British Columbia·Analysis

Uncertainty the word as B.C. political parties wrestle for power

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver heads a party with just three MLAs, but those three votes are the difference between either the B.C. Liberals or the NDP having enough support to pass legislation.

B.C. Liberals will get first chance to govern with 43 seats in minority government

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver is in the position to support either a B.C. Liberal or an NDP government. (Mike McArthur/CBC News)

Andrew Weaver is the man with all the power.

The B.C. Green Party leader heads a party with just three MLAs. But those three votes are the difference between either the Liberals or the NDP having enough support to pass legislation.

After three full days of vote counting and recounting and a 15-day wait, British Columbia now has a final result from the provincial election. The B.C. Liberals will get the first opportunity to govern, with 43 seats — but the NDP could be next, with 41, and the Greens hold the balance of power with their three.

"We have not come up with a plan with either party," Weaver said shortly after the final count was revealed by Elections BC. "There are a number of options we could discuss that are on the table.

"We are committed to give British Columbians certainty that actually ensures that British Columbians' interest, not partisan interests, are first and foremost."

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and deputy leader Sonia Furstenau arrive to speak to reporters in Victoria following the conclusion of the final count. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

Uncharted territory

But what does that certainty look like?

Although Weaver may be offering stability, uncertainty is what he provides, because few observers are 100 per cent sure what will come next. This is political territory never before seen for them

Weaver focused on what he calls "serious" negotiations with both the B.C. Liberals and the NDP. But he's had a changing list of criteria needed to get Green support, especially when it comes to how long a deal would last.

"I don't think British Columbians want to go back to the polls any time soon. We have said to both parties we want to negotiate in the long term. There is nothing magical about two years. There is nothing magical about three. There is nothing stopping us for looking for four," said Weaver.

"Controversial issues we are discussing now, so we give both parties a sense of issues that are important, recognizing that compromise is critical."

NDP leader John Horgan is confident his party has more to offer the Green Party than the B.C. Liberals do. (Mike McArthur/CBC News)

NDP confident 

When NDP Leader John Horgan spoke to reporters following the final result of the election on Wednesday, it was hard not to see his confidence.

Horgan is convinced that the NDP provides the best option for the Green Party.

They agree on many issues including stopping the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, banning union and corporate donations in B.C. politics and changing the provincial electoral system to proportional representation.

Together the parties would have just 44 seats, the slimmest of majorities.

"I do know 60 per cent of British Columbians have voted for a new government and they haven't got one yet," said Horgan. "I have been talking to the Green Party leader and his team and I am optimistic we will be able to put together a framework that has a majority of the support in the legislature."

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark greets Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon before the speech from the throne in 2015. The lieutenant-governor finds herself with a lot of power. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Clark to get first crack

As for Premier Christy Clark, she seems to be sitting on the sidelines for now. While both Horgan and Weaver spoke to media Wednesday soon after the election results were known, Clark sent a statement.

The B.C. Liberal leader is also taking a passenger seat for the ongoing negotiations with the Green Party. She's absent from her party's negotiating team, while Horgan and Weaver are heading their teams.

Regardless of whether Horgan and Weaver come to an agreement, Clark will get the first crack at forming a government, but it is still unclear whether she will be able to gain the confidence of the legislature.

In order to do so, the B.C. Liberals would have to pass a budget or a throne speech.

B.C. has elected a minority government. What's next?

5 years ago
Duration 2:43
CBC's legislative reporter Richard Zussman breaks down the likely scenarios.

University of British Columbia political scientist Max Cameron said the tone Clark sent from her statement indicates she is not confident she can get a deal.

"It sounded to me like she was going at it alone," said Cameron.

Cameron is intrigued by what would happen if the Greens and the NDP come forward with a deal before Clark tests if she has enough votes to pass legislation.

He said the "right course of action would probably be for Clark to resign," but she has no legal obligation to do that and could either ask Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon to send the province back to the polls, or try to pass a throne speech or budget. 

"We are in the realm of conventions as opposed to legal regulations or laws you can consult as to what people have to do, particularly in the case of the lieutenant-governor. She has a lot of power," said Cameron.

"There is nothing that binds her to take a particular course of action."

This is British Columbia's first minority government since 1952, so there is not a lot of history to dictate what sort of decisions the lieutenant-governor would make, either. 

With files from Justin McElroy