VANCOUVER — Tuesday marks the end of a bitterly fought election campaign in British Columbia, leaving voters to decide whether the Liberals' jobs-centred pitch is enough to clinch a fifth consecutive term in office or whether the NDP convinced them it is time for new hands at the helm.
If the Liberals win a majority it will mean two decades in power for the party that first formed government in 2001. But after 16 years as Opposition, the NDP under John Horgan is hoping to wrestle control from a Liberal party led by Christy Clark that bills itself as a free-enterprise coalition.
Politically fundraising laws, the cost of housing and a trade spat with the United States over softwood lumber have been central themes of the campaign.
Greens could shift balance of power
One wild card that could have a significant impact on the results is the Green party, which has enjoyed considerable prominence in this election under the leadership of Andrew Weaver, who is the party's lone representative in the legislature.
Weaver's push to attract voters who are fed up with the usual suspects saw the New Democrats make appeals late in the campaign for Greens to support them as the only chance to defeat the Liberals. The Greens have campaigned hard around southern Vancouver Island, a traditional NDP stronghold.
On Saturday, Horgan ran a full-page advertisement in a Victoria newspaper warning that a vote for the Green party was a vote for the Liberals.
B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark poses for a photo at a campaign stop. (Jonathan Hayward / CP)
The party leaders stuck to familiar scripts on Sunday, with Clark campaigning across Metro Vancouver, starting with a stop at a construction company in Surrey.
"We wake up thinking about how we can protect the jobs in British Columbia and how we can create even more," she said.
Softwood lumber spat becomes a campaign issue
New tariffs imposed by the U.S. on Canadian softwood lumber became a key issue in the Liberal campaign, with Clark saying her party is the only one that can protect jobs in the face of rising protectionism from President Donald Trump.
"I'm prepared to make sure we fight strong, that we fight thoughtfully," she said on Sunday. "We aren't going to be weaklings."
Clark has asked the federal government to ban the shipment of thermal coal through B.C., which would hurt the industry in the U.S. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he will consider the request, but Clark has promised to go it alone and introduce a $70-a-tonne carbon tax on the coal if Ottawa doesn't act.
Vivian Sutherland, 9 months, looks on as NDP Leader John Horgan speaks during a campaign stop. (Darryl Dyck / CP)
Horgan mingled with people at Vancouver's Granville Island Market on Sunday, where he met with voters concerned about child care, real estate and small business.
"People are engaging in this election campaign because we are talking about the issues that matter to people," said Horgan.
"Christy Clark is saying, 'This is as good as it gets,' and pretends she's fighting with Donald Trump. That strikes me as a campaign that's desperate."
Weaver's campaign often featured appearances with prominent environmentalist David Suzuki, who endorsed the party and encouraged voters on Sunday to send more Greens to the legislature.
"A vote for the Greens is a vote for more Green MLAs," Suzuki said in a statement.
Minority governments rare in B.C.
There have only been three minority governments in British Columbia's history. The last one was in 1952.
The NDP is promising $10-a-day child care, an annual renters rebate and getting rid of medical service premiums.
The Liberals unveiled their platform the day before the month-long campaign officially began, which the party said highlighted its commitment to prudent spending and economic growth.
The Greens are promising to hike taxes on carbon, corporations and high-income earns to pay for more investment in child care, infrastructure, public health and the environment.
— With files from Dirk Meissner in Vancouver and Gemma Karstens-Smith in Surrey, B.C.