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Island’s three Green MLAs weigh role in an unresolved election

The balance of power in the province could rest on the three Vancouver Island Green MLAs elected on Tuesday, two of them new to the job. B.C.
Adam Olsen, winner in Saanich North and the Islands, B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, who won in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, and Sonia Furstenau, who won in Cowichan Valley at a press conference at the B.C. legislature on Wednesday. May 10, 2017

The balance of power in the province could rest on the three Vancouver Island Green MLAs elected on Tuesday, two of them new to the job.

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver (Oak Bay-Gordon Head incumbent), Adam Olsen (Saanich North and the Islands) and Sonia Furstenau (Cowichan Valley) could be in a position to side with the Liberals and keep them in power or vote against them in the legislature and trigger another election.

At a press conference outside the legislature Wednesday, Weaver said it was too soon make commitments and that he wanted to speak with the other two party leaders first.

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“We want to ensure the values we brought to the legislature, which were supported by a large number of British Columbians, actually flow over into any working arrangement we have with the other political parties,” said Weaver, with Furstenau and Olsen at his side. He pointed to banning major corporate and union donations to political parties, and to proportional representation.

The Greens would hold the balance of power if the number of elected seats stays as it is at 43 Liberal, 41 NDP and three Green; 44 seats are needed for a majority.

But the Liberals could still win a majority government because the votes are close in several ridings and absentee ballots haven’t been counted yet. For example, in Courtenay-Comox, the NDP have just a nine-vote lead over the Liberals.

Any riding with less than a 100-vote difference between the top candidates qualifies for a recount under the Elections Act.

Elections B.C. said Wednesday there are 176,104 absentee ballots to count, which could trigger changes or recounts. The final count takes place May 22 to 24.

Christy Clark remains premier until that time, said Ron Cheffins, professor emeritus of law and political science at the University of Victoria and a former B.C. appeal court judge.

“She will continue as premier until she asks the lieutenant-governor to summon the legislative assembly and makes her speech from the throne. There would be debate and a vote,” Cheffins said.

If the Greens and NDP vote not to accept the throne speech, Clark would likely ask to dissolve the legislative assembly and this would trigger another election.

“Conceivably, the Greens could prop up the government and vote for them in the speech from the throne. … This could go on for years,” Cheffins said.

“The Greens have to decide: Are they going to prop up the Liberals or take them down?”

Mona Brash, a Camosun College political science instructor, said this will be a tricky manoeuvre for the Greens, who will want to capitalize on their wins.

“They have to decide who they are going to support but also think very carefully about the long term,” she said, noting many people voted Green because of the party’s environmental platform, especially young people. “If they disenfranchise the very people who voted for them, they might not do well again.”

Brash noted Olsen and Furstenau built support when they worked hard on local environmental issues. Olsen was an outspoken critic of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion that would increase tanker traffic on the Salish Sea and the proposed liquefied natural gas facility in Saanich Inlet.

Furstenau spent four years fighting the Liberal government to protect the watershed in Shawnigan Lake from a contaminated soil dump.

“Neither depended on Weaver to get their seats. He’ll have to keep that in mind as they work together,” Brash said.

Michael Prince, Lansdowne professor of social policy at UVic, said this election marked a shift for the Greens. “As the Green vote grows on the Island, they are not just a distant third or something. They had solid second and third place showings up and down the Island,” he said.

“Other parties may complain about vote splitting or strategic voting, but they [Greens] are there with their own base, their own constituency and a solid level of support.”

— With files from Carla Wilson

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