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In appeal to BC Green Party, John Horgan shifts on electoral reform

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

BC NDP Leader John Horgan says he is open to changing the province's electoral system without first asking voters for their approval in a referendum, a shift from his party's previous stand and one aimed at wooing the support of the Green Party to govern the province.

Mr. Horgan's position, outlined Thursday, comes as the NDP and the Greens are talking about joining forces to form a government in the minority legislature that appears to have resulted from the May 9 provincial election, depending on next week's count of absentee ballots and recounts. BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark has supported electoral reform as proposed in the 2009 referendum, but did not run on it in this election.

"We campaigned on a referendum to affirm proportional representation. I am open to discussions with the Green Party about their approach to this question, and we'll take it from there," Mr. Horgan told a news conference.

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The Greens have advocated for electoral change, but BC Green Leader Andrew Weaver has said he wants that to happen without a referendum.

Mr. Horgan said he believe this is a "singular moment in history … to demonstrate to British Columbians the benefits of a proportional system where two parties can come together to provide good government for B.C."

The NDP election platform commits to a referendum on changing the voting structure to a proportional-representation system, "so every vote counts." It also said an NDP government would campaign for the Yes side.

The Greens are holding talks with the NDP and the BC Liberals in anticipation that the final election results, expected next week, do not award either party a majority of seats in the legislature. The initial results from the election have left British Columbia with its first minority legislature in 60 years.

The Liberals have the most seats but are one shy of a majority. The initial vote results put the Liberals at 43 of 87 seats, the NDP at 41 and the Greens at three.

Those results mean that the current premier, Ms. Clark of the BC Liberals, would need the support of the Greens to win any legislature confidence vote. If she lost such a vote, Ms. Clark would be expected to resign and Mr. Horgan could seek to replace her if he can convince the Lieutenant-Governor he can form a government with Green support.

In light of past acrimony between the Greens and the NDP, an influential group of former BC NDP MLAs have issued a letter calling for a Green-NDP alliance to be ready to replace Ms. Clark's government. Despite many bitter exchanges between party members prior to the election, the five ex-MLAs appealed to the two leaders to set aside past differences.

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"We admire citizen efforts over 20 years to bring the Green Party to the accomplishment of electing three MLAs," states the letter signed by Corky Evans, Tom Perry, Joan Sawicki, David Zirnhelt and Jim Beattie. Four of the five served in cabinet during the NDP governments of the 1990s.

"We look forward to their contributions as representatives not only for their own constituencies but for the aspirations of the majority of British Columbians concerned about issues ranging from the administration of government to the global environment."

Mr. Weaver has acknowledged the many policy points where his party and the NDP are in accord, but he has also said he has worked well with Ms. Clark, while Mr. Horgan needs to learn to "control his temper."

On Thursday, Mr. Horgan said he did not see any past clashes as an impediment to working with Mr. Weaver, noting he has worked with varied individuals in his political career.

"If we're fighting for a common purpose, I have no difficulty working with anybody," he said.

The letter touches on the many policy areas where the two parties agree: electoral reform, campaign finance reform and opposition to the Site C dam and the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline expansion.

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Mr. Horgan made it clear Thursday that the NDP is intent on ending 16 years of BC Liberal government as soon as possible and working with the BC Green Party to do so.

"We are going to focus on forming a government," he told a news conference while flanked by his MLAs.

"Almost 60 per cent of the people who cast ballots voted for a new government. We believe Andrew Weaver and his colleagues and the group of people with me here today can form that government."

The NDP Leader said there is a lot of "common ground" with the BC Greens beyond the issues of electoral reform and banning corporate and union donations, which the Greens have cited as priorities.

The Greens have also said they would like official party status – a designation that requires four seats – which would allot more resources to the Green caucus. Mr. Horgan did not address that issue on Thursday.

Referring to the common ground on education, health care and climate action, Mr. Horgan said, "We have explored that in discussions – Mr. Weaver and I – and we are going to be exploring that further in the days ahead. I every every confidence that there's more that binds us together than separates us."

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