All mail-in and absentee ballots in the 2020 provincial election have now been counted, and BC Liberal incumbent Jackie Tegart has retained the Fraser-Nicola riding, defeating BC NDP challenger Aaron Sumexheltza by 282 votes.
Tegart will be returning for a third term, having won the riding during her first attempt in 2013, and winning re-election in 2017. Both times she defeated NDP candidate Harry Lali: by 614 votes in 2013, and by 524 votes in 2017.
“I’m feeling great that we came out ahead and am looking forward to the next four years,” says Tegart.
“I knew it would be close, because every election in Fraser-Nicola is close. Even though there were a number of press agencies that declared me elected on election night, I knew there were a lot of mail-in ballots out there, and I wasn’t going to declare a win or defeat until every vote was counted, so I waited patiently for two weeks.”
There were 2,597 mail-in and absentee ballots returned in Fraser-Nicola, and a total of 13,679 ballots were cast out of 26,500 eligible voters, meaning a turnout of 51.6 per cent. Province-wide, Elections BC says that 52.4 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot, either in-person or by mail.
The final count in Fraser-Nicola stands at:
Jackie Tegart (BC Liberal Party): 5,696 votes (41.64 per cent)
Aaron Sumexheltza (BC NDP): 5,414 votes (39.58 per cent)
Jonah Timms (BC Green Party): 1,788 votes (13.07 per cent)
Dennis Adamson (Independent): 438 votes (3.2 per cent of total)
Mike Bhangu (Independent): 343 votes (2.51 per cent)
“I have to say thank you to everyone who put their name forward to run,” says Tegart. “It was a very respectful campaign, and I appreciated that.
“Thanks to everyone who voted and took part in the democratic process. We’re so lucky to live in a place that allows us to participate, so thank you to everyone who made sure their voice was heard.”
At the conclusion of the final count, the election results showed the BC NDP with 57 seats, the BC Liberal Party with 28 seats, and the BC Green Party with two seats. After the initial count on election day (Oct. 24), the Greens held three seats, including West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, but after the counting of absentee and mail-in ballots, the BC Liberals held a 41-vote lead in the riding.
Under the Election Act, a judicial recount must take place if, at the conclusion of final count, the difference between the top two candidates is less than 1/500 of the total ballots considered. In West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, the threshold for a judicial recount is 49 votes. The recount, and the timing of it, will be conducted and determined by the B.C. Supreme Court.
“There were some pretty tight races,” acknowledges Tegart. “I think a lot of people were surprised at how tight it got during the counting of the mail-in ballots.” She says that the close result in West Vancouver-Sea to Sky reinforces the importance of voting.
“Don’t ever think your vote doesn’t count. When it’s a 41-vote difference, every vote counts.”
She notes that COVID-19 made it a “very unusual” campaign, and says that the effect the pandemic had on the campaign might change the way elections look going forward.
“When you look at the impact of mail-in ballots and how comfortable people were with using them, it may be the way of the future.”
She also notes the gap between the initial count on election day and the start of the final count on Nov. 6. “The two-week pause in between is very, very long, and means we don’t have government for a very long time. I think legislation will come in relatively soon based on the debriefing after this election.
“Elections BC had put forward some ideas for legislation to accommodate different things, but unfortunately that never made it to the floor of the legislature because the snap election was called [the next provincial election was due to take place in October 2021]. We would have been much better prepared next year; the amount of time it took to count the mail-in ballots would have been different a year down the road. New legislation will help with some of the glitches we saw in this campaign.”
The BC Liberal party executive has been meeting in advance of a formal caucus meeting, and Tegart says that subsequent gatherings will focus on moving forward.
“I don’t have a sense of how the party and caucus want to move forward, but it was very gracious of [Liberal leader] Andrew Wilkinson to indicate his willingness to step away and let a new leader come forward.”
Asked if she has any plans to toss her hat into the leadership race, Tegart laughs.
“Never say never. I’m a politician, and you never know what’s going to happen. At this point I have no aspirations in that direction, but it very much depends on what happens in the next 12–18 months. I think we need to be flexible, and sometimes you need to step up for the party.”
The BC Liberals do not have a process in place for an interim leader to take over, meaning that as things stand Wilkinson will continue as leader until a new one is selected, which could be as much as two years down the road. Tegart says there will be some grassroots work done to see whether the party has the ability to put an interim leader in place, and what that process might look like.
She adds that there is a lot of team- and party-building to do now.
“The priority is bringing a team together and getting us ready for what’s coming in the spring session. We have a lot of building to do in the party. The election was a disappointment for a lot of Liberals across the province, and we need to get our house in order. In the next two years we’ll bring a new leader to the forefront and get ready for the next election, so there’s a lot of work to do.”
Part of that work will include holding the NDP government to account over the significant budget shortfall facing the province, and Tegart says there is a lot that needs to be done before the budget in spring 2021. There is also the worsening COVID-19 situation, and while Tegart feels that the recently announced regional restrictions are the right decision, she thinks that many British Columbians will be wondering why this was not done sooner, given where the largest populations and outbreaks are.
“These kinds of lockdowns affect the economy and our small businesses, so why were the rules the same across the province? We’ve seen small numbers in the North, on Vancouver Island, so we need to come to grips with the impact on the economy and jobs of blanket lockdowns in areas where there are fewer cases and people feel relatively, cautiously safe.”
The widely varying numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases, which are concentrated in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, are one indication of the rural/urban divide in the province. Tegart says that her party needs to find a way to make people understand how interconnected the various parts of the province really are.
“Both the urban and rural areas need to be healthy, because we affect each other. There seems to be a disconnect over the last little while, and we need to find ways to make sure people understand that what happens in urban centres affects everyone here, and what happens in rural areas affects them.
“We seem to have got into a situation where people don’t see the connection, so I think we have some work to do to make sure people understand that unless we’re all doing well, no one’s doing well.”
For a full list of the final results in all 87 ridings, go to https://results.elections.bc.ca/.