Andrew Weaver, the BC Green Party Leader whose support Premier Christy Clark will almost certainly need if she is to hold onto power, has torn apart several major facets of her government's policies.
Mr. Weaver held a news conference Wednesday to announce that he is set to begin face-to-face negotiations with Ms. Clark, the Liberal Leader, and with NDP Leader John Horgan to determine which of the two parties he will support when the final ballots are counted from the May 9 election.
British Columbians are still waiting to learn whether they have elected either a minority government or a bare majority. In either event, Ms. Clark will have the first opportunity to form that government. The tally of absentee ballots, as well as recounts in two seats with narrow margins of victory, begins on Monday.
Mr. Weaver told reporters he will bargain in good faith with both the Liberals and the NDP: "We can collaborate with anyone. We understand what compromise means."
However, he then highlighted large gaps between his Green Party and the Liberals on several key issues, including the expansion of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline, which the Liberals have approved, and the construction of the Site C dam, Ms. Clark's pet mega-project.
"Our position on Kinder Morgan and Site C is not too dissimilar from the NDP position; our position on Kinder Morgan and Site C is dramatically far away from the Liberal position," he said.
"The fact that we are being told to ship diluted bitumen in our coastal waters is just reckless, and this government is just reckless for agreeing to it," he said. He was asked whether Site C, which he opposes, is a deal-breaker: "It's on the list," he replied. "Where? We have to discuss."
The Greens could hold the balance of power in British Columbia with just three of the 87 seats in the B.C. legislature. The initial vote results put the Liberals at 43 seats, and the NDP at 41. If the final seat count remains close, Ms. Clark will need Mr. Weaver and his Green caucus to win any confidence vote in the legislature. If she loses such a vote, she would be expected to resign as Premier, or Mr. Horgan could seek to take her place if he could persuade B.C.'s Lieutenant-Governor, Judith Guichon, that he can form a government with the support of the Greens.
While Elections BC prepares for the final round of counting ballots, both the Liberals and the NDP have been courting Mr. Weaver and seeking common ground.
Mr. Weaver has not put environmental issues on his list of three non-negotiable demands. He says the Greens must be accorded official party status in the legislature; there must be a commitment to campaign-finance reform; and he wants to see a plan to change the province's electoral system to representation by population from the current first-past-the-post regime.
Ms. Clark told reporters this week she is in favour of electoral reform. "In the past, I have been an advocate for electoral reform. I campaigned for it when I was on my radio show." The NDP has just launched a petition "to reform B.C.'s broken political system" which promises to move toward a proportional voting system and to get "big money" out of politics.
Mr. Weaver said he is "somewhat skeptical" about the Premier's interest in electoral reform, given that change had not been adopted in the 16 years the Liberals have been in power. And he was derisive about Ms. Clark's proposal to send the issue of campaign-finance reform to an independent panel for review. "It's much akin to, we have a plan to develop a plan to come up with a plan," he said.
Although environmental matters are not on the Greens' list of must-haves, Mr. Weaver left no doubt that his opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline is going to be part of his party's deliberations.
The pipeline expansion is critical to Alberta as it seeks new markets for its land-locked oil, but the project faces staunch opposition from environmentalists, Indigenous groups and municipal governments on the West Coast.
On Monday, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley signalled her alarm about the possible impact of the B.C. election in the project's future. With both the Greens and the NDP in opposition in B.C., she held a news conference to declare that politicians in British Columbia do not have the power to block the pipeline expansion, saying it is entirely a federal government decision.
Ms. Notley also announced that the Alberta government will be an intervenor in the Federal Court of Appeal hearing in October, where 16 legal challenges to the project will be heard.
Mr. Weaver has fired back at Ms. Notley, saying "federalism doesn't mean that one province gets to tread on the rights and threaten the environment of another." On Tuesday, he said he is looking into whether his party can still file for intervenor status in that court hearing to support B.C. First Nations that are seeking to overturn the federal government's approval for the project.
Mr. Weaver has named Norman Spector, a former political aide for prime minister Brian Mulroney and to B.C. premier Bill Bennett, as his political strategist in these talks.
Mr. Spector, a political commentator, was speculating on election night that Mr. Weaver would not enter any kind of coalition cabinet with either party but also stated in a tweet: "I'd also wager him supporting NDP over Liberals."
During a CBC radio election panel, on May 11, Mr. Spector said: "Weaver would be an idiot, which he isn't, to conduct talks with only one party if only to give himself more leverage. I still think he's going to end up with the NDP, but it seems to me he'd be able to get a much better deal if he was simultaneously conducting talks with the Liberals."