British Columbia voters reduced Premier Christy Clark's Liberal government to a minority Tuesday, the first elected in the province since 1952, and handed the balance of power to the Greens in a major disruption of a two-party system that has dominated the province for generations.
After four consecutive Liberal majorities, voters in British Columbia demonstrated they are deeply divided, and increasingly polarized between rural ridings where the Liberals remained strong, and the urban and suburban ridings where the NDP gained ground. When the results were all counted, the Liberals held 43 seats, the NDP 41 and the Greens 3.
Green leader Andrew Weaver, the first Green MLA elected to a provincial legislature when he won the lone Green seat in 2013, now assumes a pivotal role.
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It may take weeks before final numbers are complete, with a number of seats appearing to be close enough to warrant recounts. Both the Liberals and New Democrats also noted absentee ballots won't be counted for another two weeks and could yet change the results.
"Tonight, we won the popular vote, and we have also won the most seats," Ms. Clark told supporters at a BC Liberal Party gathering in downtown Vancouver, her son Hamish at her side. "And with absentee ballots still to be counted, I am confident that they will strengthen our margin of victory. So it is my intention to continue to lead British Columbia."
Earlier, she spoke with Mr. Weaver but she made it clear she is not yet ready to negotiate a minority government, as she still hopes to eke out a majority.
If the minority government stands, what that will look like may take some time to come into focus. Although minority governments at the federal level, and in Ontario and Quebec, have successfully functioned in recent history, B.C. has not faced such an uncertain seating arrangement in the legislature for more than a half-century. The Liberals, as the incumbent government, will have a chance to form a government by negotiating with the Greens, possibly to form a formal coalition.
Mr. Weaver twice voted in favour of Liberal budgets. But on other issues, particularly around resource development and climate action, Mr. Weaver has been an outspoken critic of the Liberals. He has denounced the government's pursuit of a liquefied natural gas sector, for example, and is opposed to the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Both the Greens and the NDP have committed to a new relationship with B.C.'s Indigenous people that conflicts with the Liberals.
How each of the leaders will play their hand was also unclear. Neither Ms. Clark nor NDP Leader John Horgan spoke to reporters after their remarks.
Mr. Weaver also made no commitments, telling his supporters that he had spoken with the other two.
"You can trust that every decision B.C. Greens will make will follow principles issue-by-issue and [an] evidence-based approach," he said. "In the days ahead, there will be plenty of discussions taking place between all parties, but now is not the time for those discussions. … Now is the time for Greens across North America to celebrate."
Mr. Weaver said his party will work with either party and sees no reason why a minority government can't last a full term.
He told the crowd the party's first priority is banning corporate and union donations, later telling reporters he expects the legislature to introduce a measure banning big money as soon as it sits. Asked about other barriers toward co-operating with the Liberals or NDP, he said supporting LNG is a non-starter.
"I've been saying this for four years now: British Columbians were sold a bill of goods on LNG," he told reporters. "It wasn't going to happen then, it's not going to happen now. … LNG is not happening, so let's move on to the new economy."
Mr. Horgan was exuberant about the shake-up in B.C. politics but offered no hint of the path ahead beyond saying that a majority of British Columbians had voted for change.
After midnight, Mr. Horgan made his first appearance at the hall in the downtown convention centre where party members and supporters had watched the results come in, cheering the defeat of BC Liberal cabinet ministers and the election of NDP incumbents and rookies.
"British Columbians have waited 16 years for a government that works for them. I am going to have to ask you to wait a little bit longer until all the votes are counted and the final results of this election are known," he told supporters in a brief speech.
"This is what we do know: A majority of British Columbians voted for a new government," he said as supporters chanted "NDP, NDP" over and over again.
Mr. Horgan pointedly noted his common ground with the Greens, saying the results show British Columbians had voted to get big money out of politics, for proportional representation, action on climate change and an economy that works for everyone.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Weaver said he was deliberately not picking sides ahead of the polls closing: "It would be irresponsible for me to undermine any negotiating potential I would have prior to people going to vote, to actually say what we would do."
Working with the NDP would require some reconciliation between the two parties, Mr. Weaver said, noting some of his millennial staffers have been astounded by some of the vitriolic attacks brought by New Democrats on social media.
Mr. Weaver said at one point that Mr. Horgan would have to "control his temper" if they were to work together. In contrast, his personal relationship with Ms. Clark has been cordial.
The Liberals suffered some painful losses, with Peter Fassbender, the minister responsible for TransLink and who guided the province through the protracted teachers' strike in 2014, losing his seat to the NDP. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton was also defeated as was technology minister Amrik Virk.
The Greens picked up their two new seats in Saanich North and the Islands and Cowichan Valley, meaning that all three Green MLAs hail from Vancouver Island ridings.
Richard Johnston, Canada research chair in public opinion, elections and representation at the University of British Columbia, said Ms. Clark remains Premier of B.C. and will have the the right to meet the legislature and deliver a throne speech, which will test the confidence in her government.
She could negotiate a deal with the Greens before making that throne speech to ensure her success. Or, if she doesn't procure a deal with the Greens, she could dare the other two leaders to vote her down and form government.
"The ball is in Weaver's court, because he holds the balance of power. The only way to get to a majority is for him to support one side or the other," Mr. Johnston said.
Michael Prince, Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy at the University of Victoria, said the precariousness of the election outcome will seem "extreme" in British Columbia but noted governments in other Canadian provinces and at the federal level managed to make such arrangements work.
"It all comes down to what Andrew Weaver will do," he said. "It would be a different wooing process of Andrew Weaver by the two respective parties."
Because of the similarities between the Greens' platform and that of the Liberals – with some key exceptions on the environment – he predicted the Ms. Clark could stay in power for a couple of years, even with an informal arrangement.
When the B.C. Legislature dissolved in April, setting off the election campaign, the Liberals held 47 seats, the NDP 35 and there were three Independents, including Mr. Weaver, the first Green to be elected to the House.
Changes to the electoral map added two more seats to the legislature, for a total of 87.
The Liberals, a coalition of the centre-right in British Columbia, were seeking a fifth consecutive mandate, promising to continue balancing the budget while maintaining low taxes and a small government. The NDP offered a dramatically different alternative, pledging a $10-a-day daycare program, a $400 annual subsidy for renters and the elimination of medical services premiums. The NDP would hike taxes on the wealthy and corporations to boost social programs and tackle housing affordability.
In a province that has long been deadlocked between the NDP and a centre-right, so-called "free enterprise" party, the choices did not entirely satisfy voters. The Greens offered a third path.
The New Democratic Party, as the main rival to the Liberals, has not won an election in B.C. since 1996 and has since offered up four different leaders to the electorate. Mr. Horgan, who was acclaimed as party leader three years ago, vowed to prosecute the Liberals on a record of cash-for-access scandals, a protracted war with B.C.'s teachers and a crisis of housing affordability.