VICTORIA - Heave a sigh of relief. You have an opposition.
Left or right or in-between, you're better served by a legislature that includes an effective opposition, with representatives from all regions.
And that's what voters delivered. Recounts in a half-dozen close races could change the outcome, but right now it looks like the Liberals won a strong majority, with about 46 seats of the 79 seats.
But they will face about 33 opposition MLAs, not just two, with an adequately funded research and support staff. It will make the legislature a very different place.
And a more difficult one for Gordon Campbell, who has had no experience in facing an opposition across the chamber's red carpet. The election campaign - when the premier chose only to meet Liberal supporters, in closed settings - reinforced the public impression that Campbell is not much interested in people with different views.
That's only one of several headaches Campbell faces.
For starters, he has to put together a new cabinet, never an easy task. There's room for new faces, since eight cabinet ministers went down to defeat. (An alarming development for the Liberals, with Graham Bruce and Roger Harris both serious losses.) But some of the best jobs are likely already committed to new stars like Wally Oppal and Carole Taylor. Some will have to be allocated based on the need for regional representation (good news for Bill Bennett, the only Liberal from the southeast). And some of the people left out of the new cabinet will be unhappy.
Campbell may face much bigger problems, depending on how Liberals assess his performance in this campaign. In some ways you can't fault the outcome. The Liberals have a comfortable majority, and Campbell is the first B.C. premier re-elected in more than two decades.
But Campbell's campaign was criticized for its slow pace and defensive approach. He was generally seen as losing the televised leaders' debate, although he did better in the radio encounter. And despite some major advantages - a strong economy, popular budget, and the machinery of government - the Liberals lost some 30 seats, the NDP surged to within a few points of its record high popular support of 46 per cent and the Liberal lead shrunk during the four-week campaign.
All of that - combined with memories of Campbell's losing 1996 campaign - will raise questions about whether he should lead the party into what could be a much closer election in 2009. Once those questions have been raised, potential leadership candidates begin thinking about their prospects and plans, a problem for any party.
Campbell has to show that he can learn from the election, moderate his approach and govern in a way that acknowledges fewer than half of the voters backed the party.
Carole James comes out of the campaign having gained important ground. She proved an effective campaigner, and convinced voters that the party has moved to the middle. Not all New Democrats think that's a good idea, but James' performance has given her greater ability to shut down internal attacks.
James - like Campbell - also saw some of key candidates elected. For the NDP, it was Gregor Robertson, Corky Evans, Rob Fleming and Nicholas Simons.
The big winners are the voters, who gain a legislature with a real opposition.
Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan made a valiant effort, despite being hampered by the Liberal refusal to recognize the existence of an official Opposition. But for the last four years we haven't really had an opposition.
That's especially true in terms of regional issues. Liberal MLAs didn't vigorously raise concerns from their community, so they just never made it on to the agenda. (Surrey Memorial Hospital has been under pressure for at least five years. Until Jagrup Brar was elected, the issue was not a political priority. His efforts helped get him re-elected, along with three other New Democrats in Surrey ridings.)
The public has been well-served by this election.
Footnote: STV will get a separate column, but it appears the referendum has created a problem for Campbell. Ninety- per cent of ridings voted for change, but the provincial total vote will fall just short of the 60-per-cent support required. It leaves the government open to criticism whichever course of action it chooses.