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B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan arrives for a post election news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday May 10, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The Canadian Press

British Columbia's Opposition New Democrats have increased their narrow lead in a riding that could deny the Liberals a fifth-consecutive majority government, but about half the absentee ballots in Courtenay-Comox have yet to be counted.

On election night, the New Democrats led in the riding with nine votes, a margin that see-sawed this week after a recount and with the addition of previously uncounted ballots. On Tuesday, Elections BC continued counting the almost 180,000 absentee ballots – 2,077 of them in Courtenay-Comox. By the end of the day, the NDP had a 101-vote lead in the riding.

But another 1,000 absentee ballots must be counted on Wednesday.

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Explainer: What you need to know about the final election count in B.C.

At the end of the day on Tuesday, with the results still not complete, the Liberals remained ahead in 43 ridings – one short of a majority – while the NDP held 41 and the Greens three. If those numbers hold, the future of the government will depend on whether the third-place Greens decide to prop up the Liberals or throw their support to the New Democrats. The last ballots are expected to be counted in 14 ridings on Wednesday. If the margin of victory in Courtenay-Comox is less than about 58 votes, it would go to a judicial recount.

Amid the uncertainty of whether Premier Christy Clark's BC Liberal government will stand, a coalition of activists assembled in front of the B.C. Legislature buildings on Tuesday to urge the Greens and the NDP to make peace, and together end 16 years of Liberal rule.

Environmental organizations, opponents of the Site C dam, advocates for child care and for public health care, and a senior First Nations leader are hoping the final count will deny a majority to Ms. Clark.

With the final election results still unclear, the calls for co-operation remain speculative but a reminder to both the Greens and the NDP that many of their supporters see them as natural allies.

"If no party has a strong majority after the final ballots are counted, the NDP and the Greens have a historic opportunity to make good on the important policies they both campaigned on – but only if they work together," said Lyndsay Poaps, executive director of Leadnow, the umbrella organization that delivered a petition with 25,000 names calling for an alliance between the two parties.

The last ballots are expected to be counted in 15 ridings on Wednesday, and if Courtenay-Comox remains close, it will go to a judicial recount.

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While the outcome remains unclear, the Greens have been negotiating with the NDP, and also with the BC Liberals, to determine where they will deliver their support when the Legislature is recalled.

The expectations of the different groups who joined the rally at the Legislature calling for a Green-NDP alliance are broad.

Terry Dance-Bennink, from the Rolling Justice Bus, said she wants construction on the partly built Site C dam halted. Jen Kuhl, spokesperson for the BC Health Coalition, wants a stronger public health care system and a plan to combat child poverty. Katie Harrison, managing director of Force of Nature, said she expects a Green-NDP alliance to put B.C. on a path for a "low carbon" future. Sharon Gregson, spokesperson for $10 a Day Child Care Campaign, said the two parties can together resolve a crisis in child-care affordability.

Stewart Phillip, Grand Chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said the opportunity for a change in government is tantalizingly close: "As the final ballots are tallied, I pray that we will all be... celebrating the change that we have all worked so hard for over the last 16 years. I think we are on the brink of some pretty wonderful things here in the province of British Columbia."

Sven Biggs, a climate campaigner for Stand.earth, said only the Greens and the NDP together could stop Kinder Morgan from completing its oil pipeline expansion. "We're hoping both parties will put aside their partisanship, any personal grudges they may hold over from the election, and come together and do what's right for British Columbians by finally protecting our coast."

Carole James, who is on the NDP's negotiating team, and newly elected MLA Sonia Furstenau, who is part of the Greens' bargaining team, accepted the petitions for their parties. But as they stood side-by-side on the steps of the legislature, both declined to discuss whether an accord is possible.

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"The message that was given to us was that the people of British Columbia have spoken, they are looking for positive change," Ms. James said. But she would not say if the NDP would agree to the Greens' demands for electoral reform without a referendum. "We are in discussions."

Ms. Furstenau acknowledged the boxes of petitions contained a message from voters, but said: "We are waiting for the outcome of the election before we really get into those kinds of specifics, and we are all anxiously waiting for those final ballots."

No ridings flipped between parties, but two tight races in Metro Vancouver were called early on Tuesday evening.

Former Global TV reporter and LNG lobbyist Jas Johal held on against NDP candidate Aman Singh, a civil rights lawyer, to win Richmond-Queensborough for the Liberals by 134 votes. That is about half the margin of 263 he tallied in the new riding on election night.

And in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, Liberal candidate Joan Isaacs defeated NDP incumbent Jodie Wickens by 87 votes.

Two other Metro Vancouver races remain undecided with margins of less than 600 votes each: Maple Ridge-Mission (NDP lead by 369) and Vancouver-False Creek (Liberals lead by 406).

Columnist Gary Mason says British Columbia is now a divided province, with the Liberals finding support in the interior and north, while the NDP dominates in Metro Vancouver. But the latter region is growing while the interior remains stagnant, leaving a question over the Liberals' future election prospects.
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