B.C. voters had a surprise in store for the politicians, the pundits and the pollsters last night: a Liberal majority.

Anchor Tony Parsons opened the CBC election night special broadcast by declaring it would be "an exciting night of political drama." That it was, but the voters didn't follow the script.

The way Parsons posed the possible outcomes did give a hint of what was about to unfold. He started with, "We will see Christy Clark lead what would be one of the greatest political comebacks in B.C. election history, will that happen?"

Even as signs early in the night pointed to a Liberal majority, the journalists and analysts seemed to be in disbelief.

After all every published public opinion polls suggested that the NDP was ahead, the latest polls by an average of about 7.5 per cent. At one point, Adrian Dix had a 20-point lead in the polls.

In the end, the Liberals won 50 of the province's 85 seats, will govern for a fourth consecutive term and finished about five points ahead of the NDP in the popular vote.

As Parsons summed it up, "The result is nothing less than stunning."

Last night and today, election watchers in B.C. and beyond have been trying to offer an explanation for such a stunning outcome. These are some of the reasons on offer:

Leadership is key

The leadership of Christy Clark compared to the NDP's Adrian Dix is widely said to be key. Jonathan Fowlie of the Vancouver Sun told CBC Radio's Shelley Joyce this morning, "Anytime we were asked, we said it would be an election fought on leadership, credibility and the economy and at the end of the day, maybe we should have listened to ourselves."

Stephen Smart, who covers the B.C. legislature for CBC, told Joyce, "We watched Christy Clark spend four weeks putting on hardhats, yukking it up with workers."

"She is comfortable working those crowds, she comes across well, whereas Adrian Dix, he can give a mean speech ... but he's just not as comfortable working the crowds, being a people person, if you will, and he admits that."

Martyn Brown, a former chief of staff to Clark's predecessor as premier, Gordon Campbell, said during the election night special, that fundamentally it came down to the "strength of Christy Clark's personality versus Adrian Dix's more passive, bookish demeanour."

"She just captured people's imagination in a way that surprised her own members and certainly surprised me," said Brown.

Later he added, "it was as much the triumph of politics over substance and the politics of personality over policy."

Bruce Strachan, a former B.C. Social Credit cabinet minister, told CBC Radio's Daybreak North, "Adrian Dix was awkward in the debate, he seemed wobbly on policy, the Kinder Morgan [pipeline] issue showed him to be a flip-flopper."

"He just couldn't get his stuff together and Christy could," Strachan added.

Negative campaigning works

The Liberals set out their own program near the start of the campaign and then went on the attack against the NDP, while Dix opted to run a "positive" campaign.

CBC TV News correspondent Chris Brown said this morning that, "Clark was unrelenting when she went after the NDP's record when it governed back in the 1990s, harsh attack ads calling Dix a weak leader, saying B.C would have a weak economy."

Geoff Meggs, a Vancouver city councillor who was communications director for former NDP premier Glen Clark, said during the election special, "the negative campaign on Adrian Dix did succeed, obviously, in framing him, in creating uncertainty in people's minds."

Fowlie, too, says that the "negative advertising clearly worked."

UBC political scientist Max Cameron told Canadian Press, "We know that when politicians go negative, it has an impact because people listen to bad news.

"I think we're actually kind of hard-wired to watch for danger in our environment, so if someone says this person is unreliable, be careful, you pay a lot more attention than if they say 'this person is a great person, this is someone you can trust.' That's a normal part of politics."

Peter Ewart, a columnist for 250 News in Prince George B.C., said on Daybreak North that Clark was effective at "painting a nightmare that if the NDP gets elected the whole province is going to shut down." Ewart volunteered for the NDP in the election.

Pipelines issue was a turning point

Former Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott told the Canadian Press that public opinion started to shift to the Liberals when Dix said that an NDP government did not favour oil pipeline expansion in B.C., including the proposed Kinder Morgan project. That pipeline would bring oil tankers into Vancouver's port.

"If there was one thing that started to move public opinion, and started to firm up the B.C. Liberal base, it would have been the reversal on Kinder Morgan," said Abbott, who now lectures at University of Victoria.


Others have pointed to the lower voter turnout, 52 per cent, and the advantage of incumbency, as factors in the Liberal victory but for many observers, it remains difficult to explain the election night drama.

On CBC Radio, Ewart harkened back to William Shakespeare, quoting from his play, Julius Caesar, "There is a tide in the affairs of men."

Ewart then said, "when that tide goes against you, it doesn't matter how well you're organized and I think that's part of what happened."