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The New Switcharoo: some thoughts on our province’s new political landscape



Although it looks like victory has slipped through the Liberals’ fingers, I was surprised that they performed as well as they did, especially with the party scandals in the months immediately prior to the election, in particular, regarding corporate donations. I expected the NDP to win the most votes. Then again, perhaps the result is not so surprising. This election saw a lack of strong personalities. Neither Clark, nor Horgan, nor Weaver really stood out during the campaign. Maybe we have been spoiled by much more dramatic elections elsewhere over the past year. In the end the vote essentially came down to parties, not specific candidates or platforms. Most voters likely stuck with their usual party of choice, hence why there was less of a shift than might have been expected.

Even so, one might expect rising dissatisfaction with the Liberal government’s performance combined with a popular reaction against right-wing politics to have been enough for a clean victory for their opponents. In a way, it was. More people voted against Christy Clark than for her, with 56 per cent of the popular vote going to either the Greens or the NDP. Indeed, it might be that the Liberals’ discouraging chances of victory convinced right-wing voters who would normally have voted for a third party like the Conservatives or the Christian Heritage party to cast their ballot for the Liberals with the hope of keeping them in government, and the NDP out. On the other side of the spectrum, vote splitting likely hurt the cause of both the Greens and the NDP.

The Green party’s three “non-negotiable demands” that they required for committing to working with either side are certainly food for thought, and I find that I can get behind each of them, but I also note that there’s something in each of their points that would benefit their party.

The first, recognition in the legislature is fairly simple and obvious. I personally would like to hear more diversity in the voices in our government, no matter what shape it takes.

Green party leader Andrew Weaver stated that “getting big money out of politics is our number one priority.” He proposes to do this by banning donations from corporations, who typically support the Liberals, and unions, who traditionally back the NDP. This would level the playing field between the parties, and give the Greens an advantage by comparison. Aside from partisan concerns, I too would like to see less money going into politics and giving certain parties and candidates an unfair advantage. The role of government should be to ensure the wellbeing of all its citizens, but if one subgroup can sway the decisions of government using their superior private resources, the government has failed in its duty to be a fair and just arbiter and provider.

The last demand, for implementation of proportional representation with or without a referendum, has the most potential impact. The party’s desire to force voting reform without the public’s approval may seem hypocritical, especially in light of the fact that the two previous referendums on voting reform failed to pass. What most people fail to mention is that the last referendum attempts (for single transferable vote) required at least 60 per cent of the population in every single riding to vote in favour in order for it to pass. Every single riding except two met the 60 per cent requirement, and in the remaining two, 58 per cent voted in favour in 2005. Despite a clear majority wanting a single transferrable vote system, the motion was struck down, and a half-hearted failure of a referendum was recast in 2009. (It saw a drop in support of changes.) It is therefore not surprising that the Greens would have little faith in another referendum. While I would rather voting reform be implemented with a referendum than without, there is no point if it is going to be set up to fail.

Proportional representation would be a boon to the Green party. While the three seats they won in this election is impressive, they won 16.84 per cent of the popular vote according to Elections B.C. If the 87 seats of the legislature were apportioned according to percentage of the popular vote, they would have won 14 or 15 seats, depending on how rounding was handled. In the same scenario, the Liberals and the NDP would have each won 35 seats, so perhaps not much would have changed in this election had this been the case. It is clear however, that proportional representation would hugely benefit the Green party. I myself might have voted Green if I thought they had any chance of winning in my riding (Chilliwack-Kent), but they clearly did not; they elected a Conservative MLA in the previous election, which should tell you something. Furthermore, I think that most ridings tend to lean Liberal, and this has been the key to them winning election after election. Personally, I would like to see a more level playing field where voters and candidates alike do not have to worry about vote-splitting, strategic voting, or gerrymandering.

As for the thorny issue of whom to choose for Speaker of the House, I admit I am at as much of a loss as the politicians. The Speaker, who enforces the rules of procedure and settles ties, must be a member of the legislature, but it is not clear who should be given that important role. On the one hand, neither the NDP nor the Greens can afford to lose any of their voting members, but on the other hand, a Liberal Speaker is a recipe for deadlock. Perhaps the best solution would be for a non-partisan non-MLA to be appointed to the position, as some have proposed. Realistically, I don’t see this solution being implemented before the legislature is recalled on June 22, and I would be surprised if any choice was settled on before that deadline. Even so, the rewards, prestige, or simple desire to do one’s civic duty and help get the government moving again could entice just about anyone to volunteer for the position.

Despite Christy Clark’s attempts to put on a brave face and not give up until it is well and truly over, I suspect that she is only delaying the inevitable at this point. I predict that the NDP-Green coalition will stand firm and be allowed to form a government. I think that B.C. could do with some fresh leadership, especially now that they are able and willing to implement policies that would make for a more fair and equitable political system, even if they are ultimately doing so only out of self-interest.

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