Remembering the 1991 election

The election features a female premier (who is also the first female leader of her party) trailing in the polls, and leading her long-dominant right-wing party in a general election for the first time. They’re down in the polls, and things are so dire that it’s an open question whether the premier will keep her seat.

The NDP, far ahead, sticks to a predictable and low-key script. They’re led by a career politician and MLA from East Vancouver in his late 40s, a man not known for his charisma, but generally seen to be competent.

Meanwhile, a third party that once had electoral success in BC, but has been dormant for decades, hopes to break through.

Yes, that was the 1991 provincial election. Here are 12 videos from the Global—or as it was known then, BCTV—vault:

1. Bill Vander Zalm resigns

Premier Vander Zalm was elected leader of the long-dominant Social Credit party in 1986, but was dogged by scandals throughout his term. The most controversial was his role in the sale of Fantasy Gardens, an amusement park in Richmond. While he proclaimed his innocence, he resigned immediately after conflict-of-interest commissioner Ted Hughes issued a damning report into the matter on on April 2, 1991.

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2. Rita Johnston calls the election

Cabinet minister Rita Johnston was named interim premier by the Social Credit caucus, and was chosen as the party’s permanent leader two months later. With the five-year limit between general elections fast approaching, she dropped the writ on September 19th. Her party won 47 seats in the previous election compared to the NDP’s 22—and while everyone expected the Socreds to do worse, the question was: by how much?

3. Johnston profile

During the course of the campaign, the public got to have an intimate look at Johnston’s life…

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4. Mike Harcourt profile

And of Mike Harcourt, the former mayor of Vancouver who became NDP leader in 1987. He was ahead in the polls as the election began—but the Social Credit party had been in power for 36 of the past 39 years, and nobody was counting them out.

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5. Socreds demoralized

The first week of the campaign was unkind to the Social Credit party, with a number of gaffes reinforcing the notion that the NDP were the heavy favourites.

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6. NDP stays on message

Meanwhile, Harcourt and the NDP travelled across the province, often deep into Liberal territory. Day after day, they held controversy-free campaign events with a consistent message.

7. Johnston’s seat in trouble

The Social Credit party was languishing so badly that there were fears Johnston might lose her seat in the rapidly growing city of Surrey.

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8. BC Liberals win the debate

On October 8, just over a week before the election, BC Liberal leader Gordon Wilson surprised everybody by dominating in the leaders debate. It quickly catapulted the long-dormant party into the provincial discussion.

9. Gordon Wilson profile

A closer look was had at the former Capilano College professor background…

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10. BC Liberal policies examined

And BCTV examined why he was rising in the polls and what his policies were.

11. A major upset in the making?

With the Social Credit party imploding, and the NDP running a safe campaign, the Liberals surged in the final week. BCTV ran daily tracking polls, and on the night before the election, they showed the Liberals with the lead. Could a party that hadn’t held a seat in 12 years suddenly find itself in power?

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12. NDP win majority government

As it turned out, the NDP won by a sizeable margin, beating the Liberals 41-33% and taking 51 seats to the Liberals’ 17. Johnston resigned after the Social Credit party won just 9 seats—the party would never elect another MLA before dissolving later in the decade. And two years later, Wilson was forced to contest a leadership race after it came to light he was having an affair with a fellow Liberal MLA, and was replaced by Gordon Campbell.

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