Working with the Liberals may be the practical choice for Weaver, but it’s not what Green supporters voted for

Working with the Liberals may be the practical choice for Weaver, but it’s not what Green supporters voted for

By Ian Holliday, Research Associate

May 11, 2017

What will Andrew Weaver do?

That’s the big question that came out of the British Columbia provincial election Tuesday night. With three seats in the legislature, Weaver and his Green Party look to have the balance of power in the forthcoming minority government.

Much has been written about Weaver’s personal affinity for Christy Clark and the BC Liberals, and with Clark’s party retaining the largest share of seats in the legislature, it seems reasonable to expect the Greens will give her a chance to continue governing.

Such a course of action might not sit well with the voters who put the three Green MLAs-elect in office, however.

In the Angus Reid Institute’s final public survey on the election, twice as many Green supporters listed the New Democratic Party as their second choice (42%) as listed the Liberals (21%). And Green voters – like most B.C. residents – hold overwhelmingly negative views of Clark. More than eight-in-ten (83%) said their opinion of her was unfavourable, and six-in-ten (59%) said their view of her had worsened since the campaign began.

Fully nine-in-ten Green voters (93%) say Clark is “untrustworthy,” two-thirds (65%) say she’s incompetent, most (56%) say she lacks a vision for B.C., and nearly all of them (97%) say she stands for her political donors and big business, not ordinary British Columbians.

In fairness, Green supporters also voice a great deal of skepticism toward NDP leader John Horgan, though their distaste for him is less pronounced than it is for Clark.

It’s not only leader personalities that make enabling a continuation of the Clark government a potentially unpopular decision for Weaver.

Since the election, Weaver has said the main “deal-breaker” for the Greens would be an un-willingness to ban political donations from corporations and labour unions in the province. Past ARI polling has shown this to be a very popular position with the B.C. public (71% say such donations should be banned), and the NDP has promised to implement a ban if it forms government. The Liberals, however, have opposed such a change.

The Green leader would surely demand additional policy concessions from the Liberals in exchange for his party’s support on matters of confidence, but would he get enough of them on enough key issues to satisfy Green voters?

Green supporters are more likely to see eye-to-eye with the NDP than the Liberals on a host of policy issues, from housing, to pipelines, to taxation, to the future of Medical Services Plan (MSP) premiums.

These are some fundamental issues on which Greens and Liberals are almost diametrically opposed to one another. Would Christy Clark’s government – which has based its last two campaigns on economic growth through resource projects – really agree to kill the twinning of the TransMountain pipeline in exchange for the Green Party’s support? And would Green voters – who oppose the pipeline by an almost two-to-one margin – be satisfied if this were the only major concession the party got?

Green voters also break strongly in favour of raising the province’s carbon tax. By a two-to-one margin, they support increasing it over leaving it at $30 per tonne until other provinces raise theirs, as the Liberals have proposed. Could Weaver get Clark – whose own supporters prefer to leave the carbon tax alone by more than three-to-one – to budge on this? And if he did, would he have to give up on electoral reform (his party won 16% of the vote but only 4% of the seats) or increased investment in social programs as a result?

In terms of their policy priorities, the Greens have much more in common with the NDP than the BC Liberals, and Green supporters know it.

Six-in-ten Greens (60%) said they would be upset if the Liberals won the election. That’s almost twice as many as said they would be upset if the NDP won (33%).

Weaver is in an enviable position, no doubt. His party will wield considerably more power in British Columbia’s next government than any Green Party has ever held in Canada.

His position is also a pitiable one. The most workable political path for his party is also the one his partisans are least interested in supporting, and the path his partisans would prefer leads to the barest of majorities – 41 NDP seats plus 3 Greens – with no room for error, lest he trigger another election that could put his historic gains at risk.

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.