B.C.’s political union: Promises, a jilted suitor and four years of drama

By Shachi Kurl, Executive Director

May 30, 2017 – In the drama-filled world of B.C. political theatre, Monday’s news conference between NDP and Green Party leaders John Horgan and Andrew Weaver was akin to some sort of final rose ceremony: The happy couple promising to detail their future plans together. The jilted suitor, Liberal leader Christy Clark, out of frame.

We had hints they were going to accept each other; an outing to watch rugby over the weekend was a telltale sign the Weaver-Horgan duo – prone during the election campaign to outright hostility – had turned their animosity, if not into amour, then at least into amicability.

Practical amicability, mind you. While Mr. Weaver and Ms. Clark might have smiled at each other across the aisle of the legislature many times over the past four years, the Green leader’s supporters were unlikely to have forgiven, let alone endorsed, a hookup between the two. Consider that in polling just before the election, twice as many Green supporters listed the New Democratic Party as their second choice (42 per cent) as listed the Liberals (21 per cent).

Further, the Greens were far more aligned with the NDP than the BC Liberals on some issues: The twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline is an absolute non-starter for the Green Party, along with the Site C dam and the continued pursuit of LNG projects across the province. That, combined with skepticism Mr. Weaver expressed this afternoon regarding Ms. Clark’s ability to deliver what she promised, left the kingmaker with only one candidate to crown.

If Mr. Weaver and the Greens really do intend to support the New Democrats as part of a stable, four-year government, the climate scientist from a leafy Victoria suburb, little known outside B.C. (or indeed inside it) will be in a position to change not only how British Columbia is run in the years ahead, but also affect politics and policy at the national level.

Presuming the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion is indeed dead, what impetus do voters in Alberta have to back Rachel Notley’s government? And what of all the political capital Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent to prove his pro-resource-development bona fides by lending support to the project and Ms. Clark? The energy industry will not thank him now. And the environmentalists are already annoyed.

But where he may have lost a crucial pal in B.C. on pipelines, Mr. Trudeau may find room for redemption via a more direct route to fulfilling transit and infrastructure funding promises in and around Metro Vancouver, and he may be able to count on continued West Coast support on carbon pricing.

Beyond this, Andrew Weaver may be poised to achieve something his much more visible national counterpart Elizabeth May has not: real electoral reform. It is important to note that Mr. Horgan and Mr. Weaver would move to implement a system of proportional representation without a referendum at their peril, because only 40 per cent of British Columbians prefer it to the current, first-past-the-post system. It is equally important to note that support for a change in the way people elect governments is second highest, nationally, in B.C., and that voters nearly opted for the single transferable vote in 2005.

In other words, minds can change. Mr. Weaver, whose party garnered 17 per cent of the vote yet won just 4 per cent of the seats in the Legislature, says he intends to use this agreement with Mr. Horgan’s NDP as a way to demonstrate that minority governments (something we see more under proportional representation) can work. Thus, he likely intends to be the one to change those minds. And if he succeeds in B.C., one can only speculate on the spillover effect nationally.

It is all sunsets and flowers tonight. But make no mistake, come sunrise, it will be John Horgan’s show. And there is inherent risk for third parties who prop up hung parliaments. In Britain, Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats learned this too well. Bob Rae had his own troubles in Ontario. It does not take much for one partner to feel overshadowed and betrayed. Four years may start to feel like a lifetime. But if it does, the Liberals can always take heart in knowing they can come courting again.

Image Credit – Chad Hipolito

Editors’ note: The stories in this Analysis section are opinion pieces. They reflect the views of their authors, not those of the Angus Reid Institute as an organization

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