British Columbia voters denied the B.C. Liberal party a new majority government Tuesday, instead splitting the political power base among three parties and plunging the province into the kind of uncertain minority government not seen in 65 years.
But Liberal Leader Christy Clark said she intends to keep governing as premier.
“Tonight we won the popular vote and we have also won the most seats,” she told a rally in Vancouver, after preliminary election results showed she won a minority government.
“And with absentee ballots still to be counted I am confident they will strengthen our margin of victory.
“So it my intention to continue to lead British Columbia’s government.”
Clark’s 49-seat majority won in 2013 vanished as voters rejected her singular focus on jobs and the economy, handing her instead 43 elected seats, with 41 per cent of the popular vote, according to preliminary results.
B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan surged from 35 seats last election to 41 elected seats, and 39.9 per cent of the popular vote, as his party made major gains in the Metro Vancouver suburbs, Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey and the Tri-Cities.
The B.C. Greens grew to three seats, with Leader Andrew Weaver holding his Oak Bay riding, while also picking up new seats in Cowichan, and Saanich North and the Islands, with a popular vote of 16.65 per cent.
Clark attempted to put the best spin on the results initially, but also acknowledged; “Voters always know best, and they reminded me tonight we are far from perfect.”
“We have been presented with an opportunity by British Columbians to open a whole new dialogue in our province, in our legislature, a dialogue about how we do things, what we should do, how we want to shape the future of our province,” Clark said.
“Tonight is the beginning of something very different and something I think could be really exciting about the future of our province and kids.”
She said as protectionism mounts south of the border, Liberals must listen to voters who are telling them to “get along” better with the other parties.
“I will work with the other parties to do what needs to be done to keep fighting to protect” B.C., she said to a large round of applause.
Late Tuesday, Clark spoke to Green Leader Andrew Weaver by phone. She did not speak to NDP Leader John Horgan, a Liberal insider said.
Clark thanked her son Hamish during her speech. “Having a mom in politics is just not easy,” she said. The crowd laughed when he responded, “It sucks.”
Not so fast, said Horgan at his own press conference minutes later in Vancouver on Tuesday night.
“British Columbians have waited 16 years for a government that works for them, and we are going to have to ask you to wait a little bit longer until all the votes are counted and the final results of this election are known,” said Horgan, as the crowd chanted“NDP.”
“But this is what we do know: A majority of British Columbians voted for a new government and I believe that’s what they deserve.”
Weaver called it “a historic day.”
“People across British Columbia have shown they are ready for politics to be done differently in this province,” he said from Victoria. “We offered them a change that they could count on and British Columbians delivered that change tonight.”
During the campaign, Weaver laid out his requirements to support another party — mainly that it reform B.C.’s first past the post electoral system and end corporate and union donations.
“In the days ahead there will be plenty of discussions taking place between all parties,” said Weaver. “And now is not the time for those discussions now is the time for Greens across North America to celebrate.”
Many of the ridings could face shifting outcomes as absentee ballots, and advanced ballots cast outside a person’s riding, are counted during Elections B.C.’s final count process, which begins May 22 and runs to May 24.
Even after then, candidates can ask for a recount in ridings in which the margin of victory is fewer than 100 votes. A riding can go to a more formal judicial recount if “the difference between the votes received by the candidate declared elected and the candidate with the next highest number of votes is less than 1/500 of the total ballots considered,” according to the B.C. Elections Act.
Weaver frequently argued during the campaign that neither the Liberals nor the NDP should be trusted with a majority government.
He appears to have got his wish.
B.C. is headed to a minority government for the first time since 1952 when W.A.C. Bennett’s Social Credit party defeated the then-coalition government of the Liberals and Conservatives.
Bennett’s minority government lasted a year, before he was defeated and won a new majority.
A minority government would mean no single party would have the 44-vote majority in the legislature required to force through a budget or legislation.
It also means the B.C. Greens could hold the balance of power on all of the business of government in Victoria, with the potential to topple the party in power and plunge the province into an election at any moment.
There are several possible scenarios to play out in the days ahead.
The first, and most likely as Clark indicated, would see Clark approach Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon and ask to form government and reconvene the legislature.
“We may not know how this all pans out for another two weeks, but if it looks as it does tonight the Greens look like they are going to be the government-makers,” said veteran political scientist Norman Ruff.
“And although they are falling short of the four seats needed to be recognized as an official party, the deposition in fact will be far stronger because they’ll get to decide who forms the government.
“Presumably, Christy Clark and John Horgan will both be wanting to talk to Mr. Weaver, and the attention shifts to the conditions he’d have to support either of those parties.”
The Liberals would have to cobble together the co-operation of the Greens, or MLAs from the other parties, for every vote — from its throne speech, to its budget to any legislation it chooses to introduce, or risk defeat.
It would also be possible for the parties to form a more formal coalition, and then approach Guichon to try to govern in that way.
Much of the brokerage power now rests in the hands of Weaver, a former climate scientist and professor from the University of Victoria who became the party’s first MLA when he won the Vancouver Island riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head in 2013.
Regardless of what plays out next, British Columbians are in for a dramatic shift in how government is conducted in the province.
Under the NDP in the 1990s, and the Liberals in the 2000s, there was a big enough margin of error that cabinet ministers and MLAs could travel the province, announcing projects, cutting ribbons, visiting sites and holding meetings.
For B.C. Liberal Leader Clark, her previous majority gave her the freedom to barely attend any proceedings of the legislature, choosing instead to conduct virtually all the business of government from Vancouver while attending legislative proceedings once, maybe twice, a week.
Now, with the threat of a snap vote at any moment that could bring down the governing party, MLAs will be virtually tied to their seats in Victoria, with routine matters like sick days or personal leave becoming potentially highly-contentious matters that could see government fail a confidence vote.
Four Liberal cabinet ministers were defeated Tuesday -Attorney General Suzanne Anton, TransLink Peter Fassbender, Technology Minister Amrik Virk, and minister of state for emergency Naomi Yamamoto.
It was a closely fought, bitterly-negative campaign. Clark focused on jobs and the economy, but failed to rekindle the support from 2013. The NDP offered to scrap Metro bridge tolls and $10-a-day daycare, and hammered Clark as a corrupt leader whose party was compromised by big corporate donors.
A wave of NDP support crashed through key swing ridings in Vancouver, the Tri-Cities, Burnaby and Surrey.
The Liberals staunched some of the bleeding from their Lower Mainland trouncing by holding off NDP challenges in the Okanagan ridings of Penticton and Boundary-Similkameen, holding Fraser Nicola, and picking up a key victory in Skeena with former Haisla Nation chief Ellis Ross.
Other key victories included Liberal Ian Paton winning Delta South, a riding up for grabs after independent Vicki Huntington retired, and former Global B.C. reporter Jas Johal picking up the new riding of Richmond Queensborough.
But the NDP kept chipping away, denying Liberal star candidate Steve Darling a seat in the legislature in Burnaby-Lougheed with the NDP’s Katrina Chen.
A dense crowd at NDP headquarters inside the Vancouver Convention Centre alternated cheering and chanting with moments of nervousness as the seat count changed hands over the course of the evening.
The party faithful saved their biggest cheers for confirmation that Leader John Horgan and veteran MLA Judy Darcy retained their seats.
At the Liberal headquarters, the mood was festive as the early results trickled in shortly after 8 p.m., showing the Liberals jumping out ahead of the NDP in many ridings. The applause was loudest when leader Christy Clark was declared elected in Kelowna West.
Supporters applauded enthusiastically as Liberals in safe ridings were elected, but the mood turned glum shortly after 9 p.m. as the race tightened up — the results showing the Liberals and NDP essentially tied. Earlier drinking wine and boisterous, the quiet crowd was glued to their phones and the TV screens hoping for good news.
The 28-day campaign was among the most personal and negative in recent B.C. memory, with the three parties spending considerable energy attacking each other’s integrity in debates and through a torrent of advertisements.
Horgan’s persistent and clear message that the Clark Liberals were a tired and corrupt party, on the take from their big corporate donors, appeared to resonate with voters also fed up with years of assorted scandals, along with Liberal underfunding of services like public education, social assistance and health care.
The party has only won three of the last 20 elections.
Going into the election Monday, Horgan said he had “absolutely zero regrets” about the campaign, which saw him grow into a competent retail politician bolstered by an NDP backroom that eschewed the usual provincial players in favour of fresh out-of-province experts.
The party released an ambitious platform offering popular vote-getting measures like $10-a-day daycare, an end to tolls on Metro bridges and money to eliminate portables in Surrey schools. It wasn’t fully costed, but the public did not appear to hold it against the NDP.
Clark, meanwhile, ran on what had seemed to be an unbeatable economic record, with the provincial economy outperforming the rest of the country. And yet, for many, it appeared 16 years of her party, and its assorted scandals, was simply enough.
Clark started her campaign slowly with a stand-pat platform that failed to rekindle the magic of her 2013 campaign by distilling down almost all the issues to a promise to keep taxes low, grow the economy, limit government spending and create good-paying middle-class jobs.
Known for her skills as a campaigner, she nonetheless faltered after a series of self-inflicted missteps, including a video of her abruptly walking away from a voter in North Vancouver that went viral, as well as allowing speculation over a value added tax to grow for several days and rekindle fears of the HST.