B.C. stands in per­ma­nent cam­paign mode

Elec­tion out­come not the re­sult the Trudeau gov­ern­ment wanted or needed

Cape Breton Post - - Editorial - Chan­tal Hébert Na­tional Af­fairs Chan­tal He­bert is a na­tional af­fairs writer with Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices.

On the morn­ing af­ter Tues­day’s Bri­tish Columbia elec­tion, there was no ready ac­knowl­edge­ment by Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s of­fice of the re­sults of the pro­vin­cial vote in Canada’s third-largest prov­ince and no boil­er­plate salute to the dawn of a new man­date.

It is hard to put into words the sound of one hand clap­ping.

In the wake of an elec­tion that failed to give ei­ther of the prov­ince’s main par­ties a clear win, it will take weeks – and prob­a­bly at some point in the not-so-dis­tant fu­ture another elec­tion – for the po­lit­i­cal land­scape in Bri­tish Columbia to sort it­self out.

On Tues­day, the prov­ince’s vot­ers left the in­cum­bent Lib­er­als on the doorstep of a ma­jor­ity, just one seat short of the 44 re­quired to keep con­trol of the B.C. leg­is­la­ture.

There is still a pos­si­bil­ity that a hand­ful of re­counts and/or the out­come of the ab­sen­tee vote will help premier Christy Clark to cross the thresh­old.

Un­der that best-case sce­nario for her party, she would lead a gov­ern­ment so frag­ile it would be at the mercy, for its sur­vival, of the whims of a few mav­er­ick MPs from her own ranks. It does not en­hance the moral au­thor­ity of an in­cum­bent to need a re­count to be re­con­firmed in the job. Only two seats sep­a­rate the first-place Lib­er­als from the New Democrats. The re­count could also flip the re­sult in favour of the NDP.

But un­der just about any con­fig­u­ra­tion of the fi­nal seat­count, Clark and NDP Leader John Hor­gan will have to try to come to terms with the Green Party. With three seats, it has the ca­pac­ity to an­chor one or the other to power and pro­vide B.C. with some mea­sure of gov­ern­ing sta­bil­ity.

Green Party Leader An­drew Weaver could do that by join­ing the Lib­er­als or the NDP in a coali­tion gov­ern­ment, as the Saskatchewan Lib­er­als did in 1999 or as the On­tario NDP did in 1985, by agree­ing to sup­port one of the other par­ties in gov­ern­ment for some pe­riod of time in ex­change for poli­cies that are close to his heart.

But whether Clark re­mains at the helm be­yond the first con­fi­dence vote of the open­ing ses­sion of the man­date or not, or even if she ends up cling­ing to a ra­zor-thin ma­jor­ity, it will hardly be busi­ness as usual.

As of now and un­til B.C. re­turns to the polls at some un­spec­i­fied time, the prov­ince stands to be in per­ma­nent cam­paign mode.

In the in­ter­val, the un­cer­tain out­come of Tues­day’s vote could force Clark’s Lib­er­als to be­lat­edly re­nounce their rich diet of cor­po­rate do­na­tions and join the po­lit­i­cal fundrais­ing Cana­dian main­stream.

It could also re­store some im­pe­tus to the elec­toral re­form de­bate. Both the B.C. Greens and the NDP ad­vo­cate a more pro­por­tional vot­ing sys­tem. The prov­ince has done more leg­work on the is­sue than most other Cana­dian ju­ris­dic­tions. There may be a win­dow to try – for the third time – to re­place the first­past-the-post sys­tem.

One way or another, though, this is not the re­sult the Trudeau gov­ern­ment wanted or needed.

As things stand to­day, a ma­jor­ity of the elected mem­bers of the next B.C. leg­is­la­ture are on record as op­pos­ing the Kinder Mor­gan plans to ex­pand its Trans Moun­tain pipe­line.

Clark of­fered only tepid sup­port for the plan.

Should she form a vi­able gov­ern­ment, it is un­likely to be the hill she would choose to die on.

The project is a key piece in Trudeau’s en­ergy/en­vi­ron­ment puz­zle but not one that his own cau­cus is unan­i­mously en­am­oured with.

The prime min­is­ter has al­ways claimed that he did not be­lieve such projects should pro­ceed with­out a so­cial li­cence.

It was not the only is­sue on the B.C. bal­lot, but it was in the mix. Clark’s Lib­er­als took most of the hits that cost them their soft ma­jor­ity cush­ion in and around the ground zero of the Trans Moun­tain project, in the larger Van­cou­ver area.

That will be duly noted not only in the Lib­eral back­rooms of Par­lia­ment Hill but also in the con­stituency of­fices of Trudeau’s 17 B.C. MPs.

This is just the first of a se­ries of pro­vin­cial elec­tions that could weaken Trudeau’s hand at the fed­eral-pro­vin­cial ta­ble.

By the time the next fed­eral elec­tion comes around in 2019, Que­bec, On­tario and Al­berta will also have gone to the polls and each of those pro­vin­cial votes has the po­ten­tial to re­sult in more com­pli­ca­tions for the agenda of the rul­ing fed­eral Lib­er­als.

“Hardly busi­ness as usual.”

Clark

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