The progressives’ success in winning three legislative seats reflects discontent with British Columbia’s two-party system and offers the Green Party new influence over provincial politics.
A progressive environmental political party is poised to claim the balance of power in British Columbia, home to Canada’s fastest-growing economy and the front line in battles over oil pipelines, soaring real-estate prices and the economic benefits of extractive resources.
Voters on Tuesday handed three provincial legislative seats to the Green Party, in its best-ever electoral performance nationally, denying a majority to the ruling British Columbia Liberal Party or its main opponent, the left-leaning New Democratic Party.
The win underscores mounting discontent with a two-party system in the province, and offers the Green Party a new influence over provincial politics.
During the campaign, the party vowed to ban corporate and union donations, increase provincial taxes on foreign buyers of Canadian property, stop an oil pipeline to the coast and broaden environmental regulations.
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“We’re attracting voters from across the political spectrum who want politics to be done differently in British Columbia,” Andrew Weaver, the Green Party leader in the province, said in an interview on Wednesday. “People are sick and tired of corporate influence in B.C.”
For now, the Liberals, who despite their name are conservative, will try to form a minority government — the first time the province has had one in 65 years. That could change after absentee ballots and judicial recounts in certain districts are tallied later this month. But Premier Christy Clark, leader of the Liberals, has signaled her willingness to adapt to a new political reality.
“Whatever the outcome is, whether it’s a minority or a majority, I do intend to work across party lines,” she told reporters Wednesday.
The Liberals, in power in British Columbia since 2001, won the most seats and the popular vote.
But the bitter election provides important lessons about a province hankering for new leadership amid rising costs of living, cuts to education and distrust over the Liberals’ embrace of unlimited political donations, said Hamish Telford, a political-science professor at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia.
“The Liberals lost a lot of their more liberally inclined voters, particularly around Vancouver,” he said. “Even now that the economy has improved and the books are balanced, there was a narrative that the Liberals had been in power for too long and had grown too comfortable.”
If the Liberals remain in a minority government, their chances of sustaining long-championed policies and costly infrastructure projects vehemently opposed by the New Democrats and even more progressive Greens will be reduced. While the province waits for the final vote tally to begin on May 22, the parties are likely to be embroiled in furious negotiations aimed at forming a coalition.
“The NDP and the Liberals are both going to be talking to the Greens,” Telford said.
The Greens’ leader, Weaver, has made clear that his first priority will be to ban corporate and union political donations, which the Liberal Party has steadfastly refused to do. But a potential coalition with the Greens may force Clark’s party to accept a new governing tactic: compromise.
The Liberals have long supported major infrastructure projects that are anathema to the Green Party, including a 715-mile expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline, a proposed $20 billion liquefied natural gas export initiative, and the controversial $7 billion Site C hydroelectric dam and power station, which Weaver had promised to cancel.
Founded in 1983 as an environmental party, the Green Party has made fighting climate change central to its platform. Weaver, a former climate scientist, entered politics largely to stop further investment in fossil fuels. But over the past decade, the party has worked to broaden its focus with a push for representational voting reform and more money for education and poverty reduction.
On Wednesday, Weaver vowed to prohibit corporate and union donations. “This now means big money is banned from B.C. politics,” he said. But he declined to say with which party the Greens would seek to form a minority government until the final votes were tallied. “It would be reckless and irresponsible of me to show my cards until that’s done.”
Both Clark and her rival New Democratic leader, John Horgan, praised the Green Party’s performance and highlighted their intent to work with Weaver. The New Democrats are more ideologically aligned with the Greens, but a coalition may come down to whether the Liberals are prepared to sacrifice core policies for power.
“The Liberals want to govern,” Telford said. “The question is, What price are they willing to pay to continue governing?”
Reflecting a deepening rural-urban divide, the Liberals won 43 of the province’s 87 electoral ridings, or districts, just shy of the 44 needed to form a majority. The New Democrats won 41 ridings. In one riding, the party won by just nine votes.