VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s election hangs in the balance with thousands of votes still to be counted, kicking off weeks of speculation and backroom negotiations with the newly influential Green party.
When preliminary results were tallied Tuesday night, Christy Clark’s Liberals had 43 seats, John Horgan’s NDP won 41 and Andrew Weaver’s Greens held a historic three ridings. The stunning outcome gave B.C. its first minority government in 65 years, with Weaver’s party holding the balance of power.
But the Liberals only need one more seat for a majority — and 176,000 absentee ballots are yet to be counted. Several ridings were decided by fewer than 300 votes, including Courtenay-Comox, where the NDP won by a mere nine votes.
The final results are expected by May 24, and it’s anyone’s guess what B.C.’s legislature will look like.
“The game’s not over,” said Horgan, who refused to concede defeat on Wednesday. “There’s still 176,000 seconds on the clock and I’m going to wait to see what the final outcome is.”
Horgan and Clark have drawn different lessons from Tuesday’s results. While Horgan said it’s clear British Columbians want change after 16 years under the Liberals, Clark said she reads the result as a plea to the parties to work together.
The Liberals lost seats in Metro Vancouver and several cabinet ministers were defeated. Asked several times if she accepts personal responsibility, Clark avoided a direct answer.
“British Columbians sent a very strong message to all sides of the legislature. They want us to work together collaboratively and across partisan lines,” said Clark, who was trying to win the party’s fifth straight majority government.
The premier’s office said Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon has asked Clark to continue governing after the election.
The popular vote on Tuesday gave the Liberals about 17,800 more votes than the New Democrats.
Even after the absentee ballots are counted, tight finishes could trigger judicial recounts.
If the result holds and no party gets a majority, Weaver will be in the remarkable position of deciding whether the next government is Liberal or NDP. He’s already discussing his bargaining chips.
“The most important issue for us right now, the number 1 deal breaker, is banning big money in B.C. politics,” said Weaver, a climate scientist who became the first Green elected to B.C.’s legislature four years ago.
B.C. allows unlimited corporate and union donations and the RCMP is investigating fundraising by political parties. The NDP has promised to ban the donations, while the Liberals have said they’ll convene a review panel.
Weaver said he would negotiate with both leaders in the coming weeks and would work with whichever party has the most in common with the Green platform.
Both Horgan and Clark said Wednesday they are planning to sit down with Weaver to talk about working together.
Richard Johnston, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia, said he doesn’t expect negotiations on the possible framework of a minority government to start until after the final results are known.
“It’s entirely possible, first of all, that it won’t be a minority government,” he said.
“It’s easier to imagine a deal between the Greens and the NDP — not personality wise, but on substance.”
Johnston said if the results remain a Liberal minority with the Greens holding the balance of power, Weaver has to be careful. Supporting minority governments is usually perilous for the smaller parties, he said.
In Weaver’s case, that could also mean supporting the NDP to achieve his goals.
“If the results are as they are now, 43 seats for the Liberals, that means that in order to effect the change that I think Weaver reasonably interprets the electorate to have called for, (that) does require him to support the loser. Optically, that’s not great.”