VANCOUVER - Early results in British Columbia's election campaign show the Liberals edging into a slight lead over the NDP with a small number of polls reporting.
The election campaign began four weeks ago with Liberal Leader Christy Clark and the NDP's John Horgan locked in a tight race to become B.C.'s next premier, and Green Leader Andrew Weaver looking to make a historic breakthrough for his third-place party.
The Liberals are trying to win a fifth successive majority government after holding power for 16 years.
Clark's strategy marked a return to the Liberals' winning approach in 2013, when she promoted her party as the only one that could create and protect jobs while portraying the NDP as disastrous managers of the economy.
While her promise of a booming liquefied natural gas industry has not materialized, Clark was able to point to B.C.'s strong economy as proof of the Liberals' financial savvy. The province has Canada's lowest unemployment rate and has led the country in economic growth two years in a row.
Horgan sought to portray Clark as out of touch with regular British Columbians who feel the economy is not working for them, while Weaver cast the Greens as political outsiders.
The NDP focused largely on the seat-rich Lower Mainland, home to a number of battleground ridings.
The New Democrats' platform contained big-ticket promises including $10-a-day childcare, freezing hydro rates for a year and eliminating tolls on two major Lower Mainland bridges. Horgan said the NDP would balance the budget by raising taxes on the top two per cent of earners and by using a $500-million "LNG prosperity fund" that Clark created out of general revenue.
But the Liberals sowed doubts about the NDP's ability to pay for its promises, repeatedly accusing the party of a massive "crater" in its platform that could only be filled with new taxes.
Weaver reminded voters that his party was the only one to ban corporate and union donations and his promises included electoral reform, increasing the carbon tax and investing millions in clean technology jobs.
Weaver, a climate scientist who became the first Green elected to the B.C. legislature four years ago, said if the party only won one seat this time he would not run again.
Before the results began to come in, Green deputy leader Matt Toner said the campaign turned a corner for the party. He said Green support on Vancouver Island was "tremendous" and the possibility of a minority government where the Greens held the balance of power was often discussed.
"People used to look at the Green party as a punchline in this province and now we're being seen as a pivotal player," he said.
"This is not the end of the race for us, but it's certainly a heck of a level up. I think it's going to impact B.C. politics for years to come."
B.C.'s campaign finance laws dominated headlines before the election began. The province allows unlimited corporate and union donations and the RCMP is investigating fundraising by the province's political parties.
After months of pressure, the Liberals committed to convening a panel to review political fundraising. The NDP and Greens have promised an outright ban on corporate and union donations.
The campaign was thrown a curveball when U.S. President Donald Trump announced a 20-per-cent tariff on softwood lumber in late April. More than half of B.C. softwood lumber exports go to the U.S.
Clark called for a retaliatory ban or tax on U.S. thermal coal exports moving through B.C. ports.
Horgan blamed Clark for the softwood tariff, saying that if she had managed the file better the duties could have been avoided.
— With files from Dirk Meissner in Victoria