So...who's in charge of BC right now? And other questions you were too embarrassed to ask

Megan Dias and Daniel Westlake explained what's going on with the weird, wild BC election. ubcnews / Reddit

Last night's provincial election was nuts. So nuts, in fact, that it's a little hard to tell who's actually running the province right now.

News outlets are reporting a Liberal minority government, but that could all change as the rest of the votes are counted. The Greens are “kingmakers.” The lieutenant governor is involved. It's a mess.

Lucky for us, UBC political scientists Megan Dias and Daniel Westlake stopped by the r/vancouver subreddit to tell everyone what's what. Check out the full thread for answers to all your burning questions — seriously, it's a goldmine.

How does government continue in BC?

User soupyhands asked the obvious question, assuming the recount holds and the absentee ballots don't alter the current seat count for any of the parties.

Dias responded: “Christy Clark is still the premier of BC — so she has the first shot at forming government. To be able to form government, though, she needs to hold the ‘confidence of the House.’ This means she needs to be able to pass important bills — her speech from the Throne, and budget needs to pass.

Since she doesn’t have a majority of the seats, she will need the help of either the Greens or the NDP to pass these bills. She can either enter into a formal coalition with one of these parties (presumably the Greens), or else can try to work together informally going forward.

If she’s not able to get this support, her government will lose confidence. She can then either ask the Lieutenant Governor to call another election, or she can resign. In which case the NDP could try to form government. Same rules apply — they’d need to have the confidence of the House.  

This does give the Greens a lot of power — they can choose to support the Liberals or the NDP, as it is very unlikely the NDP and the Liberals would work together.”

Which ridings could still flip?

User ktalkbeta wondered about close ridings that could be affected by absentee ballots that haven't been counted yet. They cited the following three:

  • Courtenay-Comox (where the NDP are up by nine votes)
  • Richmond-Queensborough (Liberals up 300)
  • Vancouver-Falsecreek (Liberals up 600)

Westlake took this one: “Those are the three. Courtney Comox is the one that has the really significant chance of switching. It’s not impossible that the other two would switch, but one party would have to win the absentee ballots by quite a large margin or there would have to be a large change as a result of a re-count.”

How might a Liberal minority government actually play out?

“In a Liberal minority it is very possible that the NDP and Greens would join forces to defeat the Liberals,” wrote Westlake. “What they would do after is another question. If they defeat the Liberals shortly after the election, they may want to establish some kind of agreement where through which they can govern (either in coalition or as NDP minority with Green support). 

It’s possible though that they defeat the Liberals and don’t try to govern, in effect triggering an election. This could happen if either party ends up getting polling data that suggests they could pick up seats if and election were to be called. They probably wouldn’t do this right away, but if they end up defeating the government two years from now an election may be more likely than coalition or NDP minority government.”

Is a coalition government within the realm of possibility?

“Neither party ruled out a coalition,” wrote Westlake. “I think we’ll have to wait until we get the final count (May 22nd-24th), and possibly later if there are further recounts, to know whether the Liberals will have a majority or if it will be a minority situation. The Greens have been cagey about who they would form a coalition with so I would say both a Liberal-Green and NDP-Green coalition are possibilities. It may depend on which of Horgan or Clark is willing to offer the Greens more in terms of policy concessions.”

What if the NDP and Liberals end up with the same number of seats and the Greens won't form a coalition with either?

“In the absence of a coalition, parties could try to govern with a minority,” wrote Dias. “It wouldn’t be formalized, and there wouldn’t be members of the opposition parties in cabinet. But the governing party would try to pass their bills, and look to the opposition parties to support them. If the governing party isn’t able gain support for confidence bills (Throne Speech, budget, etc.), the government would lose the confidence. And another party would be able to try to form government, or else we’d go to another election.

The Liberals would get the first shot at this. If they aren’t able to gain support for their Throne Speech, Christy Clark would go to the Lieutenant Governor and either resign (and then the NDP could try to form government) or call for an election.”

Do the Greens stand to gain more by associating with the Liberals or NDP?

“It depends what they think will benefit them most, and how it will be perceived by voters,” wrote Dias. “If they think voters voted for ‘change’ and ‘not Christy Clark’ they might want to support the NDP and not anger voters. If they think the majority of voters wanted to keep on with the Liberals, they might go down that path.

It also depends what ‘deals’ the Liberals and the NDP offer the Greens. Who will give them better Cabinet positions? Who will support their policy agenda best?”

What's the deal with the Greens? If the Liberals are centre-right and the NDP are left, where are they?

“The Greens don’t necessarily fall strictly into ‘the right’ or ‘the left,’” said Dias. “[Leader Andrew] Weaver has indicated he supports policies from either side that make sense to him and work for BC. They definitely have some progressive policies, but have also supported some of the Liberals policies, and have indicated they’d work with the Liberals in a coalition.”

Bonus: is a Green vote really a wasted vote?

“Generally people say a vote is wasted if it doesn’t influence the result in a riding,” said Westlake. “In most ridings the Greens don’t have much of a chance of winning, so it’s unlikely that a vote for the Greens would influence the election result. This isn’t true in all ridings. In some, particularly on Vancouver Island, the Greens have a better chance of winning and so a Green vote isn’t wasted.

This isn’t something unique to the Greens. All parties have ridings where they aren’t really competitive, and the strength candidates parties field is usually going to be weaker in ridings where they aren’t competitive. Because the Greens are less popular though, they have a lot more ridings in which they are uncompetitive than the NDP or Liberals.”