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Liberals win minority, but some B.C. battleground ridings still on the line

As of late Monday night, some B.C. ridings were still too close to call.
election 2021 polls (4)
A voter casts a ballot in Canada's 44th federal election.

Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party has won a third term in office, but without the majority he had hoped for when he triggered a snap election last month. 

The call — made by the Canadian Press and big television networks like CBC and CTV — came less than a half-hour after polls closed in British Columbia.

Just how stable the minority will be is not clear, with nearly 800,000 mail-in ballots still uncounted. As of 10 p.m. Monday, the Liberal Party was leading with 156 seats, one shy of the party’s seat total in 2019, but 14 short of a majority.

In British Columbia, partisan lines cut across geographic divides. Much of the Interior and northwest of the province aligned with deep Tory support that ran almost uninterrupted to the Ontario border. 

In Metro Vancouver, several battleground ridings turned against the Conservative party with NDP and Liberal candidates winning or in the lead. 

“That’s indicative of a Conservative party that is not breaking through,” said Simon Fraser University political scientist Stewart Prest. “It seems like they really have run into a wall in the Lower Mainland.” 

That wall starts red. Across the Metro Vancouver region, Liberal candidates picked up or defended their seat in several battleground ridings, including Burnaby North-Seymour,  Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam, Delta, Cloverdale-Langley City, and Fleetwood-Port Kells. 

Ken Hardie, a third-time candidate for Surrey's Fleetwood-Port Kells riding, arrived at the Guilford Taphouse "expecting some drama." By late Monday, Hardy had a 6,000-vote cushion over the Conservative candidate. 

"What we were hearing at the doors and what we were seeing in the community felt like 2015," he said. 

Hardie says he will return to Ottawa with the goal of protecting salmon stocks, getting SkyTrain extended south of the Fraser and doing something about "the stupid money coming into the country" and driving up housing prices.

By 11 p.m., Liberal candidates were also leading in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country and even in Richmond Centre, where Tory incumbent Alice Wong has held the riding for three terms. 

It wasn’t just Liberals picking up seats in the Lower Mainland. In Port Moody-Coquitlam, Canada’s closest race in 2019, NDP candidate Bonita Zarillo defeated Conservative incumbent Nelly Shin in a rematch. From there, a boot of orange cut through NDP strongholds in New Westminster, Burnaby (including NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s riding) and East Vancouver. 

In Vancouver-Granville, one of the closest watched races in the country, NDP candidate Anjali Appadurai held a slight lead over Liberal Taleed Noormohamed late Monday.

“We can see that the NDP are a real force in a number of different ridings,” said Prest. “It’s really going to be a contest between progressives.”

On the coast, the province showed its progressive streak. The NDP took ridings from the Alaska border to the capital, Victoria. Even in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, the NDP candidate was ahead of Green incumbent Paul Manly.

Manly said he was confident that special ballots would bring him the win.

“Obviously this isn’t what we had hoped for right here, right now,” he said. “It would be nice to be 1,000 votes ahead instead of 1,000 votes behind, but we have 8,000 votes yet that are going to be counted on Friday.”

With almost 9,000 special ballots requested in the riding, it could be some time before a final result is known.

Should Manly lose his seat, it would seal what many political pundits had signalled since the start of the campaign: a collapse in Green support after party brass tried to oust leader Annamie Paul in June.

Despite a shift in seats (and Hardie's claims of a 2015 red wave repeat), no party managed a significant breakthrough since the campaign began in August. For University of British Columbia associate professor Gerald Baier, the strong regional pattern of voting shows a divided population in B.C.

“If we get Groundhog Day, which we basically did, sometimes that’s the message: how much power do Canadians want a Liberal government to have?” he said.

None of that should come as a surprise, according to Prest. Deep divisions in society, like the urban-rural divide on issues like climate change and resource extraction, means Canadians are not going to trust one party with the keys to the country. 

“This may be a country that tends to produce minority governments divided by region, divided by urban and rural,” said Prest.

In the hours after a minority government was called, several pundits had already begun casting the election as a loss for all parties, and especially Canadians, who are on the hook for a roughly $600-million bill. 

But while that’s certainly a fortune to any Canadian, Baier notes it works out to roughly $16 per Canadian in the end, a small cost to carry out the functions of a democracy.  

“I’ll probably sound like a Trudeau apologist, but it’s never wrong to go through an election,” Baier said. 

The political scientist reserves his frustration for the long lines of student voters, who reportedly waited up to three hours at the University of British Columbia after Elections Canada failed to set up a smooth process for a student vote. 

“If I’m going to criticize anybody, it’s Elections Canada,” he said. “It’s not voter suppression. But it’s serious bureaucratic incompetence.”

With files from the Canadian Press and Darron Kloster