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British Columbia B.C. limbo: Christy Clark seeks to co-operate with political rivals

Christy Clark addresses the media at her office in Vancouver, B.C., on May 10, 2017.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, with a precarious hold on government pending a final count of ballots, is now searching for areas where her Liberals and the BC Green Party can work together.

The outcome of Tuesday's election will not be determined for weeks – at least – but even if the BC Liberals can eke out a bare majority after the final ballot count, Ms. Clark said on Wednesday she is prepared to launch a new era of co-operation within the legislature.

The governing Liberals, after 16 years in government, were reduced to minority status, with 43 of B.C.'s 87 seats. Their long-time rivals, the NDP, won 41 seats, and the Greens made a historic breakthrough with three seats, giving them the balance of power.

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Ms. Clark remains Premier and will continue to head the government at least until a final tally is produced for a riding the NDP currently holds by just nine votes.

"It's not quite over yet," the Premier told a news conference on Wednesday.

Even if the riding of Courtenay-Comox ends up in Liberal hands, Ms. Clark's majority would be so thin that she will need to find ways to court political rivals.

"British Columbians sent a strong message to all sides of the legislature that they want us to work together collaboratively, and across partisan lines," she told reporters. "They demanded of us a new way and a new approach to achieving those goals."

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Collaboration will be difficult on many points in the Liberal platform, and Ms. Clark will have to reconsider central planks on resource development and climate action.

But on Wednesday, her staff began the task of reaching out to the Greens to find out where they can find common ground, and the Liberals are combing through the Green platform for issues on which both sides could move forward together.

Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May suggested it is the NDP that the Greens should be working with, listing their common positions on matters ranging from campaign-finance reform to their opposition to Kinder Morgan.

Andrew Weaver, the BC Green Leader, told reporters on Wednesday he will review the Liberal and NDP platforms with his new caucus to figure out where there is the most common ground. He said his "non-negotiable" demand is reform of B.C.'s "wild west" of campaign finance – something Ms. Clark has proposed to put off to an independent commission.

NDP Leader John Horgan said he and Mr. Weaver spoke on election night and agreed that the Liberal government has failed British Columbians in many ways, including childcare and defending the coast against increasing oil-tanker traffic.

"If Mr. Weaver and others want to join with me, I am happy to do that," Mr. Horgan said, speaking cautiously about the path ahead. "I am prepared to work with anyone who wants to make life better for British Columbians."

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Ms. Clark won what appears to be a minority government by promising to "get to yes" on resource development, including liquefied natural gas projects, the Site C dam and the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. She also promised voters low taxes, including a continued freeze on the province's carbon tax.

These promises resonated in rural British Columbia, where the Liberals picked up seats from the opposition New Democrats. But it cost them key support in urban ridings, cleaving the province as the NDP and Greens captured seats in B.C.'s urban regions and on southern Vancouver Island.

In her victory speech on Tuesday night, Ms. Clark acknowledged her government cannot ignore the environmental concerns that propelled the Greens to historic heights. She raised the need to protect the environment in a way that was never part of her campaign mantra about jobs and the economy: "How do we make sure that this environment that we are so proud of and so attached to … is better than we [found] it."

One of the Premier's most immediate tasks is to put together a new cabinet after losing four ministers in Tuesday's vote. She will then need to bring back the legislature to pass a budget, as the spending authority passed before the election campaign will carry the operations of government through only until the end of September.

Mr. Weaver voted against the last Liberal budget. He wants the carbon tax increased and he has fiercely attacked Ms. Clark's ambitions to develop an LNG industry. "The B.C. Liberals' economic strategy that emphasizes short-term corporate profits is damaging ecosystems and threatening the long-term sustainability of our forests, our water and our agricultural land," the Green Party platform states.

On Wednesday, Ms. Clark spoke with Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon, who has asked her to continue to lead the government – at least until the final ballots are counted later this month. Given the stakes, it is likely that those numbers will be contested.

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With a report from Ian Bailey in Vancouver

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