“Things aren’t going to settle down for some time,” says veteran political correspondent Keith Baldrey, the legislative bureau chief for Global BC News. He is speaking of last week’s provincial election, which has potentially left B.C. with its first minority government since 1953.
When the ballots were counted on May 9, the Liberals had 43 seats—one shy of a majority—while the NDP had 41 seats and the Green Party had three. Tens of thousands of absentee votes will not be counted until May 24, and they could tip the balance in Courtenay-Comox, where the NDP candidate holds a nine-vote majority.
Baldrey is asked about Fraser-Nicola, which he had predicted would be a tight race. “I thought the Liberals had the advantage. The NDP going all-in on the environment at the expense of all other policies was going to make it very hard to win ridings that had been won narrowly by the Liberals in the past like Fraser-Nicola, and that’s exactly what happened. The NDP decided to go urban and green rather than rural and resource.
“Fraser-Nicola is a little safer for the Liberals, albeit not totally safe. Jackie Tegart was able to fashion a comfortable win there. I think it became clear as election night wore on that the riding was coming into the Liberal win column. The Liberals finished with the most seats, and to do that they had to win Fraser-Nicola.”
Baldrey acknowledges that the Green Party also played a factor in Fraser-Nicola. “The Greens picked up ground in the riding, no question. So where does the Green vote come from?
“I think it varies from constituency to constituency. I think [NDP candidate Harry] Lali just found himself running into a wall of consolidated support [for the Greens].
“And people just aren’t satisfied with either of the two big parties. The Liberals have been in power for 16 years, but the NDP have also been around for a long time. For a lot of voters, both of the major parties look long in the tooth and uninspiring.
“The Greens aren’t seen as a party that’s suddenly going to run the province or have power, but it’s a party that increasingly more and more people want to see represented in the house, if for no other reason than keeping the other two parties honest.”
Given that two cabinet ministers did not stand for re-election, and four lost their seats on May 9, Baldrey is asked if Tegart would be one of the names in the mix for a cabinet seat.
“You start looking around at who would fill those vacancies, and I think Jackie Tegart would logically be high on the list,” says Baldrey. “Ministers are appointed for a number of reasons: geography, gender, and ethnicity all play major roles, so Jackie Tegart on two of those fronts has an edge.” He says he was talking with some other press gallery people to compose a list of six potential cabinet ministers, and Tegart was one of the half-dozen names they came up with.
“Certainly Jackie Tegart has to be in the conversation when it comes to forming a cabinet. Fraser-Nicola is an important riding, both electorally and symbolically, for the B.C. Liberals.”
There are a number of scenarios that could play out province-wide. “If it stays a minority situation, Christy Clark will be given the first opportunity to form a government, so she’ll go to the Lieutenant-Governor and then she’ll have to demonstrate she has the confidence of the legislature to govern. She has to be able to demonstrate that she can introduce legislation and taxation measures, and more importantly pass them into law.
“If she’s stuck on 43 seats, she will need the support of at least one, if not more, of the Green Party caucus on pieces of legislation. She might be able to do that. But if she can’t show that she has that confidence, then the Lieutenant-Governor would likely ask John Horgan to demonstrate whether he and his party can demonstrate that they have the confidence of the legislature. He would need Green Party support to accomplish that.
“And then of course when the final count occurs it’s quite possible that the Liberal government might have a bare majority of 44 seats by flipping Courtenay-Comox. They would have the barest majority possible, but a majority nonetheless.”
Baldrey says that given the current and possible future distribution of seats, the odds favour another election in less than four years. “In the unlikely scenario that the Liberals could pick up two more seats in the recount and final count—it seems unlikely but it’s do-able—they would have 45 seats, they could appoint a Speaker. They would have a bare majority, but they could function for four years.
“But if they can’t get to that, if anyone is stuck at 43 seats with a minority situation; well, history shows that most minority governments, the average length of them is a year to 18 months, and I think that would be the case in B.C.
“A 44 seat majority for the Liberals would be somewhat precarious. For four years it would mean no accidents, no unexpected departures from the caucus, no extended illnesses; I hate to say it, no deaths. There is no room for error in a 44 seat majority. You need every single seat. Forty-five seats can last four years; 44 seats are much less likely. With 43 seats I can’t see it lasting much beyond two years.”
A sharp urban/rural divide emerged in this election, with the NDP picking up support in the Lower Mainland and the Liberals consolidating support in the Interior and North of the province. Baldrey says that the NDP had a deliberate strategy of targeting Lower Mainland seats. “They knew they were unlikely to achieve gains in the Interior and North, so they wrote those areas off. They gambled they could seize on affordability, housing, and the cost of living in the Lower Mainland, and hit a home run.
“And they used riding-specific issues like trucking and Uber. They took three Surrey ridings from the Liberals, who didn’t see that coming. The Liberals lost the election in Surrey. It’s the difference between a workable majority and a minority.”
He says that it will be harder, in the next election, for the NDP to make a case in ridings outside Metro Vancouver because of their stance on resources such as mining, Site C, and pipelines. “Christy Clark and the Liberals have to find some issue or some position that allows them to begin connecting with voters who have obviously become disconnected from them. They have to find a way to get back with voters.”
Baldrey says that this is an exciting time in B.C. politics. “It’s uncharted waters for so many of us. From a journalistic aspect, this is a great outcome.
“I’ve done nine provincial elections, and this one was unlike anything I’ve ever been through before. It was a back-and-forth evening filled with uncertainty and suspense; and it’s going to continue for some time yet.”