B.C. premier says third term must juggle economy, other goals all at once

VANCOUVER, B.C. - B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell returned Wednesday to his theme of skilfully managing the economy - a theme that appeared to resonate with voters as they returned the Liberals to a rare third term.

VANCOUVER, B.C. - B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell returned Wednesday to his theme of skilfully managing the economy - a theme that appeared to resonate with voters as they returned the Liberals to a rare third term.

Campbell said there's lots of work ahead in his third term and all of it will have to happen at once.

Every other major issue on the agenda - improved health care, the environment, education and aboriginal issues - is dependent on B.C. pulling out of the worldwide recession, he told a news conference.

"The economy rests on the certainty that we can create with aboriginal people. The health-care system rests on the strength of the economy, our education system will actually generate economic opportunities but it requires a strong economy to be able to invest in it," Campbell said.

Throughout the campaign, the Liberals repeatedly warned voters against taking a chance on a new government during the deep economic malaise.

Campbell expressed confidence that the goals in his budget were possible.

"I am still confident, I haven't had any briefings from any of our finance people that say to me at this point that we're not going to be able to accomplish the goals we set," he said Wednesday.

Even NDP Leader Carole James acknowledged Tuesday night that Campbell's message of experience resonated and likely led to her party's defeat.

"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.

British Columbia's next legislature will look almost exactly like the last one.

When the votes were counted Tuesday night, the Liberals had 49 seats and the NDP 36 seats. At dissolution there were 42 Liberals, 34 NDP and three vacancies in the B.C. legislature.

The Liberals won 46 per cent of the popular vote to 42 per cent for the New Democrats. In 2005, the Liberals won 46 per cent of the popular to 41 for the NDP.

The Liberals lost only two seats to the NDP and gained only one from them.

The main reason the seat numbers are different at all is because there were six new seats up for grabs this time around. The Liberals took five of them.

While the seats changed little, the overall voter turnout was about 50 per cent, and Campbell said that is a concern.

"I think it's one of the real challenges we all face. It's one of my disappointments that we had a very low voter turnout.

"We have to re-establish for people how important their vote is and how much difference it makes," he said.

"All parties are going to have to work on that."

James promised Tuesday night that the NDP would provide a tough opposition to the Liberals, but she wouldn't say if that opposition would be led by her.

James also wouldn't speculate on her future, saying instead that she wanted some time to ponder the results.

James did not plan a news conference Wednesday. Her staff said she wanted to reflect on the election outcome.

Brad Zubyk, a former NDP insider who has been critical of James in the past, said she "barely met expectations" because the party failed to inspire new voters.

But he also said the party has a history of sticking with leaders through thick and thin and James's second loss to Campbell may not be reason enough for the party to push her out.

Voters also gave a resounding thumbs down to the referendum question that asked if they preferred the current system, or wanted to try the single transferable vote system, or STV.

The question was asked - and came close to passing - in the 2005 election. But this time it never got close to the threshold needed of 60 per cent of the popular vote as well as 60 per cent of the 85 ridings.

 
 
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