British Columbia·Analysis

Strange bedfellows: B.C.'s 3 party leaders must court each other

B.C.'s election yesterday was one of the wackiest in Canadian history. Now, Liberal Leader Christy Clark, the NDP's John Horgan and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver must figure out who exactly will form the government.

Liberal Leader Christy Clark's minority depends on her ability to compromise

NDP Leader John Horgan, far left, and Liberal Leader Christy Clark, far right, will both be courting Andrew Weaver, centre, whose Green Party holds the balance of power after Tuesday's election. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press, Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

There has never been a night in British Columbia where three political leaders stepped to the podium in front of their supporters and gave victory speeches.

But there also hasn't been an election quite like the one this province just went through. 

Three strong personalities — the leaders of the provincial Liberals, the NDP and the Greens — battled it out on the campaign trail but will now have to figure out who will work with whom.

After a night of back-and-forth, with no clear majority emerging and the leaders all clamouring to get to their podium first, it was B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark who took charge.

"It's my intention to continue to lead British Columbia's government," said Clark. "Tonight, we won the popular vote, and we have also won the most seats."

Greens hold balance of power

But for now, the real power doesn't actually rest in Clark's hands, despite her party falling just one seat shy of a majority. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver holds the balance of power with his three seats, versus 43 for the B.C. Liberals and 41 for the NDP. 

Green Party leader Andrew Weaver hugs new Green MLA Adam Olsen before supporters on election night. (CBC)

Clark will get the first opportunity to work with Weaver. But instead of speaking directly to him and his supporters, Clark took a different approach.

"Some things only happen in British Columbia," said Clark, as she kicked off her speech more than four hours after the polls had closed across the province.

"We have been presented with an opportunity by British Columbians to open a whole new dialogue in our legislature." 

Negotiations will likely begin straight away, but real movement isn't likely until the absentee ballots are fully counted.

History of working together

Clark and Weaver do have a history of positive dialogue, so her unwillingness to publicly beg for Green support might trace back to those ties.

Clark hugs her son after speaking to Liberal supporters. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Those collaborations include a ban of restaurants and bars forcing employees to wear high heels and creating sexual assault policies at British Columbia's post-secondary institutions. 

"It's overwhelming to see that we are holding the balance of power. Looking forward to the discussions with the others. It bodes well for doing politics differently in this province," said Weaver.

No preference on who to work with

What those discussions will involve is still unclear.

Throughout the campaign, Weaver was unwilling to say whether he would prefer to work with the Liberals or the NDP — and now he could choose either.

What he has been clear on are his dealbreakers. The Green Party leader will only support a political party willing to ban union and corporate donations and  look at electoral reform. 

"I would expect as soon as government sits in the legislature there will be legislation to ban big money in politics," said Weaver. "We know how to compromise, and we are looking forward to that."

NDP Leader John Horgan gives supporter the thumbs-up on election night. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Of course, the wild card in all of this is the riding of Courtenay-Comox. The Liberals lost the riding by nine votes and could still win it in a recount or with the absentee ballots that will start to be counted May 22. 

Following the stunning result, Weaver made sure he spoke over the phone with both NDP Leader John Horgan and Clark. The calls were described as short and cordial, with Weaver reaffirming he is willing to work with either leader. 

Although Clark and Weaver have a history of working together, Weaver and Horgan's voters may have more in common. Unlike the Liberals, the B.C. NDP have expressed interest in the past in both changing political donations and the province's electoral system. 

"This is what we do know: a majority of British Columbians voted for a new government. And I think that is what they deserve," said Horgan. 

Clark spent a good chunk of the campaign talking tough — taking on U.S. President Donald Trump over softwood lumber and insisting her opponents knew nothing about creating jobs or balancing budgets.

Confident and even confrontational are roles Clark is comfortable with. Finding a much more conciliatory tone will be perhaps the biggest challenge of her political career.

The Green Party leader watches the poll results come. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC)


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