ELECTION 2017: Unstable minority unlikely to last

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BC NDP leader John Horgan

Christy Clark claimed victory Tuesday night and said her B.C. Liberal Party will carry on, a razor-thin two seats ahead of the resurgent NDP.

With absentee ballots still to be counted in the days ahead, Clark’s 43 seats represent a loss of only four from the last majority, and the NDP’s 41 seats is up six. But that handful of seats, mostly in Metro Vancouver, has changed the landscape of the whole province.

The Green Party’s three seats give leader Andrew Weaver a lot of say in how long the Clark government can survive in the first minority government in B.C. since the 1950s.

“Tonight is the beginning of something very different,” Clark told a subdued crowd at a downtown Vancouver hotel in the early hours of Wednesday morning. “And something that could be really exciting.”

It will be exciting all right, and it could even work out in favour of the party that has run British Columbia for 16 years. When W.A.C. Bennett defeated the Liberal-Conservative coalition government in 1952, his minority lasted less than a year before opponents brought the government down. But Bennett had the last laugh, winning a majority and ruling for 20 years.

Weaver’s role in a potential minority was a hot topic during the final days of the campaign. He insisted throughout that he was willing to work with either main party, although the bitterness between him and NDP leader John Horgan was on display many times during Weaver’s four years as a lone Green MLA.

An erroneous story appeared on a TV station website that described Weaver as preferring to work with the B.C. Liberals. Even after it was corrected, the claim raced through social media for days, fuelled by the fury of NDP supporters at the thought of the Greens propping up Clark.

The NDP campaign stepped up its attack on the Greens in the final days, warning voters that the NDP is the only party that could end the B.C. Liberal dynasty. No matter how diplomatic Weaver can be, this is not a relationship that can work for long.

Clark will be thanking her lucky stars that she made numerous outreach efforts to Weaver in the past four years. She embraced his call for changes to protect women on university campuses, and on the eve of the election she adopted Weaver’s suggestion that women can’t be required to wear high heels to work.

But this is not a stable relationship either. The B.C. Liberals are the party that approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which is set to start construction in the fall. Clark continues to push for liquefied natural gas development, which Weaver derides as a “pipe dream” where the international energy market has passed B.C. by.

And this is where the instability of the election result begins to weigh heavily. Final investment decisions for major projects, notably Pacific Northwest LNG at Prince Rupert, hang in the balance.

Clark could call the legislature back in July to pass the budget that was presented in February. Its signature policy is to roll back Medical Services Plan premiums by half, a measure that the NDP supports and that may well satisfy Weaver’s long-standing call to get rid of MSP.

What price would the Greens demand to support the B.C. Liberal budget? Clark’s vow to hold the line on carbon tax for four years will not sit well with Weaver. If Clark wants to hang onto power, her carbon tax “freeze” may have to undergo a rapid spring thaw.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

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