BC 2017 Election and Minority Government Analysis

Eric Depenau | Contributor

Eric Depenau | Contributor

BC politics is always changing, but the last few months have had an added touch of depth. The tight results of the May 9, 2017 election paved the way for a temporary return of Christy Clark and the BC Liberals, to a minority government. But the slim majority did not provide enough breathing room to allow Clark to hold the reigns through the confidence motion that shortly followed. After the fall of the BC Liberals from power, John Horgan of the NDP, now Premier, and Green Party Leader, Andrew Weaver, were able to come to terms with a Confidence and Supply Agreement between their parties. A Confidence and Supply Agreement, in this case, simply means that the Greens will not vote against the NDP on issues of confidence. Confidence issues would include budgets and Throne Speeches for example. This deal helped to make the Lieutenant Governor’s offer for the NDP to form government possible.

While the dust is only starting to settle and every aspect of the provincial election is still being mulled over and analyzed for lessons to be learned, clues as to what the parties need to do to consolidate or regain power, and where the next battle ground ridings might be. An exciting process for political pundits and enthusiasts has begun to take place. The NDP forming government for the first time in sixteen years is interesting on its own, but the Confidence and Supply Agreement between the NDP and Greens is something that no one saw coming.

Now, at the onset of the NDP’s term in government, we can more or less guess how the NDP and Liberals will interact, but the new agreement is a wild card. Dr. Weaver has been clear about his intentions. He said that the BC Green caucus would strive towards a productive and collaborative working relationship with the new NDP Cabinet, as well as the BC Liberals. This statement is no doubt expected, if not nearly customary, at the onset of a new relationship. However, this relationship is unique, as the Green’s support is necessary in order for the NDP to maintain a minority government which is obviously precarious. So, what?

Norman Spector recently wrote that, “B.C.’s minority government means that power-sharing agreements, negotiations and compromise are part of the deal. That means campaign promises might have to be modified to earn the support of the parties so the legislation actually passes and the NDP stay in power.” To be clear, the need for greater cooperation is not necessarily a bad thing. However, there are questions that are bound to come up. One that comes to mind might be: is there enough policy overlap between these parties to make this agreement work in the long run, and if not, will the Greens simply go along to get along with the NDP?

Beginning with a small example, “John Horgan said during the election . . . he would change the current law that requires employees who want to unionize to take a vote by secret ballot.” Ballot rules may be a niche issue but it resonated with many. In response to this commitment Dr. Weaver was clear, “I will never support legislation that will eliminate the secret ballot . . . It’s simply not going to happen. And no amount of convincing will ever convince me.” Of course no relationship is perfect and disagreements are healthy in a governing relationship, but if we expand our considerations it’s not just this issue. Grizzly bear hunting, bridge tolls, Uber, and rental subsidies are just a few of the other issues where tensions have erupted prompting Dr. Weaver to call some of the NDP’s plans both reckless and irrelevant.

These disagreements hamper movement on issues that have arisen since the NDP have come to power and a number of key campaign promises like the $400 renter’s rebate and $10 a day daycare subsidies were not outlined in the most recent NDP preliminary budget; an occurrence that is unlikely coincidental considering that the Green Party opposed these initiatives. While it is clear that both groups agree on the underlying principles that would inform these types of policies, their individual plans to get there have not yet come close enough to make something work. In fact, they appear to be hundreds of millions of dollars apart when child care funding is considered.

If any of these sticking points can be overcome by the NDP and Green Parties, or if another election is just beyond the horizon, is yet to be seen. What is clear, is that the parties have remained distinctly independent and that the Green Party is unwilling to make some of the compromises many thought they would to get closer to power. Despite criticism and the pet name “GreenDP,” there are very much two opposition parties today in the BC legislature, and the Greens will clearly not be rubber-stamping the NDP’s plans. While this scrutiny is good for democracy, as a whole it may lead to some worrisome times for our new and fledgling government.