The New Democratic Party had its most successful election in B.C. history in October 2020, but the Cowichan Valley riding stood fast with incumbent MLA Sonia Furstenau.
Furstenau, who was elected leader of the BC Greens in September, retained her seat, as did longtime Nanaimo-North Cowichan NDP MLA Doug Routley, as Premier John Horgan led the NDP to 57 seats, six more than its previous best mark in 1991 and more than twice as many as the Liberal Party’s 28.
Heading into voting day on Oct. 24, Furstenau’s Greens appeared to be building momentum, especially in terms of fundraising, but when the dust settled, they had won just two seats after claiming three in 2017 and the party’s share of the popular vote across the province dropped to 15.08 per cent this year from an all-time high of 16.84 in 2017.
The Greens also lost the modicum of power they held in the legislature. With the NDP claiming a strong majority government, they no longer needed the support of the Greens to hold sway over the Liberals. The provincial election was called just a week after Furstenau was named leader, which left the Greens scrambling to name a full slate of candidates; they ended up with 74 in 87 ridings after running 83 candidates in the previous election.
On election night, Furstenau said the party’s volunteers, the candidates across the province and the record-breaking donations have been incredible.
“Considering the fact that on day one of the election call, we had no candidates in place and then quickly managed to have Green candidates in 74 ridings is truly extraordinary and it’s something I’m really proud of,” she said. “There has been some preparation by the party in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, and that’s why we have such great candidates in place there. Others have stepped up in other ridings and we’re grateful for them.”
Horgan faced criticism for calling a snap election in the middle of a global pandemic, and Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson vowed in his party’s platform to ban elections during a provincial emergency. Nearly 700,000 people took advantage of advance voting, and nearly half a million vote-by-mail ballots were cast as residents tried to avoid packing polling stations on election day.
Even on Oct. 24, voters felt safe under the precautions taken. Sarah, a voter at Mount Prevost School, felt “fine” voting during the pandemic, and appreciated the flexibility of not having to go to a specific polling place.
“It was nice that we could go to any poll,” she said. “They’ve never done that before.”
Also during the campaign, Furstenau accused Horgan of politicizing the Cowichan Valley’s new hospital, which was announced in 2018. Horgan said during a campaign stop that, if re-elected, his government would continue moving toward building the hospital, and implied that it would be in danger of not being built under another administration.
Furstenau won the Cowichan Valley riding with 13,059 votes, 44.21 per cent of the ballots cast in her riding. NDP candidate and North Cowichan councillor Rob Douglas finished second with 11,875 or 40.2 per cent, and first-time politician Tanya Kaul earned 4,606 votes or 15.59 per cent of the total for the Liberals.
The NDP did its best to unseat Furstenau, bringing Horgan to the riding twice during the campaign to rally support for Douglas. Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh also made an appearance in the Cowichan Valley, as did two other provincial cabinet ministers.
In Nanaimo-North Cowichan, Routley — who was first elected to the legislature in 2005 — won his seat for the fifth straight election with 12,787 votes or 49.48 per cent of the ballots cast. In second place was Green candidate Chris Istace with 7,700 votes or 29.8 per cent, and Ladysmith town councillor Donald (Duck) Paterson was third for the Liberals with 5,354 votes or 20.72 per cent.
Routley was left out of Horgan’s cabinet, surprising some members of the community who felt that the longtime MLA deserved a ministerial portfolio, but Routley let it slide.
“I appreciate the concerns expressed from the community around me not receiving a minister position and I continue to be humbled by your confidence and support,” he told Black Press Media. “My career in politics has always been focused on serving and improving our community and while there is a great honour in ministerial roles, they also come with very full calendars and province-wide responsibilities.”