The BC Greens' decision to make electoral reform one of three conditions to secure their support in the minority legislature will prompt the party to keep its eye on a long-term deal, one that will give it a chance to push the governing party to change B.C.'s voting system before the next election.
The reform the Greens are seeking is such a massive undertaking that it will drive the Greens to favour a long-term deal over any kind of one-off, vote-by-vote pact.
Adam Olsen, who was elected to represent the Greens for Saanich North and the Islands, said in an interview Thursday that electoral reform is a core value for his party, but it is not something that can be enacted quickly.
"This is a longer-term proposition," he said.
Just redrawing the electoral boundaries – which would be required under some proportional representation models – can take two years. And he said the Greens don't intend to impose their own ideas about the right model on the other parties.
"For me to say, 'This is what I would like to see' actually limits the conversations that need to happen." He said he would like to see the changes enacted and then voted upon after one or two elections, so that British Columbians would have a chance to see how the alternative works.
Mr. Olsen said the Greens' objective is to establish a working minority government that can survive a full four-year term, providing time to meet the party's objectives including electoral reform.
"All 87 of us [members of the Legislative Assembly] need to realize the people of British Columbia have put us in a position that requires that the old, inflexible debates must end. And if the Legislature comes down because we can't get over that, to me, that is unacceptable."
The Greens want a form of proportional representation (PR) to replace the current first-past-the-post election system. There are different PR models, but the concept is that the elected officials in the Legislature would more closely reflect voters' preferences for political parties. The Greens garnered almost 17 per cent of the vote in the May 9 election, but have won just three of the 87 seats under the present system.
The election handed Premier Christy Clark's Liberal Party a plurality of seats in the Legislature – 43 – which is not enough to command a majority.
The Greens are negotiating with the Liberals and with the NDP, which has 41 seats, to determine which side the party will support. Green Leader Andrew Weaver says he hopes to have a decision by Wednesday.
NDP Leader John Horgan cannot hope to wrest power from the governing Liberals without the Greens' support, but electoral reform is emerging as the single largest sticking point in those talks.
The New Democrats campaigned on a commitment to enact electoral reform before the next election, but the Greens maintain they want the change made without first asking for the public's approval.
"I believe if you are going to change the electoral system we should ask the people, it's their system not mine. And I feel strongly about that," Mr. Horgan told reporters on Wednesday evening. "We talked about that, I guess that makes it negotiable, but I don't want to say it's a point I want to concede."
Ms. Clark's party did not campaign for electoral reform but in a statement Wednesday, she said she wants to "make B.C. politics more responsive."
British Columbians have voted, in 2005 and again in 2009, on electoral reform that proposed a system of single transferable votes. In both referendums, the proposal failed to meet the required level of support.
There are other models of PR that B.C. could adopt, but Ron Cheffins, a professor emeritus at the University of Victoria's political science and law departments, said the Liberals and the NDP would be wrong to agree to impose any change without first conducting a referendum.
"To have those three people [the Green Party MLAs] change the entire model in their interests, without a referendum, is simply outrageous," he said.
However, whether a referendum is proposed or not, Mr. Cheffins said either of the two main models for PR would likely mean B.C. can expect a greater number of political parties represented in the Legislature, and therefore a greater likelihood of a future of coalition governments.
A mixed-member proportional representation system – used in New Zealand and Germany – would still allow voters to choose a local candidate, but they would also be choosing their preferred political party. Under such a system, the Legislature is made up of two groups: Local representatives and members representing the parties, according to each party's share of the popular vote.