Skip to main content
gary mason

It's now official: British Columbia is entering a period of unparalleled political uncertainty.

With all the votes now finally counted, we are precisely where we were after election night two weeks ago: with the Liberals holding a 43-41 minority edge over the New Democrats, leaving the three-seat Green Party holding the balance of power.

It's truly anyone's guess how this plays out. The negotiations taking place between the Greens and the other two parties will begin getting serious now that everyone knows where things stand. It now becomes a question of how badly the Liberals want to cling to power and how desperate the New Democrats are to assume office for the first time in 16 years.

Related: BC Green Party eyes long-term deal in pursuit of electoral reform

This is where the bartering gets real and the Liberals and New Democrats must decide how much they are prepared to offer the Greens to get their support to govern. This is where our political leaders reveal their true selves; where they show how committed they are to their principles or how willing they are to sell them out for the right price. Politics in B.C. is about to get more Machiavellian, more dark and sinister than perhaps any period in the province's history. Think Game of Thrones and you won't be far off.

The Greens have made clear what their bottom-line demands are in exchange for their backing: official party status in the legislature (which usually goes to parties that have four sitting MLAs) as well as campaign finance and electoral reform. And the Greens want electoral reform imposed on British Columbians, not put to a vote in the form of a referendum.

Two of these demands should be easy for either the Liberals or the New Democrats to accede to: official party status and campaign finance reform. Even the Liberals, who have profited to the tune of tens of millions of dollars from the shamefully lax rules governing political donations, understand that the jig is up and that British Columbia has to join the 21st century and the rest of the Western world in this regard.

If the Liberals had won a majority, that reform would have occurred haltingly, giving the party an opportunity to raise millions more toward its formidable war chest.

That strategy is no longer an option. Their only hope of reaching some kind of governing consensus with the Greens is to agree to legislation that immediately halts union and corporate donations and puts a strict cap on individual donations, one that prevents the wealthy from continuing to play an outsized role in B.C. politics.This is not an issue that presents any type of problem for the NDP, which campaigned on wholesale campaign finance reform and likely benefited from widespread public disgust over the Liberals' refusal to change laws that have made the province an international embarrassment.

The NDP certainly would have no issue with changing the current laws as soon as possible.

Alliance negotiations get less clear around the matter of electoral reform.

There is no great secret why the Greens want this; some form of proportional representation which accords party seats based on the percentage of overall votes they receive would obviously help a party like the Greens, which got three seats in this election but almost 17 per cent of the popular vote. The NDP agreed as part of its platform to hold a referendum on the question of electoral reform while the Liberals were quiet on the subject.

There have been two referendums on this question since 2005 and both were defeated.

This is where the NDP, in particular, has to ask itself: How badly does it want power? Would it agree to institute a new voting system in the province without going to the public first? That seems unfathomable. The party didn't campaign on that pledge. How could it foist new voting rules on the province at the dictate of a party that holds three seats in the legislature?

That would be political suicide.

The public would not look kindly upon a party that changed its position, for purely opportunistic reasons. Neither would it likely be nice to any party that put a prospective government in the position of having to make that choice.

The political calculus involved in decisions the Liberals, NDP and Greens make in the next days and weeks is exceedingly complex.

The rewards couldn't be bigger, the risks more consequential.

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.