British Columbia Premier Christy Clark is leaving the door open to electoral reform – one of the Green Party’s “deal breakers” to secure its support in a potential minority legislature.
On Tuesday, Ms. Clark acknowledged she spoke in favour of changing the voting system when she was a radio-talk show host, but noted there have been a pair of unsuccessful referendums on the issue.
“British Columbia, as you know, had two cracks at it and it failed both times,” Ms. Clark told reporters following a meeting with the Liberal caucus.
Electoral reform was not a part of the BC Liberal platform, and Ms. Clark’s views, in the context of the current political situation, have been unknown.
“I know that’s part of the Green platform and I think the NDP don’t really have a position on it. But electoral reform is something I know the Greens are interested in doing. I don’t know where that will end up,” she said.
The issue has taken on new urgency given the results of last week’s provincial election. The BC Liberals won 43 seats, the NDP 41 seats and the BC Greens won three seats. However, the final outcome is subject to the counting of absentee ballots next week and a pair of judicial recounts.
To govern, either the Liberals or the NDP will have to win over the support of the Greens, who are intent on seeing some form of electoral reform enacted, possibly without a referendum. Referendums on the issue were held in 2005 and 2009. However, the proposed reforms failed to win enough support to pass.
In 2009, Ms. Clark, then a CKNW radio host, urged listeners to approve a referendum call for B.C. to transition to a single transferable vote – a system of ranked voting in which voters list a preferred candidate and then rank their support for other candidates. Candidates with the highest preferences would be elected.
At the time, Ms. Clark said politicians campaigning against the idea were afraid of change. But she said it was a good idea.
“First, it will force all politicians to compete for all of your votes. Candidates will be looking to be your first choice, but if not, then your second, or your third. In this context, no MLA will be safe forever, and every vote will be counted. We will stop throwing vast numbers of votes in the garbage once one candidate gets their 35 per cent.”
On Tuesday in Victoria, NDP Leader John Horgan noted that his party has advocated for a referendum on electoral reform, but he did not rule out an accommodation of the Greens’ position.
“My position during the election campaign was, we need to have a referendum to address that issue. [Green Party Leader Andrew] Weaver and I will have a conversation about that, should that opportunity present itself. And we’ll go from there.
“What we have is a real opportunity to demonstrate why proportional representation can work here in British Columbia right now – we have an outcome that allows two parties with the vast majority of the popular vote to work together for positive outcomes for people. I’m excited about demonstrating to the public that this is something we should be looking for all the time.”
He said he is talking to Mr. Weaver about possible co-operation and said he is hopeful that when the final ballots are counted, he’ll have an opportunity to form the next B.C. government.
“I believe, working with the other opposition party, we can come up with a resolution that will meet the interests of all British Columbians.”
Asked if she would support a Green Party proposal to enact changes to the voting system without a referendum, Ms. Clark said, “Let’s have that discussion with the legislature and the other parties first.”
Ms. Clark spoke of co-operation with the other parties, but declined to get into specifics about how initial talks are going. She said she has had initial conversations with Mr. Horgan and Mr. Weaver.
“I’m not able and shouldn’t, I don’t think, negotiate and share any of those private discussions with the media. I will say they were friendly conversations,” she said.
In remarks to the BC Liberal caucus that journalists were invited to attend, Ms. Clark said Brad Bennett, the son of former B.C. premier Bill Bennett and grandson of former premier W.A.C. Bennett, has agreed to chair a transition team for the BC Liberals. Mr. Bennett, a travelling campaign adviser to Ms. Clark, has also been the chairman of BC Hydro.
Also Tuesday, the BC Green Party announced a four-member team that will lead discussions around the terms of its support for a potential minority BC NDP or BC Liberal government.
Mr. Weaver will be chief negotiator and other party members are newly elected MLA Sonia Furstenau and Liz Lilly, chief of staff to the BC Green Party caucus.
The team also includes Norman Spector, acting as a consultant to the negotiating team. Mr. Spector was a deputy minister to former premier Bill Bennett, and chief of staff to former prime minister Brian Mulroney. He has also served as a Canadian ambassador to Israel.
With a report from Justine Hunter in VictoriaReport Typo/Error