B.C. Liberals' message of strong leadership wins 49 seats to NDP's 36

VICTORIA, B.C. - Gordon Campbell's message of strong economic leadership in tough times propelled his B.C. Liberals to a rare third consecutive mandate Tuesday.

VICTORIA, B.C. - Gordon Campbell's message of strong economic leadership in tough times propelled his B.C. Liberals to a rare third consecutive mandate Tuesday.

Campbell turned British Columbia's sputtering economy into a winning issue at the ballot box, telling voters he has the proven leadership and business experience that's needed at this time to guide the province through rough times and prepare for a recovery boosted by Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympics.

Campbell used his business credentials to cast doubt upon the New Democrats, who he attacked for planning to take British Columbia back to the 1990s when the province had one of the worst economies in Canada, and people were leaving by the thousands to find work.

It's the second time he has defeated NDP leader Carole James.

The Liberals had been planning last summer to campaign on a record number of surplus budgets, massive energy revenues and record job creation.

All that changed when economies tanked worldwide.

Campbell grudgingly shifted from a boom-times booster delivering prosperity to British Columbia to a careful and trustworthy manager with plans to minimize losses while preparing the ground for recovery.

Voters responded with Campbell's three-peat.

The Liberals won 49 of the province's 85 ridings, while the New Democrats won 36. At dissolution there were 42 Liberals, 34 NDP and three vacancies in the B.C. legislature.

James acknowledged in defeat that Campbell's economic message, was what gave him his third term.

"The people chose Gordon Campbell. I think it's clear the economy was an issue and people felt they wanted somebody with experience who'd been in the premier's position already," she told reporters. "I think that's very clear."

James did not immediately address her political future. In 2005, she took the New Democrats from a low of two seats in the legislature to a surprising 33 seats.

"Tonight is Gordon Campbell's night," said James.

"We'll take some time to reflect on everything. I'm going to take some time to reflect on the issues, and take some time to reflect on how the campaign went."

A beaming Campbell took the stage at the Liberal party headquarters in Vancouver, saying he'd received a call from James earlier in the evening.

He said the call "recognizes that there are many problems that we face in this province that frankly transcend political boundaries," he told supporters.

"They really say to us all we have to work together to solve the challenges that are in front of us. We should do that with new ideas. We should do that with a commitment to the people who we actually owe this to - our kids and our grandkids."

Former B.C. cabinet minister Tom Christensen said he thought Campbell got out a strong message that not withstanding some of the challenges in the economy, B.C. is much better off than many other jurisdictions.

"I think it's a response to a well-run positive campaign that talked about a positive future for British Columbia and it's a recognition by the citizens of British Columbia that we have very effective leadership today, that we need to maintain that course as we move through these difficult economic times and that we're going to come out all the better for it with Gordon Campbell leading our province," he said.

Former NDP finance minister Paul Ramsay said the party's loss could be attributed to the slow start to the campaign.

He said the New Democrats did not hit the campaign trail running at full speed, spending the first week feuding with environmentalists over the NDP's opposition to the Liberal carbon tax.

"You need to start closing at the start of a campaign and not in the last 14 days," said Ramsay.

"Obviously the NDP started out rough. There's lots of time to figure out what went wrong."

Ramsey, who was part of the NDP's two government's during the 1990s, said strategists believed that the party would win rural votes by promising to drop the carbon tax.

Green party Leader Jane Sterk lost her bid to be the party's first elected MLA, losing to the NDP candidate in her Esquimalt-Royal Roads riding.

The party's best hopes for one day taking up a seat in the legislature might have been the electoral reform rejected by B.C. voters Tuesday.

A referendum included in the vote could have made B.C. the first jurisdiction in Canada to adopt a single-transferable vote system, which advocates say amounts to a more proportional representation than the current first-past-the-post system.

But the system was narrowly defeated in 2005 and rejected again Tuesday night.

The referendum and indeed the entire election campaign were largely overshadowed by the playoff run by the Vancouver Canucks. Fans' Stanley Cup dreams ended Monday night when their team was knocked out.

In competition with the province's sports aspirations, the campaign largely failed to capture the attention of the public.

What discussion took place was dominated by the economy, the environment and the province's controversial carbon tax.

The Liberal government appeared to be shaping up very similar to the previous line-up.

The B.C. Liberal's lead-footed former solicitor general John van Dongen was re-elected. Van Dongen resigned his cabinet post mid-campaign after losing his driver's licence over his many speeding tickets.

The Liberals seized upon the economy, saying their proven record of success earned them the right to guide British Columbia through the rough economic water facing the province and Canada.

The New Democrats simply said eight years is enough.

The Campbell Liberals had eight years and still couldn't find time to raise the minimum wage, fight child poverty or make life easier for senior citizens - and now unemployment numbers are rising, the NDP argued.

Neither party spent much time at all talking about the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics, a mega-showcase that would see the winner of this election on the international stage hosting the world.

While the election generated little passion, it had its moments.

The biggest was van Dongen's resignation. As solicitor general and public safety minister van Dongen was the province's top traffic cop and he led several government safe-driving campaigns.

A rookie Vancouver New Democrat candidate quit after photos on Facebook showing him with his hand on a woman's clothed breast became public and Liberal candidate Marc Dalton apologized for a homophobic email he sent years ago.

Polls published during the election revealed wide gaps in results.

Some polls had the Liberals with a nine-point lead over the NDP at the mid-point of the campaign, while others found the two parties in a tight horserace in the final days.

 
 
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