So what happens now?
The straight answer is that no one knows. This election won’t be decided for at least two weeks, when absentee ballots are counted and recounts are complete.
But it’s likely British Columbia is heading into unfamiliar territory, with a high probability of the first minority government since 1952 when W.A.C. Bennett enlisted the support of the lone Labour MLA to take charge.
The Greens, with three seats, can now decide who forms the next government. That’s an opportunity, but it’s also a threat to the party’s future.
There are 87 seats in the legislature. It takes 45 seats to have a clear majority, as the governing party selects one of its members as the Speaker, who only votes to break ties.
At 11:30 P.M., the Liberals held 43 seats and the NDP 41. Neither can form government without Green support.
Traditionally, the party in power — the Liberals — get the first chance to convince the lieutenant governor that they can form government, especially if they have the largest number of seats. That means they need to enlist the Greens’ support.
That might not seem difficult. Leader Andrew Weaver’s comments late in the campaign made it clear that he would be happier working with the Liberals’ Christy Clark than the NDP’s John Horgan.
But Weaver has promised Green MLAs won’t be forced to toe the party line. So Sonia Fursteneau and Adam Olsen, newly elected Green members, could together decide who will be the next premier. Fursteneau has battled the Liberals over a contaminated waste dump in her riding; Olsen is an opponent of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion Clark is backing. Neither can be expected to be keen to prop up the BC Liberals.
Weaver could still try to cut a deal with the BC Liberals. He could extract a promise that the Liberals would act on some key Green policies — like limits on corporate and union campaign donations. He could demand the Liberals agree to give the Greens’ official party status, even though that has required four MLAs. And he could insist on cabinet seats in the new government.
But choosing to prop up the BC Liberals could be fatal for the Greens’ future prospects. Despite Weaver’s comments, any independent look at the parties’ platforms would find the Greens have much more in common with the NDP. Their supporters were voting for change, from proportional representation to better environmental protection to access to child care. All those positions are supported, at least to some degree, by the New Democrats. The BC Liberals oppose them all.
Many Green supporters and voters who found they had simply returned the BC Liberals to power would feel betrayed.
There were signs late Tuesday night that the Green Party has grasped that reality. A spokesperson said the party’s two key demands would be a move to proportional representation and a ban on big money in politics. Practically, those are essential for the party’s future. And they have been supported, at least in part, by the NDP and opposed by the BC Liberals.
It might be an opportunity for the Greens, but it’s also a perilous situation. The 1952 minority government lasted nine months, before W.A.C. Bennett won a majority and governed for another 19 years.
Of course, all this could change. Absentee ballots — about 160,000 — aren’t counted and included in the results until May 24. Recounts will almost certainly be held in key ridings.
But for tonight, the election results look like a rebuke for Clark and a challenge for Weaver and the Greens.