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Federal NDP, Greens buoyed by B.C. election results, Liberals stay diplomatic

By Rachel Aiello      

With the results still to be finalized, the federal Liberals remain tight-lipped about what they could mean for federal-provincial relations.

Liberal B.C. Premier Christy Clark won 43 of the legislature's 87 seats, one seat shy of a majority, and down four seats from where the party stood when the election was called. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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Federal New Democrats and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May say the gains their provincial cousins made in Tuesday’s election in British Columbia show that the majority there want change that doesn’t align with either the federal or provincial Liberals’ policies.

The close election results mean which party or parties will form government in Canada’s third most populous province is still up in the air, as absentee ballots and recounts could change the initial results. The final tally on all ballots isn’t expected until between May 22 and 24.

Initial results show the B.C. Liberals under leader Christy Clark won 43 of the legislature’s 87 seats, one seat shy of a majority, and down four seats from where the party stood when the election was called. The New Democrats under leader John Horgan won 41 seats, up six from the party’s seat count before the election. The Green Party under leader Andrew Weaver won three seats, up from one. The Liberals won the popular vote narrowly, with 40.85 per cent, while the NDP took 39.85 per cent and Greens stood at 16.74 per cent.

“We know the majority of British Columbians just voted against Kinder Morgan, the majority of British Columbians just voted to get rid of first-past-the-post, the majority of British Columbians just voted against Site C, the majority of British Columbians voted for stronger climate action. That’s the popular vote,” said federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich Gulf-Islands, B.C.) on the Hill Wednesday, referring to the controversial Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion project, existing winner-take-all voting system, and disputed Site C hydroelectric dam.

‘We have witnessed a sea change with this historical B.C. election,’ Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, pictured in March, said Wednesday, reacting to the British Columbia Green Party now holding the balance of power as the final election results are still being tallied in the province’s election. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Ms. May—who spent time during the campaign out on the hustings with her provincial counterparts—said the Greens in the province now hold “a tremendous voice of authority and integrity” in negotiations with the other parties going forward, because they appear to hold the balance of power between the NDP and Liberals.

The last time there was a minority government result in B.C. was in 1952.

“I’m hopeful that the NDP will get the majority of the absentee votes and that might lead to some changing in numbers,” NDP MP for Victoria, B.C. Murray Rankin told The Hill Times Wednesday.

“I think people really believe that it’s time for a change. That became crystal clear,” said Mr. Rankin.

“[Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau came out and told the people of British Columbia, and right in my riding, that he would be calling for a whole new process to review the Kinder Morgan pipeline, for example; suddenly he changed that. He told everybody in my riding that 2015 would be the last first-past-the-post election…they changed that as well. How this is all going to shake out and what it means to federal politics I really don’t know,” he continued.

“The NDP made some very significant gains…I’m really happy for my colleagues, for the gains that they have made,” said NDP MP for Vancouver East, B.C. Jenny Kwan.

Both Ms. Kwan and Mr. Rankin had staff either take a leave to go work on the provincial race, or who were helping out in their spare time.

“I know some of my staff also, after work, went out and on the weekends [and] volunteered…we were all out there doing what we can to support our colleagues,” said Ms. Kwan, who for nearly a decade was a provincial MLA for the New Democrats before jumping to federal politics in 2015. She also spent time door-knocking in the evenings and on break weeks.

Meanwhile, Liberal cabinet ministers and MPs remained tight-lipped about the close election outcome, all uniformly pledging to work with whoever forms government.

“We had a great turnout for the election in B.C., and hats off to all the people who put their name in. I look forward to working with all the members there,” said Defence Minister and MP for Vancouver South Harjit Sajjan.

Given the provincial NDP and Greens’ opposition to the federal Liberals’ approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion and other natural resource development projects in the province, the federal Liberals are reserving comment until the results have been finalized, as things could look a whole lot different depending on how it all shakes out. Observers have said a win by Ms. Clark would support the federal Liberals’ approach to energy and the environment as well as that of NDP Alberta Premier Rachel Notley next door. Ms. Clark, like Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) supports the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and Ms. Notley has distanced herself from her B.C. NDP counterpart who is against it.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre, Ont.) said the federal priority of “getting it right when it comes to the environment and the economy,” hasn’t changed.

“The prime minister has been clear that you wouldn’t get a serious climate plan with a price on pollution without pipelines, and you wouldn’t get pipelines without a price on pollution. We’re going to be working with whoever forms government in the best interests of British Columbians and Canadians,” she told reporters Wednesday.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said: “we’ll continue to work with [residents and the citizens of British Columbia] to make sure that we create the conditions to see these pipelines proceed.”

Mr. Trudeau told reporters Wednesday that he had congratulated Ms. Clark, but noted that there’s still “a few issues to work out.”

On the pipeline question, Liberal MPs acknowledged that some of their constituents would like to see projects halted.

“Some do, some don’t. I mean there are very vocal voices that say no and there are other vocal voices say yes as well,” said Liberal MP for Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam, B.C. Ron McKinnon.

Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre, B.C. Hedy Fry said she heard many issues take priority during the campaign other than pipelines, like housing and the opioid crisis.

Unlike the federal New Democrats, Ms. Fry said she hadn’t heard of any federal Liberal staff take time off to go work on the provincial Liberal campaign, noting the separation between the provincial and federal parties. The B.C. Liberal Party has support from voters who lean both Liberal and Conservative federally.

“We’ve just kept a low profile,” she said.

Liberal MP Terry Beech (Burnaby North-Seymour, B.C.), parliamentary secretary for Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, told The Hill Times that during the campaign he’d met with all nine of the candidates that were running in the three provincial ridings within his federal riding, and has already reached out to congratulate the three winners: the NDP’s Katrina Chen and Janet Routledge; and Liberal Jane Thornthwaite.

“I can’t wait to work with them,” Mr. Beech said, adding that he’ll wait and see how the big issues shake out, but noting he thinks there’s a lot of “common ground” to be found.

raiello@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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