comment on the result.
“Very, very disappointed, but we have to move on,” said Sienny Kwong, an NDP supporter at the convention centre. “From the mistakes we make, we’re only going to get better.”
She called the result shocking and temporary and said the party needs to think about the future. “At least we are more honest, more straightforward than Christy Clark, a million times… She knows how to fool. We don’t know how to fool, but we’re going to do better.”
Many were at a loss to explain the result. “I don’t know how to explain it,” said Laila Belabbas, who helped on Spencer Chandra Herbert’s successful re-election bid in Vancouver-West End. “Things seemed to be going to the NDP. People seemed tired of the Liberals. Seeing that turnaround is quite shocking.”
Cummins blames Conservative defeat on big money
Wielding a stern but unwavering face, Conservative leader John Cummins blamed tonight’s BC Liberal win — and his party’s collapse — on British Columbians’ fears of the New Democrat “dark decade” in power.
Failing to unseat Liberal cabinet minister Mary Polak — not even broaching 12 per cent in the polls compared to her 52 per cent — the 71-year-old former Reform and Alliance Member of Parliament oversaw a campaign that came nowhere near electing a single MLA.
“You can’t begin to tell me that British Columbians chose the Liberal Party, when they can’t keep their word to them,” Cummins said. “They didn’t.
“They were running away from the (NDP)… Their dark decade of the nineties is still in peoples’ minds.”
Grilled repeatedly by reporters about his party’s meteoric demise in a campaign which saw four candidates forced from the campaign over gaffes, Cummins frowned grimly at one point, swigging from a water bottle, as the questions continued.
But just like his campaign’s daily updates — often listing his breakfast choices and pickup truck’s odometer readings — Cummins’ folksy charm was soon on display when asked if he is pleased that at least the NDP is not in government.
“I would only be pleased if both of them were run out of town!” Cummins chuckled, to uproarious laughter and applause from his supporters in a cramped 1,200-foot campaign office. “It was a choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum — or Tweedledumber. I don’t have truck nor trade with either of them.”
Without being able to wrest the backing of the federal party, Cummins stood little chance to woo small-c conservatives in the province. But as the night wore on, his mood shifted from grim to animated, particularly when The Tyee asked how he felt about the BC Liberals’ endorsement by stalwart former Reform-Conservative MP Stockwell Day.
“I’ll tell ya,” he replied, “when I saw Stockwell Day running around as a Liberal, I certainly wasn’t surprised. If that’s as good as they can do, take him!
“What is it he liked about the Liberals? Did he like that they lied about BC Rail? Is that a Conservative value? Did he like them because they lied about the HST? Is that a Conservative value? I have no idea why someone like him would say, ‘I can support these Liberals.’ My record as a politician has been one of honesty; when I spoke up for my constituents at home in an election, I kept my word.”
Branding the Liberals and NDP as parties beholden to their sizeable donors, Cummins vowed that — whether or not his party keeps him on as leader — there will always be a future for the party in B.C.
“It was a very aggressive, well-financed campaign to begin with,” he said. “Let’s not kid ourselves: at the end of the day, they’re going to be answering to the people that put that big money up for their advertisements. They’re not going to be looking out for me and thee.
“There’s certainly room for a party that has a vision for British Columbia, that intends to look out for the folks here rather than special interest groups.”