Christy Clark and the BC Liberals aim to continue to rule B.C. with a minority government after neither major party gained enough seats in Tuesday’s election to secure the 44 seats required for a majority.
The seat count remained virtually deadlocked at the end of the night, with the Liberals declared elected in 43 seats, and the NDP elected in 41, with ongoing uncertainty in some close races that could yet go back and forth.
The BC Greens scored a major breakthrough. They are now elected in three ridings – leader Andrew Weaver’s seat in Oak Bay-Gordon Head plus new wins by Adam Olsen in Saanich-North and the Islands, and Sonia Furstenau in Cowichan Valley.
That’s just short of four seats that would give the Greens official party status.
With a majority elusive, the three probable seats for the Greens now raises the serious possibility that Weaver and his caucus may hold the balance of power in a minority government.
So far the BC Liberals have stacked up about 40.8 per cent of the popular vote, to 39.9 per cent for the NDP and 16.8 per cent for the Greens.
The Liberals broke out to an early lead, but the seats in favour of the NDP grew swiftly as more votes were counted.
New Democrats made inroads in key Metro Vancouver suburbs where they needed to capture Liberal seats to come close to forming government.
Also out are Liberal cabinet ministers Suzanne Anton and Amrik Virk.
Key seats that ended the night too close to call include Courtenay-Comox, where the NDP’s Ronna-Rae Leonard holds a razor-thin nine-vote lead over Liberal Jim Benninger. That race is expected to go to a judicial recount.
A few other close races could also hinge on the still-to-come count of absentee ballots. Those mail-in ballots take up to two weeks to be counted, so a final result will not be declared until then.
Clark declares Liberals will continue to rule
The three party leaders did not speak to supporters until after midnight.
Liberal leader Christy Clark said she intends to form the next government.
“Tonight we won the popular vote,” she said. “And we have also won the most seats. And with absentee ballots still to be counted I am confident they will strengthen our margin of victory.”
She said voters sent the message they want a bigger economy, not a bigger government, while keeping middle class taxes low.
Clark thanked her supporters, as well as those on the opposing campaigns for standing up for what they believe in.
“It is tough and gutsy to put your name forward for public office and I want to say thank you to all of the candidates,” she said, adding any one who gets into politics to be loved would be “better off getting a dog.”
The Liberal leader also injected a note of humility on the drop in Liberal seats.
“Voters know best. And they reminded us tonight that we are far from perfect,” Clark said.
“British Columbians did tell us they want us to do things differently. They want us to work together. They want us to work across party lines.”
NDP leader John Horgan urged supporters to hang tight, noting the votes have not all been counted yet.
“The majority of British Columbians voted for a new government and I believe that’s what they deserve.”
Horgan said B.C. voters sent a signal they want to take big money out of politics, take action on climate change and move towards proportional representation.
Weaver heralded the breakthrough of his candidates on Vancouver Island.
“In the days ahead there will be plenty of discussions taking place between all parties,” Weaver said. “Now is not the time for those discussions. Now is the time for all Greens across the country to celebrate.”
Officially, Clark remains premier until the government loses a confidence vote in the legislature.
The BC Liberals would have the first option to seek the confidence of the house, which means seeking the support of the Green Party.
However a minority scenario would likely mean negotiations between Green leader Andrew Weaver and both the NDP and Liberals. Weaver has said his preconditions for Green support of a minority government include an end to corporate and union political donations, and a referendum on changing to a proportional representation voting system.
The leaders spent election day on a final push to get out votes after a sometimes bruising 28-day campaign fought on jobs, the economy and the influence of big donors in provincial politics.
If the Clark Liberals falter and prove unable to govern as a minority, British Columbians could yet be in for a new NDP government that would aim to block the Kinder Morgan pipeline twinning, and potentially unravel BC Liberal megaprojects like the Site C dam and Massey Bridge, while raising taxes on the wealthy and providing new subsidies for child care and to aid renters.
Continued rule by the BC Liberals under Clark would largely maintain course, amid some promises to reduce MSP premiums and cap tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges.
One of Clark’s surprise moves during the campaign was to pledge to ban or tax out of viability U.S. thermal coal exports through B.C. ports in retaliation for U.S. duties on softwood lumber.
– with files from Black Press staff