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A minority NDP government in B.C. will have national significance

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Image: Flickr/BC NDP

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation. Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!

On Monday, B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver and the B.C. NDP's John Horgan announced they had a deal that would allow the New Democrats to govern as a minority. The Liberals won the most seats (43) in the May 9 election but they were one short of a majority. The NDP won 41 and the Greens three.

The Greens and NDP do not propose a coalition government, in which Green members would have cabinet posts and the two parties would function as partners. Instead, the Greens and New Democrats have an agreement -- not yet made public -- on an NDP government legislative agenda which the Greens could support.

This agreement does not mean the NDP automatically gets to form a new, minority government. Liberal leader Christy Clark is still premier. She can continue to govern, if she wishes, for several months, without meeting the legislature.

If her government were ultimately to lose a confidence vote in the legislature, Clark could then decide to resign, or she could ask the lieutenant governor to call an election. It would be difficult for an unelected Queen's representative to deny such a request from a premier. In 1926, Governor General Byng refused Prime Minister Mackenzie King's request for dissolution and an election, and it did not work out well for the vice-regal side.

As for Christy Clark, she says she is waiting to see the contents of the NDP-Green agreement before determining her next move.

If, after the dust settles, the NDP does get to govern with Green support, it is almost certain the Kinder Morgan pipeline twinning project will be in serious jeopardy. Without going into details during the joint NDP-Green news conference on Monday afternoon, Weaver did say stopping Kinder Morgan was a crucial issue for his party. Horgan had expressed his opposition to the pipeline project almost as soon as Prime Minister Trudeau announced federal approval of it, last November, with Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley by his side.

And so while many New Democrats across the country will applaud the ascension to power of an NDP government in Canada's third largest province, there will be no cheers at the NDP headquarters in Edmonton.

Some federal NDP leadership candidates will try to walk a fine line, applauding Horgan while respecting Alberta's Notley. B.C. MP Peter Julian is an exception. He is unequivocally with the B.C. NDP on the pipeline issue. Others, such as Charlie Angus, have been more circumspect. They tend to talk about the good work Notley has done on climate change, while being careful not to definitively call for the end to the Kinder Morgan project. If Horgan takes power with Green support, it will make it harder for NDP leadership aspirants to continue maintaining their studied ambiguity on Kinder Morgan.

Weaver has been clear about two other conditions for his and his party's support: reforming political finances in B.C. and changing the electoral system so that it includes a significant element of proportionality.

The first should be an easy win for Horgan, since he has also advocated getting big money out of politics.

On electoral reform, however, Horgan has taken the position that a referendum is necessary to ratify any change in how British Columbians vote. The Greens argue that the government should simply pass legislation to implement a mixed member proportional system.

When we see the agreement we will know how the two leaders have squared that circle. It is possible that the two parties might agree to a referendum on reform, but one that requires only a simply majority to pass. In previous B.C. referenda, the rules said there could be no change without approval of 60 per cent of the voters in 60 per cent of the ridings. That put an almost impossibly high barrier on reform.

If a B.C. NDP minority government does succeed in implementing a major change to the electoral system it could have national importance, given the at times anguished arguments about reform we have had at the federal level.

Weaver underscored the importance of this issue to him on Monday when he said that he and his party opted for a minority government, rather than a full-blown coalition, as a way of showing how proportional representation could deliver stable governments, even if they are not majorities.

Undoubtedly, the shape and character of the next B.C. government will have important implications for Canada as a whole. 

Image: Flickr/BC NDP

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation. Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!

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