VICTORIA – British Columbia’s New Democrat and Green party leaders shook hands Monday in the legislature on a deal to pave the way for the formation of a new minority government, but Premier Christy Clark signalled she wasn’t ready to immediately release her grip on power.
NDP Leader John Horgan and Andrew Weaver of the Greens said the deal between the parties would allow for a stable minority government for the next four years.
A Green party team has been negotiating with the NDP and the Clark’s Liberals since the May 9 election didn’t produce a clear winner.
At a news conference outside the gates of the legislative chamber Monday, Weaver said the two parties are committed to showing they can work together and provide certainty for the province.
“In the end, we had a difficult decision to make,” he said. “The decision was for the B.C. Greens to work with the B.C. NDP to produce a stable minority government for over the four-year term.”
The Liberals have been in power for 16 years and won the most seats in the election, but fell one short of a majority in the 87-seat legislature. They took 43 seats, compared with 41 for the NDP and three for the Greens.
For the first time in Canadian history, the results of the election left the Green party holding the balance of power.
Horgan said the agreement represents the will of about 60 per cent of British Columbians who voted in the election.
“We now have, with our 41 members and the three Green members, the majority support in the legislature,” said Horgan. “We will be making that known to the lieutenant-governor in the next few days and we’ll proceed from there. The premier will have some choices to make, without a doubt.”
Clark wasn’t ready to concede defeat in a statement issued Monday.
“It’s vitally important that British Columbians see the specific details of the agreement announced today by the B.C. NDP and Green party leaders, which could have far-reaching consequences for our province’s future,” Clark said.
“As the incumbent government, and the party with the most seats in the legislature, we have a responsibility to carefully consider our next steps.”
Clark said she would have more to say on Tuesday after consulting her caucus, adding the Liberal party had “made every effort to reach a governing agreement, while standing firm on our core beliefs.”
Weaver said the Green caucus has voted in favour of the agreement and the NDP is scheduled to hold a vote Tuesday, but Horgan doesn’t think the deal will find any opposition among New Democrats.
Details of the agreement won’t be released until it is approved by the New Democrat caucus.
Clark, as the incumbent premier with the most seats, would normally be given the first chance to form a government by the lieutenant-governor and it’s unclear if the Liberals would still try to get the support of the legislature for its own agenda.
A spokesman for Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon said Clark would have the opportunity to recall the legislature and introduce a throne speech.
The Greens went into negotiations with the other two parties making three key demands: getting official party status in the legislature, an electoral system based on proportional representation and political fundraising reform.
The Greens and NDP have supported a system of proportional representation that accounts for the number of seats each party gets in the legislature based on their percentage of the popular vote.
Horgan has said he wouldn’t want to change the electoral system without a referendum. Weaver has said his preference is to implement proportional representation and then after two elections hold a referendum on whether people want to keep it.
Two previous referendums on proportional representation have failed in B.C.
On Monday, Weaver said showing how a minority government can work effectively is a way for the Green party to show proportional representation is a viable option for the province.
Under terms of the agreement, the Greens will support the NDP’s legislative agenda on supply and budget issues, but there are no plans for anyone in Weaver’s caucus to serve in cabinet.
“We specifically did not ask for there to be a coalition,” said Weaver. “We wanted to maintain a minority situation to show British Columbians that it could work.”
Horgan said the idea of forming a coalition government wasn’t ever part of the negotiations.
“The absorbing of the Green caucus was not an agenda item. In fact, it was explicitly not an agenda item,” he said.