British Columbia·Analysis

Why a B.C. Green-NDP coalition is no slam dunk

As British Columbians await the final results of their recent election, a coalition of groups is once again calling on the Greens and NDP to work together to form government.

Experts says a Green-NDP alliance is not the winning combination proponents make it out to be

A coalition of left leaning advocacy groups are calling for an NDP Green alliance to govern B.C., but experts say it might not be that easy. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

As British Columbians await the final vote count in the recent election, a coalition of groups is once again calling on the Greens and NDP to work together to form government.

But political experts says a Green-NDP alliance is not necessarily the winning combination proponents make it out to be.

At a rally at the legislature on Tuesday morning, the groups presented a petition of 25,000 signatures calling on the two parties to cooperate.

The event, which was attended by some NDP and Green MLAs, brought together several left-leaning advocacy groups along with the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

Organizer and executive director Lyndsay Poaps told the crowd the two parties share several common positions, including support for proportional representative voting in B.C. and election campaign financing reform, which make for a natural combination in a government coalition.

"A majority of people voted for a party that pledged to block Kinder Morgan and put brakes on Site C, parties that pledged to get big money out of politics and change the electoral system," said Poaps.

Alliance faces challenges

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver has yet to reveal his plans but calls for a Green-NDP alliance are "not surprising," according to Hamish Telford, professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley,

"There are a large number of people — a majority of voters — who wanted a government other than the Liberals," he noted.

Newly elected Green MLA Sonia Furstenau was spotted talking with NDP MLA Carole James at the rally at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria. Furstenau told reporters talk of an alliance is "still underway." (Mike McArthur/CBC)

But Telford says such an alliance faces some significant challenges, including the razor thin margin it would have in the Legislature.

After the initial vote count in the May 9 provincial election, the Liberals were in the lead with 43 seats, followed by the NDP with 41 and the Greens with three.

But with recounts underway in at least five close seats, and thousands of absentee ballots yet to be counted this week, either the NDP or Liberals could pick up more seats in the coming days.

Even if the NDP picks up one or two seats in the recounts underway this week, it would still only have a slim majority in the legislature with Green support, he said.

"You have to remember that whomever forms the government will have ministers away on business and on any given day, the government could find itself in a minority situation in the legislature."

No love lost between leaders

Telford also point out there's no love lost between NDP Leader John Horgan and Andrew Weaver, who clashed openly during the election campaign.

"They don't have to like each other, but they do have to be able to work together," he noted. "Personal relationships are all important in these situations."

He said Weaver already has a more successful track record working with Liberal Leader Christy Clark, who had two of his private member's bills passed by her government.

Weaver also worked closely with former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell to bring in the province's carbon tax, which was "vociferously opposed by the NDP," Telford pointed out.

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, centre, held the balance of power after the initial vote count, but it remains to be seen if he will form an alliance with either the NDP's John Horgan or Christy Clark after the final vote count this week. (CBC)

UBC political science professor Max Cameron notes opposing the carbon tax cost the NDP a lot of environmental votes in the past, and the party should not assume it will quickly regain the confidence of the Greens.

"I think it is absolutely wrong to say that the Greens poached NDP votes, that Green voters are essentially NDP in disguise," he said.

"If anything, it seems to me the Greens did a better job than the NDP picking up disaffected Liberal voters," said Cameron.

Greens have options

Entering a coalition with either party might not be in the Greens' long-term interests either, Cameron said, pointing out the party could easily lose its identity in a larger government.

Weaver has a number of other options, including a "supply and confidence agreement" with either party to support budgets and confidence motions but promising nothing more.

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver speaks to supporters on election night in Victoria, B.C. (Chad Hipolito/CP)

Either way, both Cameron and Telford agree whoever forms government in the coming days, it will be inherently unstable.

"It is unlikely to be the full four years," said Cameron. "It is really going to be a test of the leadership of the party leaders."

Telford is less optimistic that anyone will be able to govern for long.

"I suspect that we will be back to the polls within a year and possibly within six months," he predicted.


Mike Laanela is an online journalist with CBC News in Vancouver.