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Politics of British Columbia

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Politics of British Columbia
Polity typeProvince within a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy
ConstitutionConstitution of Canada
Legislative branch
Meeting placeBritish Columbia Parliament Buildings, Victoria
Presiding officerSpeaker of the Legislative Assembly
Executive branch
Head of State
CurrentlyKing Charles III
represented by
Janet Austin,
Lieutenant Governor
Head of Government
David Eby
AppointerLieutenant Governor
NameExecutive Council
LeaderPremier (as President of the Executive Council)
AppointerLieutenant Governor
Judicial branch
Court of Appeal
Chief judgeRobert J. Bauman
Provincial Court
Chief judgeChristopher E. Hinkson
Provincial Court
Chief judgeMelissa Gillespie

The Politics of British Columbia involve 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.

A constitutional monarchy, the Crown is the corporation sole, assuming distinct roles: the executive, as the Crown-in-Council; the legislature, as the Crown-in-Parliament; and the courts, as the Crown-on-the-Bench. Three institutions—the Executive Council (Cabinet); the Legislative Assembly; and the judiciary, respectively—exercise the powers of the Crown.


British Columbia Parliament Buildings, the seat of the Legislature

The Parliament of British Columbia consists of the unicameral Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and the Crown in Parliament. As government power is vested in the Crown, the role of the lieutenant governor is to grant royal assent on behalf of the monarch to legislation passed by the Legislature. The Crown does not participate in the legislative process save for signifying approval to a bill passed by the Assembly.


The Legislature plays a role in the election of governments, as the premier and Cabinet hold office by virtue of commanding the body's confidence. Per the tenants of responsible government, Cabinet ministers are almost always elected MLAs, and account to the Legislative Assembly.


The second-largest party of parliamentary caucus is known as the Official Opposition, who typically appoint MLAs as shadow ministers who critique and scrutinize the work of the government.

The Official Opposition is formally termed His Majesty's Loyal Opposition to signify that, though they may be opposed to the premier and Cabinet of the day's policies, they remain loyal to Canada, which is personified and represented by the King.[1]

History of politics in British Columbia

The chamber of the provincial legislature in Victoria

From BC's start as a province, BC used a mixture of the first past the post elections in single-member districts and multi-member districts where voters cast multiple votes (Block Voting). This was in use except for a small break in the 1950s, until the 1980s.

Prior to 1903, there were no political parties in British Columbia, other than at the federal level. One exception to this was the Nationalist Party, BC's first labour party founded in 1894. It elected an MLA in the 1894 and 1898 provincial election - Robert Macpherson.[2]

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 (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. Mike Harcourt led the NDP for the first half of this NDP decade, but the party had difficulty finding stable leadership after that, going through three leaders and premiers over the next five years. The rejuvenated BC Liberal Party won the next four elections before losing the 2017 election to the NDP government under John Horgan. In 2020, the Horgan led NDP government called a snap election, where they beat the BC Liberal party winning a clear majority with 57 out of 81 seats. After losing the election, the BC Liberal party renamed itself to BC United.

In western Canada (other than Alberta until 2015), typically politics have featured the CCF or NDP on the left and another party on the right. The present incarnation of the BC Liberal Party fulfills this role: the BC Liberal 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 (italicized and underlined numbers indicates a minority government)
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)

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia (1952–1986) – seats won by party (italicized and underlined numbers indicates a minority government)
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 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 Social Credit (1991 to present)

Elections to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia (1991–2020) – seats won by party (italicized and [*]starred numbers indicates a coalition government)
Government NDP Liberal NDP
Party 1991 1996 2001 2005 2009 2013 2017 2020 2024
    New Democratic 51 39 2 33 35 34 41* 57
    Liberal 17 33 77 46 49 49 43 28
    Social Credit 7
    Reform 2
    Progressive Democratic Alliance 1
    Green 1 3* 2
    Independent 1 1
Total 75 75 79 79 85 85 87 87

Electoral reform

Recall and initiative

British Columbia was the first province in Canada with recall-election and initiative legislation. These measures applied following the 1991 referendum.[3]

Only one recall petition was ever successful: 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.[citation needed]

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


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.


In 2017 election, the BC NDP campaigned on the promise to hold a referendum on switching to a electoral system of proportional representation. A referendum was held in the subsequent year with two questions on the ballot. The first question was a binary choice between the current first past the post electoral system and a proportional representation electoral system. The second question asked citizens to rank three specific types of proportional representation: dual-member proportional representation, mixed-member proportional representation, and rural–urban proportional representation. If a majority of citizens preferred proportional representation over first past the post, this second question would determine which specific type of proportional representation the province would adopt. In the end, the second question was moot as voters decicively chose the familiar first past the post system (61.3%) over the unfamiliar proportional representation (38.7%).[4] After the results of the referendum were released (and even during the referendum campaign), critics suggested that a major reason that proportional representation was defeated was the complexity of the second ballot question.[5] Although the general public was knowledgeable enough to understand the difference between first past the post and proportional representation, the subtle and numerous differences between dual-member proportional representation, mixed-member proportional representation, and rural–urban proportional representation were less easy to understand, motivating voters to stick with the electoral system.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Schmitz, Gerald (December 1988), The Opposition in a Parliamentary System, Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada, archived from the original on 25 April 2009, retrieved 21 May 2009
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of BC, p. 486
  3. ^ "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.
  4. ^ "2018 Referendum Voting Results". Elections BC.
  5. ^ "How the No side surged from behind to defeat proportional representation". vancouversun. Retrieved 2022-02-07.
  6. ^ Dhillon, Sunny (2018-05-30). "B.C. unveils its proposed question for voters in electoral-reform referendum". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2022-02-07.
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Politics of British Columbia
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