British Columbia·In Depth

'It's a bit of a blur': What led the B.C. Greens to pick the NDP

For nearly two weeks the B.C. Greens were courted by both the Liberals and the NDP. At stake was the province's political future.

The inside story of what led to the historic pact that could shape the province's political future

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and NDP Leader John Horgan shake hands following reaching an agreement to work together in the B.C. Legislature. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

As Andrew Weaver was engulfed by reporters in the early hours of May 10, just a few hours after the recent B.C. election, it was clear to him his job was far from over.

The Green Party leader tried to answer questions as he walked off the stage, while knowing what awaited him would be some of the most crucial negotiations this province has ever seen.

"It's a bit of a blur," says Weaver now, more than three weeks after that night.

What unfolded next would change the course of B.C. politics.

The Greens held the balance of power, with just three seats in the legislature. Neither the Liberals, with 43 seats, nor the NDP, with 41, had the 44 seats necessary to form a majority government. 

Before the final count was known, Premier Christy Clark spoke to the press after a B.C. Liberal Caucus meeting in Vancouver. (Jacy Schindel/CBC)

Meetings begin

The meetings started a week after election day.

The Liberals were first up at the table with the B.C. Greens.

Their negotiating team consisted of former finance minister Carole Taylor, Brad Bennett, and ministers Mike Bernier and Mike de Jong. Taylor stepped away after the first meeting and was replaced by 2013 Liberal campaign manager Mike McDonald. 

Green Party Deputy Leader Sonia Furstenau said those early meetings had a bit of a wait-and-see feeling about them because the final vote counting had not yet been completed.

Courtenay-Comox was the closest race on election night and the Liberals were holding out hope that the absentee ballots would push the riding their way — but it didn't. 

"There was a very distinct shift that happened once those final vote counts from Courtenay-Comox came in," Furstenau said. "For Andrew and me and also for Adam, the weight of the responsibility became very, very real."

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, right, stood beside Saanich North and the Islands MLA elect Adam Olsen days before striking a deal. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

At that point the talks intensified between both sides.

The Green negotiators included Weaver, Furstenau, Green platform chair Liz Lilly and political consultant Norman Spector. They alternated sitting at the table with the Liberals and the NDP.

Long-time NDP MLA Carole James was at the table alongside NDP Leader John Horgan, campaign chair Bob Dewar and advisor Marie Della Mattia. 

James said one advantage the NDP had was more common policies and values with the Greens.

Each negotiating session varied in length from two to six hours a day at the boardroom tables of the hotels they met in. Then the parties would break off and meet individually in a separate room in the hotel.

B.C. Green Party Deputy Leader Sonia Furstenau looks on as Leader Andrew Weaver speaks to media. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Energy projects the turning point

According to Weaver the turning point of the entire deal seemed to be on Friday, May 26, when the sides started to iron out details on what would happen with the Site C Dam and Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Weaver held a news conference that afternoon where he told reporters the Greens were "very, very close" to coming to a deal.

"I wanted to emphasize: this is incredibly complex," Weaver told reporters.

"It's not just about picking the B.C. NDP or picking the B.C. Liberals. It's about trying to ensure that we have stability. 

"So we're really working through the nitty-gritties with both political parties."

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan take in the final match between Team Canada and New Zealand at the HSBC Canada Women's Sevens a day before reaching a formal agreement. (Chap Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Then the Liberals asked to push up their next meeting. But instead of offering a new vision, the governing party was not willing to budge on its support for Site C or Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion.

"I had a moment, we had caucused out and I was sitting in our hotel room and I just had a light bulb go off and I said, 'Andrew, why did you get into politics in the first place?'" said Weaver.

"I got into politics because I could not stand by and watch the dismantling of Gordon Campbell's climate leadership."

Although Weaver would not make his formal decision until Monday morning, the NDP could tell at that point they were in the driver's seat. 

"By Sunday we were starting to feel more comfortable than we had. We started finalizing things and it started to feel more real," said James.

Clark never at negotiating table

While Horgan and Weaver were the ones leading their parties' negotiations, those around the table said Premier Christy Clark never made an appearance for the Liberals.

She was tied up in Vancouver continuing her work as premier and was in contact over the phone with her negotiating team.

But on the final weekend before the deal was signed, Clark exchanged text messages with Weaver trying to set up a phone call. 

"She had, I understand, on the Monday planned to come and join us at the negotiating table. We sent some text messages back and forth on that day," said Weaver.

"It was after the meeting on the Sunday we had with the B.C. Liberals that it became apparent we were far apart on key issues and having the premier there would not have made a difference."

It was then on Monday that Weaver said his team finally got on the phone with Clark's team.

But instead of the premier on the call, it was Brad Bennett. The Greens told Bennett they wanted to cancel the planned afternoon negotiation session.

Instead, that afternoon Horgan and Weaver stood together in front of the legislative chambers, shaking hands to seal a deal that was weeks in the making and could change B.C. politics forever.