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|British Columbia Liberal Party|
Active provincial party
|Seats in Legislature|
The British Columbia Liberal Party (also referred to as the BC Liberals) is the governing conservative and neoliberal provincial political party in British Columbia, Canada. First elected into provincial government in 1916, the party went into decline after 1952, with its rump caucus merging with the Social Credit Party of British Columbia for the 1975 election. It was returned to the legislature through the efforts of Gordon Wilson in a break-through in the 1991 election. At this time, the Social Credit Party had collapsed, with the BC Liberals able to garner the centre vote traditionally split between left and right in British Columbia provincial politics. After Wilson lost a leadership challenge in the wake of a personal scandal in a bitter three-way race, the party was led by Gordon Campbell, who became Leader of the Opposition after Wilson's convention defeat. In the wake of the electoral collapse of the British Columbia New Democratic Party (BC NDP) in the 2001 election, the Campbell-led BC Liberals won an overwhelming majority in 2001. In November 2010, after mounting public opposition to a new tax and the controversial ending of a political corruption trial, and with low popularity ratings, Campbell announced his resignation, and on February 26, 2011, Christy Clark was elected as the party's new leader and thereby became 35th Premier of British Columbia.
Historically affiliated with the Liberal Party of Canada, the British Columbia Liberal Party became independent of its federal and provincial counterparts in 1987. After the 1991 provincial election, the BC Liberals subsequently displaced the British Columbia Social Credit Party as the province's de facto centre-right party opposed to the centre-left British Columbia New Democratic Party.
From 1871 to 1903, British Columbia operated without a party system. Party politics were only introduced in 1903 provincial election with the formation of the British Columbia Conservative Party. The popular premier Richard McBride kept the Liberals to one seat in 1909 and then managed to shut them out in the 1912 election. The government's popularity waned as an economic downturn hit the province along with railway debts relating to government funding of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. McBride resigned on December 15, 1915 to become the province's representative in London, where he died in 1917.
1916–1928 First government
The divided Conservatives faced the Liberals in the election of 1916 and lost badly. The Liberals formed a government under Harlan Carey Brewster. Brewster had become leader of the opposition, and was elected party leader in March 1912. He lost his seat a few weeks later in the 1912 election, which returned no Liberals at all. In 1916, he won election to the legislature again through a by-election, and led his party to victory in a general election later that year by campaigning on a reform platform. Brewster promised to end patronage in the civil service, end political machines, improve workman's compensation and labor laws, bring in votes for women, and other progressive reforms.
The government brought in women's suffrage, instituted prohibition, and combated political corruption before his unexpected death in 1918. He is interred in the Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, British Columbia.
John Oliver succeeded Brewster as Premier when Brewster died in 1918. Oliver's government developed the produce industry in the Nanook Valley, and tried to persuade the federal government to lower the freight rate for rail transport. The party managed a bare majority win in the 1920 election and only managed to govern after the 1924 election with the support of 2 independent Liberals. Even though he lost his seat in the 1924 election, Oliver remained Premier until his death in 1927.
John Duncan MacLean became Premier when Oliver died in 1927 at a time when the Liberal government was in decline. He was unable to reverse his party's fortunes, and was defeated in the 1928 election by the rival Conservatives.
1928–1933 Opposition and the Great Depression
The Liberals managed to increase their vote in the 1928 election but did not dodge the bullet losing close to half their seats. With the onset of the Great Depression and the implosion of the government of Simon Fraser Tolmie, the Liberals easily swept back to power in the 1933 election.
1933–1941 Duff Pattullo
The 1933 election was a major watershed in BC history. It brought into power Duff Pattullo and introduced into the Legislature the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a new social-democratic and democratic socialist opposition party.
Pattullo wanted an activist government to try to deal with the depression through social programs and support of the unemployed. Canada has been recognized as the hardest hit by the Great Depression, and western Canada the hardest hit within Canada. Pattullo's many attempts were often at odds with the federal government in Ottawa.
Pattullo was also a great advocate for British Columbia, and suggested such things as the annexation of Yukon by BC, and the construction of the Alaska Highway to reduce the power of eastern Canada over BC. In the 1937 general election, his government was re-elected running on the slogan of "socialized capitalism".
1941–1951 "The Coalition"
The old order of the alternating government with the Conservatives came to an end with the rise of the CCF who managed to be official opposition from 1933 to 1937 and were only one seat less than the Conservatives in the 1937 election. In the 1941 election the CCF came second. The election did not give the Liberals the majority they hoped for.
John Hart became the Premier and Liberal leader in 1941 when Pattullo refused to go into coalition with the Conservatives. The Liberal members removed Patullo as leader and Hart formed a Liberal-Conservative coalition government, known in BC history as "The Coalition ". From 1941 to 1945, Hart governed at a time of wartime scarcity, when all major government projects were postponed. The coalition government was re-elected in the 1945 election by a decisive margin. In that contest, Liberals and Conservatives ran under the same banner.
After 1945, Hart undertook an ambitious program of rural electrification, hydroelectric and highway construction. Hart's most significant projects were the construction of Highway 97 to northern British Columbia (which is now named in his honour) and the Bridge River Power Project, which was the first major hydroelectric development in British Columbia. He established the BC Power Commission, a forerunner of BC Hydro, to provide power to smaller communities that were not serviced by private utilities. In December 1947, Hart retired as Premier. The Conservative Party agitated for its leader, Herbert Anscomb, to succeed Hart as Premier but the Liberals outnumbered the Tories in the coalition caucus and Hart was followed by another Liberal, Byron Johnson, known as "Boss" Johnson, with Anscomb as Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance.
Johnson's government introduced universal hospital insurance—and to pay for it—a 3% provincial sales tax. It expanded the highway system, extended the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, and negotiated the Alcan Agreement, which facilitated construction of the Kenny Dam. The government also coped with the devastating 1948 flooding of the Fraser River, declaring a state of emergency and beginning a program of diking the river's banks through the Fraser Valley. Johnson is also noted for appointing Nancy Hodges as the first female Speaker in the Commonwealth.
The Liberal-Conservative coalition government won a landslide victory in the 1949 election – at 61% the greatest percentage of the popular vote in BC history. Tensions had grown between the coalition partners and within both parties. The Liberal Party executive voted to terminate the coalition and Johnson dropped his Conservative ministers in October 1951 resulting in a short lived minority government which soon collapsed.
The 1952 election
In order to prevent the CCF from winning in a three party competition, the government introduced instant-runoff voting, with the expectation that Conservative voters would list the Liberals as their second choice and vice versa. Voters however, were looking for alternatives. More voters chose British Columbia Social Credit League ahead of any other party as their second choice. Social Credit went on to emerge as the largest party when the ballots were counted in the 1952 general election. Social Credit's de facto leader during the election, W. A. C. Bennett, formerly a Conservative, was formally named party leader after the election.
At the 1953 general election, the Liberals were reduced to 4 seats, taking 23.36% of the vote. Arthur Laing defeated Tilly Rolston in Vancouver Point Grey. Even though Social Credit won a majority of seats in the legislature, their finance minister Einar Gunderson was defeated in Oak Bay by Archie Gibbs of the Liberals. Gordon Gibson Sr, a millionaire timber baron, nicknamed the "Bull of the Woods," was elected for Lillooet as a Liberal.
1953–1975 Third party status
During the early period of this time, the Liberals' most prominent member was Gordon Gibson, Sr. He was a cigar-smoking and gregarious logging contractor who could have been Premier but for a major political error. He was elected in 1953 for the Lillooet riding. In 1955, the Sommers scandal surfaced and he was the only leader in the legislature to make an issue of it. W. A. C. Bennett and his attorney general tried many tactics to stop the information from coming out.
In frustration, Gordon Gibson Sr. resigned his seat and forced a by-election, hoping to make the Sommers scandal the issue. Unfortunately, the voting system had changed, and he came a close second after Social Credit.
In the 1960 election, the party won four seats with the same 20.9% of the popular vote as in 1956.
In the 1963 election, the party's caucus increased by one more MLA to five, but their share of the popular vote fell to 19.98%.
The 1966 election, the party won another seat, bringing its caucus to six, and had a modest increase in the vote to 20.24%.
In the 1969 vote, the party lost one seat, and its share of the vote fell to 19.03%.
In 1972, the party was led into the election by a new leader, David Anderson, who had been elected in the 1968 federal election as an MP for the Liberal Party of Canada. He and four others managed to be elected to the legislature, but with the lowest vote in party history at 16.4%.
After the British Columbia New Democratic Party (BC NDP) won the 1972 election, many supporters of the Liberal and Conservative parties defected to the Social Credit League. This coalition was able to keep the New Democrats out of power from 1975 until the 1990s. MLAs Garde Gardom, Pat McGeer and Allan Williams left the Liberals for Social Credit along with Hugh Curtis of the suddenly rejuvenated Tories. All of them became members of Social Credit Cabinets after 1975.
In the 1975 election, the only Liberal to be elected was Gordon Gibson Jr. as the party scored a dismal 7.24%. David Anderson was badly defeated in his Victoria riding, placing behind the New Democrats and Social Credit.
1979–1991 In the wilderness
The 1979 election was the party's lowest point. For the first time in party history, it was shut out of the legislature. Only five candidates ran, none were elected, and the party got 0.5% of the vote.
The 1983 election saw a small recovery as the party came close to a full slate of candidates, but won a dismal 2.69% of the vote.
The 1986 vote was the third and last election in which the party was shut out. Its share of the popular vote improved to 6.74%.
In 1987, Gordon Wilson became the leader of the provincial Liberal Party when no one else was interested. Wilson severed formal links between the provincial Liberal party and its federal counterpart. Since the mid-1970s, most federal Liberals in BC had chosen to support the British Columbia Social Credit Party at the provincial level. For the provincial party, the intent of this separation was to reduce the influence of Social Credit members of federal party. From the federal party's perspective, this move was equally beneficial to them, as the provincial party was heavily in debt.
Wilson set about to rebuild the provincial party as a credible third party in British Columbia politics. During the same period, the ruling Social Credit party was beset by controversy under the leadership of Bill Vander Zalm. As a result, multiple Social Credit scandals caused many voters to look for an alternative.
By the time of the 1991 election, Wilson lobbied to be included in the televised Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) debate between Vander Zalm's successor, Premier Rita Johnston and BC NDP Leader Michael Harcourt. The CBC agreed, and Wilson impressed many voters with his performance. The Liberal campaign gained tremendous momentum, and siphoned off much support from the Social Credit campaign. In the end, while the BC NDP won the election, the Liberals came in second with 17 seats. The Liberals were back, and Wilson became Leader of the Opposition.
Official Opposition under Wilson: 1991–1994
Wilson's policies did not coincide with many other Liberals both in the legislature and in the party who wanted to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of Social Credit. The Liberals also proved themselves to be inexperienced, both in the legislature and in building a broad-based political movement. They had a difficult time to build a disciplined organization that could mount an effective opposition against the New Democratic Party provincial government.
In 1993, Wilson's leadership was further damaged by revelations of his affair with fellow Liberal MLA Judi Tyabji. By this time, most of the caucus was in open revolt against his leadership. Wilson agreed to call for a leadership convention, at which he would be a candidate. Delta South MLA Fred Gingell became the Leader of the Opposition while the Liberal leadership race took place.
Soon, former party leader Gordon Gibson and Vancouver Mayor Gordon Campbell entered the leadership race. Campbell won decisively on the first ballot, with former party leader Gordon Gibson placing second and Wilson a distant third. The leadership election was decided on a one member, one vote system through which Liberals voted for their choices by telephone.
Wilson and Tyabji then left the Liberals and formed their own party, the Progressive Democratic Alliance.
Official Opposition under Campbell: 1994–2001
Once Campbell became leader, the Liberals adopted the moniker "BC Liberals" for the first time, and soon introduced a new logo and new party colours (red and blue, instead of the usual "Liberal red" and accompanying maple leaf). The revised name and logo was an attempt to distinguish itself more clearly in the minds of voters from the federal Liberal Party of Canada.
In early 1994, Campbell was elected to the legislature in a by-election. Under his leadership, some supporters of the federal Reform Party of Canada and former Social Credit members became attracted to the BC Liberals, winning key by-elections against the remnants of the Social Credit in the Fraser Valley region, solidifying the BC Liberals' claim to be the clear alternative to the existing BC NDP government. The Liberal party also filled vacuum created on the centre-right of the BC political spectrum caused by Social Credit's collapse.
In the 1996 election, the BC Liberals won the popular vote but won fewer seats than the New Democrats. This was as a result of the Liberals losing numerous contests, while piling up large victories in fewer seats. In rural British Columbia, particularly in the Interior where the railway was the lifeblood of the local economy – the BC Liberals lost several contests because of discomfort that the electorate had with some of Campbell's policies, principally his promise to sell BC Rail.
After the election, the BC Liberals set about making sure that there would be no repeat of 1996. Campbell jettisoned some of the less popular policy planks in his 1996 platform, most notably a promise to sell BC Rail, as the prospect of the sale's consequences had alienated supporters in the Northern Interior ridings. He also aimed to make the party more welcoming for former Reform Party of British Columbia opponents such as MLA Richard Neufeld.
The Campbell government: 2001–2011
After a scandal-filled second term for the BC NDP government, the BC Liberals won the 2001 election with the biggest landslide in BC history: 77 of 79 seats. Gordon Campbell became the seventh premier in ten years, and the first Liberal premier in almost 50 years.
Campbell introduced a 25% cut in all provincial income taxes on the first day he was installed to office. To improve BC's investment climate, the BC Liberals also reduced the corporate income tax and abolished the corporate capital tax for most businesses (a tax on investment and employment that had been introduced by the New Democrats).
Campbell's first term was also noted for fiscal austerity, including reductions in welfare rolls and some social services, deregulation, the sale of some government assets (in particular the "Fast ferries" built by the previous government, which were sold off for a fraction of their price). Campbell also initiated the privatization of BC Rail, which the Liberals had promised not to sell in order to win northern ridings which had rejected the party in 1996 but reversed this promise after election, with criminal investigations connected with the bidding process resulting in the BC Legislature Raids of 2003 and the ensuing and still-pending court case. There were several significant labour disputes, some of which were settled through government legislation but which included confrontations with the province's doctors. Campbell also downsized the civil service, with staff cutbacks of more than fifty percent in some government departments, and despite promises of smaller government the size of cabinet was nearly doubled and parliamentary salaries raised. Governance was also re-arranged such that Deputy Ministers were now to report to the Chief of Staff in the Premier's office, rather than to their respective ministers. In the course of the cuts, hospitals, courthouses and extended care facilities around the province were shut down, particularly in smaller communities, and enforcement staff such as the BC Conservation Service were reduced to marginal levels. Various provincial parks created during the previous NDP regime were also downgraded to protected area status, meaning they could be opened for resource exploitation, and fees for use of parks were raised.
In 2003, a drug investigation known as Operation Everwhichway led to raids on government offices in the British Columbia Parliament Buildings in relation to suspect dealings concerning the sale of BC Rail to CN in a scandal which has since become known as Railgate and the trial of four former ministerial aides for influence peddling, breach of trust and accepting bribes.
The Liberals were re-elected in the 2005 election with a reduced majority of 7 seats (46–33).
The Liberals were again re-elected in the 2009 election.
Shortly after this election the introduction of the HST was announced, contrary to promises made during the election campaign.
Christy Clark government: 2011–present
On November 3, 2010, facing an imminent caucus revolt over his management style and the political backlash against the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and the controversial end to the BC Rail corruption trial and with his approval rating as low as 9% in polls, Gordon Campbell announced his resignation.
The party's 2011 leadership convention was prompted by Gordon Campbell's request to the party to hold a leadership convention "at the earliest possible date." The convention elected Christy Clark as its new leader of the party on February 26, 2011. Clark and her new Cabinet were sworn in on March 14.
Under Clark the party charted a more centrist outlook while continuing its recent tradition of being a coalition of federal Liberal and federal Conservative supporters. Clark, who had previously worked for the Chrétien Liberals and had been married to federal Liberal party strategist Mark Marrissen at that time, had been a harsh critic of the federal Conservatives under Stephen Harper during the 2008 federal election. Clark is nevertheless closely associated with several notable Harper Conservatives. Former Harper pollster Dimitri Pantazopoulos became her principal secretary in 2011, and former federal Conservative Ken Boessenkool became her chief of staff in 2012. However, she earned the support of Reform Party of Canada founder Preston Manning as well as former federal Conservative cabinet ministers from BC Chuck Strahl and Stockwell Day. Manning famously invited her to a 2012 "conservative family reunion" in Ottawa, angering British Columbia Conservative Party supporters. Recently, Clark appointed a series of Ontario Liberal and federal Liberal - linked political staffers to her office and senior campaign team while several staff tied to the Conservative Party were shuffled out or resigned.
- John Alexander MacDonald October 1903 – October 1909
- John Oliver October 1909 – March 1912
- Harlan Carey Brewster March 1912 – March 1, 1918)
- John Oliver March 1, 1918 – August 17, 1927
- John Duncan MacLean August 17, 1927 – October 1928
- Thomas Dufferin Pattullo January 1929 – December 9, 1941
- John Hart December 9, 1941 – December 29, 1947
- Byron Ingemar Johnson December 29, 1947 – April 1953
- Arthur Laing April 1953 – April 1959
- Ray Perrault May 1959 – May 1968
- Patrick Lucey McGeer October 1968 – May 22, 1972
- David Anderson May 22, 1972 – September 28, 1975
- Gordon Gibson September 28, 1975 – February 19, 1979
- Jev Tothill February 19, 1979 – April 1981
- Shirley McLoughlin May 25, 1981 – August 1983
- Art Lee March 31, 1984 – February 1987
- Gordon Wilson October 30, 1987 – September 11, 1993
- Gordon Campbell September 11, 1993 – February 26, 2011
- Christy Clark February 26, 2011 – present
|Election||Party leader||# of candidates||Seats||Popular vote|
|Elected||% Change||First count||%||Change||Final count||%|
|1903 (1)||J. A. MacDonald||39||17||22,715||37.78%|
|1916 (3)||Harlan Brewster||45||36||–||89,892||50.00%||+24.63%|
|1920 (4)||John Oliver||45||25||-30.6%||134,167||37.89%||-12.11%|
|1933||T.D. "Duff" Pattullo||47||34||+183.3%||159,131||41.74%||+1.70%|
|1937||T.D. "Duff" Pattullo||48||31||-8.8%||156,074||37.34%||-4.40%|
|1941 (5)||T.D. "Duff" Pattullo||48||21||-32.3%||149,525||32.94%||-4.40%|
|1945 Coalition (6)||John Hart||47||37||+12.1%||261,147||55.83||-8.02%|
|1949 Coalition (6)||Byron "Boss" Johnson||48||39||+5.4%||428,773||61.35%||+5.52%|
|1952 (7)||Byron "Boss" Johnson||48||6||n.a.||180,289||23.46%||n.a.||170,674||25.26%|
|1953 (7)||Arthur Laing||48||4||-33.3%||171,671||23.59%||+0.13%||154,090||23.36%|
|1969||Patrick Lucey McGeer||55||5||-16.7%||186,235||19.03%||-1.21%|
|2013||Christy Clark||85||50||+2%||723,618||44.41%||-1.42%||Sources: Elections BC|
(1) One Liberal Party candidate was elected by acclamation.
(2) One candidate is counted twice: J. Oliver (Liberal) contested but was defeated in both Delta and Victoria City.
(3) One candidate, H.C. Brewster (Liberal) who contested and was elected in both Alberni and Victoria City, is counted twice.
(4) One member elected by acclamation. One candidate, J. Oliver, who contested and was elected in both Delta and Victoria City is counted twice.
(5) After the election, a Coalition government was formed by the Conservative and Liberal members. T.D. Patullo, Liberal leader, objected, stepped down, and sat as a Liberal, giving the Coalition 32 seats.
(6) In the 1945 and 1949 elections, the Liberal Party ran in coalition with the Conservative Party. Results compared to Liberal + Conservative total from previous election.
(7) The 1952 and 1953 elections used the alternative voting system. Rather than marking the ballot with an X, numbers were to be placed opposite the names in order of choice. If, after the first count, no candidate received an absolute simple majority, the candidate with the least number of votes was dropped, and the second choices distributed among the remaining candidates. This process continued until a candidate emerged with the requisite majority vote. Some voters only indicated a first choice (plumping), and others did not utilize the full range available. Consequently as the counts progressed, some ballots would be exhausted and total valid votes would decline, thereby reducing the absolute majority required to be elected. In multi-member ridings, there were as many ballots as members to be elected, distinguished by colour and letters.
British Columbia Young Liberals
The British Columbia Young Liberals Commission serves as the leadership element of the youth wing of the party.
- List of political parties in British Columbia
- List of premiers of British Columbia
- List of British Columbia general elections
- British Columbia Liberal Party leadership elections
- BC Legislature Raids
- BC Rail
- Harmonized Sales Tax
- Sales taxes in British Columbia
- Partisanship, globalization, and Canadian labour market policy. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press. 2006. pp. 8, 58. ISBN 978-0-8020-9090-4 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Lesley H. Byrne (2008). Representing Women: The Impact of Women Cabinet Ministers in British Columbia and Ontario and the Rise of Fiscal Feminism. ProQuest. pp. 29–. ISBN 978-0-549-58544-2 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
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- "The BC Liberal Party". CBC News. April 1, 2009.
- Price, Christine, "A Very Conservative Radical": Reverend Robert Cornell's encounter with Marxism in the BC C CF, Simon Fraser University MA Thesis, 2006
- Gibson, Gordon with Renison, Carol (1980). Bull of the Woods: The Gordon Gibson Story. Douglas & McIntyre Ltd. ISBN 0-88894-292-3 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Posted: Nov 3, 2010 10:46 AM PT (2010-11-03). "B.C. Premier Campbell stepping down". Cbc.ca. Retrieved 2011-04-11.
- "Premier Campbell Thanks Supporters". www.bcliberals.com (BC Liberal Party). Retrieved 1 December 2010.
- Posted: Feb 26, 2011 5:00 PM PT (2011-02-26). "Christy Clark voted B.C. Liberal leader". Cbc.ca. Retrieved 2011-04-11.
- Posted: Mar 14, 2011 11:27 AM ET (2011-03-14). "B.C.'s new premier to be sworn in". Cbc.ca. Retrieved 2011-04-11.
- Legislative Library of British Columbia, Party Leaders in British Columbia 1900–, 2000, updated 2005