Electoral History of B.C.

Did You Know…?

  • Schoolteachers were prohibited from voting in the 1870s and 1880s.
  • The voting age was originally 21.
  • The first Indigenous person was elected as an MLA in 1949.
  • B.C. was the fourth province to extend voting rights to women.
  • Recall and initiative legislation was adopted in 1995. B.C. is still the only province to have such legislation.

Learn more about B.C.’s unique electoral history below!

Important Dates

Year Event
    • British Columbia becomes a province of Canada on July 20, 1871.
    • The first provincial general election is held from October through December 1871. It is conducted by a show of hands on nomination day and, if required, an open poll book on polling day. There are 46 candidates and no organized political parties. No election deposit is required. Less than 3,000 people qualified to vote by being male British subjects, 21 years of age, who met certain property and residence requirements.
    • View a map of electoral districts for the first provincial general election (PDF).
      • Judges, magistrates and police prohibited from voting.
    • Chinese-Canadians and Indigenous people prohibited from voting.
    • Secret ballot introduced.
    • Federal Members of Parliament disqualified from sitting as provincial Members of the Legislative Assembly.
    • Absentee voting allowed for 1875 only.
    • Men no longer required to own property to vote.
    • Federal government employees (except Post Office employees) and school teachers employed by the provincial government prohibited from voting and campaigning.
    • Federal employees and school teachers allowed to vote and campaign.
    • Candidates required to pay $200 deposit to run for election.
    • People living in a Provincial Home for the aged or infirm are prohibited from voting.
    • Japanese-Canadians prohibited from voting.
    • Provincial employees prohibited from voting.
    • Provincial employees allowed to vote.
    • First time candidates run along party lines. Previously candidates were officially non-partisan.
    • Election day declared a public holiday. Employers required to give voters four hours to vote.
    • Candidates’ election deposit reduced to $100.
    • South Asian-Canadians prohibited from voting.
    • Life of Legislative Assembly extended to five years.
    • Referenda on prohibition and women’s suffrage held – the prohibition referendum fails, but the women’s suffrage referendum passes. B.C. becomes the fourth province to extend voting rights to women, and the only to do so as the result of a referendum. Male voters – the only people eligible in 1916 – voted 70% in favour of giving B.C. women the right to vote.
    • Women allowed to vote on the same basis as men. Women and men of certain ethnic groups still excluded from voting.
    • Mary Ellen Smith is the first woman to run as a candidate and the first woman elected as an MLA. She was elected again in 1920 and 1924, and was the first female cabinet minister in the British Empire.
    • Candidates’ election deposit eliminated.
    • Absentee voting reintroduced for all future elections.
    • Women eligible to run on same basis as men.
    • Underage returned soldiers allowed to vote.
    • Both the Premier (John Oliver) and Leader of the Opposition (William John Bowser) lose their seats in a general election; however Oliver remains Premier until 1927.
    • First Statement of Votes – a detailed report on the voting results for each voting area and constituency is published.
    • MLAs appointed to Cabinet after a general election are no longer required to resign their seat and run in by-election.
    • Doukhobors prohibited from voting.
    • Last election of a candidate (Thomas King, Columbia by-election) by acclamation, meaning there was only one candidate so King won by default.
    • People living in a Provincial Home for the aged or infirm allowed to vote.
    • All ballots required to state candidate’s party.
    • Public opinion polls banned during campaign period before an election.
    • Candidates can only run in one riding.
    • Returning officers no longer required to proclaim oyez! oyez! oyez! on election day. “Oyez” means “hear ye” and was historically called in court and by town criers to attract the public’s attention.
    • Position of Registrar of Voters created.
    • Members of prohibited groups, if otherwise qualified, are allowed to vote if they served in World War I or World War II.
    • Chinese and South Asian-Canadians allowed to vote.
    • Adequate knowledge of English or French required to vote.
    • Canadian citizenship a requirement to vote, in addition to being a British subject.
    • Frederick Hurley appointed as first Chief Electoral Officer.
    • Mennonites and Hutterites allowed to vote.
    • Women belonging to a prohibited category allowed to vote if married to an eligible voter.
    • Indigenous people and Japanese-Canadians allowed to vote.
    • Frank Calder, from the Nisga’a Nation, is the first Indigenous person elected as an MLA in B.C.
    • Advance polls used for the first time.
    • Alternative voting system – a method that allowed voters to rank candidates in order of preference – used for first time.
    • Voting age changed from 21 to 19.
    • Doukhobors allowed to vote.
    • First Past the Post voting system reinstated.
    • Douglas Jung is the first Chinese-Canadian to run for election. He is unsuccessful in a Vancouver Centre by-election.
    • Rosemary Brown is the first Black woman elected in B.C. and to a Canadian provincial legislature. She is re-elected three times, serving as MLA until she retires in 1986.
    • Emery Barnes is one of the first Black MLAs elected in B.C., along with Rosemary Brown. He is re-elected four times, serves as Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly from 1992-94 and Speaker from 1994-96, and holds public office until 1996.
    • A Plebiscite on changing time zones is held in eastern B.C. Voters decide to follow Mountain Standard Time.
    • Requirements for candidates to disclose financial and business interests introduced.
    • Liquor sales allowed on election day.
    • Blind voters allowed to mark their own ballot by means of a template.
    • Adequate knowledge of English or French no longer required to vote.
    • Public opinion polls allowed in the lead-up to an election.
    • “British subject” dropped as a qualification to vote.
    • People in mental health institutions by court authority prohibited from voting.
    • Moe Sihota becomes the first Indo-Canadian to win a seat in B.C.’s Legislative Assembly. He is elected in Esquimalt.
    • Out-of-province absentee voting allowed.
    • Multi-member electoral districts eliminated.
    • Number of seats in the Legislative Assembly increases from 52 to 75.
    • Rita Johnston becomes first woman Premier
    • Referendum to allow for recall of MLAs and citizen-led initiatives passes.
    • Voting age lowered to 18.
    • First comprehensive review of Election Act since 1920 is adopted.
    • Recall and Initiative Act comes into force.
    • Elections BC becomes an independent office of the Legislature.
    • Chief Electoral Officer and Deputy Chief Electoral Officer prohibited from voting.
    • People in prison serving a sentence of less than two years and people in mental health institutions by court order allowed to vote.
    • First Chief Electoral Officer, Robert A. Patterson, appointed as an independent officer of the Legislature. His appointment is unanimously recommended by a multi-party Special Committee.
    • The 36th general election is held on May 28, 1996, and is the first provincial election held under the revised Election Act.
    • First petitions to recall sitting MLAs allowed under the Recall and Initiative Act. They are unsuccessful as they are unable to gather the required number of signatures.
    • Number of seats in the Legislative Assembly increases from 75 to 79.
    • Ujjal Dosanjh becomes the first Indo-Canadian Premier.
    • Fixed election dates established on the second Tuesday in May every four years.
    • The 37th Provincial General Election is held on May 16, 2001.
    • Referendum on Treaty Negotiations conducted by mail-in ballot. The referendum was intended to help shape the government’s position when negotiating agreements with Indigenous peoples. 36% of ballots were received by the deadline and over 80% of these agreed with the eight principles listed.
    • People in prison allowed to vote no matter length of sentence.
    • B.C becomes the first jurisdiction in North America to allow online voter registration.
    • The 38th Provincial General Election is held on May 17, 2005
    • A referendum on electoral reform is held to decide if B.C. should adopt the BC-STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. The referendum requires a double threshold of 60% of the popular vote and majority support in 60% of the constituencies. The first threshold is narrowly missed with 57.69% support. The second threshold is met with 97% of constituencies voting in favour. As the double threshold is not met, the referendum fails.
    • Number of seats in the Legislative Assembly increases from 79 to 85.
    • Voters required to provide ID when voting.
    • Spending limits for political parties and candidates established.
    • The 39th Provincial General Election is held on May 12, 2009.
    • A referendum on electoral reform is held in conjunction with the general election to decide if B.C. should adopt the BC-STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. The referendum requires the same double threshold as in 2005. BC-STV achieves 39% of voter support overall and majority support in eight electoral districts. As neither threshold is met, the referendum fails.
    • For more information, see Electoral History of British Columbia, Supplement, 2002-2013 (PDF).
    • First successful initiative petition conducted. More than 10% of registered voters in every electoral district sign a petition to end the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).
    • Referendum on the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) conducted by mail-in ballot. The majority of voters vote to extinguish the HST, resulting in an end to the HST and a return to the GST and PST.
    • The 40th Provincial General Election is conducted on May 14, 2013.
    • Number of seats in the Legislative Assembly increases from 85 to 87.
    • Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite conducted by mail-in ballot. Voters are asked whether they support a new sales tax to help fund major infrastructure projects. The majority of voters (62%) vote no, so the plan is not approved.
    • Melanie Mark is elected in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant and becomes the first Indigenous woman elected in B.C.
    • Fixed election date moved to third Saturday in October every four years.
    • Political contributions from organizations (including corporations and unions) banned.
    • Political contributions from eligible individuals limited to $1,200 per year.
    • Eligible political parties start to receive annual allowances and election expense reimbursements.
    • Referendum on electoral reform conducted by mail-in ballot. The majority of voters (61.3%) choose to keep First Past the Post voting system.