VANCOUVER – British Columbia’s Green party has emerged from Tuesday’s election with a unique opportunity that could help decide the province’s political future but it comes with risks for the upstart political movement.
Political scientists say Green Leader Andrew Weaver must carefully stickhandle the power he has while not alienating his own supporters if the results of the election are confirmed in the coming weeks and no party has a majority in the legislature.
The Liberal party won 43 seats, leaving it one seat short of a majority. The NDP garnered 41 seats, and the Greens finished with three seats, leaving Weaver to determine whether to side with the Liberals or the New Democrats in a minority government situation.
Liberal Leader Christy Clark campaigned on her party’s record of a strong economy while NDP Leader John Horgan called for a change at the legislature after 16 years in Opposition.
Prof. Richard Johnston of the University of British Columbia said that while the Greens share some common policies with the NDP on issues such as electoral reform, the party must evaluate whether it should back the party that didn’t get the most seats or votes.
“If it’s true that British Columbians voted for a change, that must mean, if you’re Andrew Weaver, ousting Christy Clark from government,” Johnston said Wednesday. “But that would also mean to do that he has to back the loser.”
Kathryn Harrison, also a political science professor at UBC, said the Greens must weigh the risks of either choice but the Liberals may wait to do any negotiating until the final ballot count is released, which must happen by May 24.
However, if the results are confirmed, Harrison said the Liberals and New Democrats may be forced to compromise with the Greens or face another election.
“Voters really hate having the plug pulled very soon after an election and have to go back to the polls,” she said. “None of the leaders wants to be the one who causes an election.”
Weaver said it’s too early for him to say whether he would back the Liberals or New Democrats but he was willing to compromise and was scheduled to meet with both Clark and Horgan on Wednesday afternoon.
“B.C. Greens are committed to working with whichever party we end up working with,” he said.
“It’s public policy first. Partisan politics? We’re not interested.”
He said his party’s ban on corporate and union donations meant private contributions to his party “went through the roof” during the campaign and that the Greens did not go into debt.
Weaver said he and Horgan agree on some key issues, such as electoral reform and a ban on corporate and union donations.
Horgan’s post-election speech on Tuesday night hit on some of those issues as a potential signal to the Greens.
“British Columbians voted today to get big money out of politics,” he said. “British Columbians voted today for proportional representation.”
However, the Greens’ and New Democrats’ stance on electoral reform may be a deal breaker with the Liberals, Harrison said.
“Small parties like the Greens are forever disadvantaged by a first-past-the post system. That would be the long-term win for them so maybe that’s one on which they would be willing to take that risk in supporting the NDP to achieve.”
The Green party needed four seats to get official party status in the legislature, which would mean more resources for the party and a greater role in the house.
Weaver said he wouldn’t demand official party status from the other parties to support a minority government, but there’s a chance the Greens could get recognized anyway.
“I suspect other parties would be crawling over themselves to actually offer us official party status in light of where we stand today.”