The recent BC election in the spring of 2017 was a nail biter. The final results were 43 seats for the BC Liberal Party, 41 Seats for the BC NDP Party and 3 seats for the BC Green Party. This means a minority government in BC with the Green Party holding the balance of power. Which I believe is unprecedented for the Greens. So why is someone in Nova Scotia blogging about BC politics? Because it’s a very interesting situation unfolding which is going to occupy political junkies of all kinds for the next while. On May 29th, 2017, the NDP and Green parties held a joint news conference to announce that the Green Party intends to support the NDP in the legislature. Granted Premier Cristy Clark has the first shot at forming government but that might not last too long. At this point I don’t think I need to remind anyone of the debates this country has had over whether a coalition government is a bad word or not.
A minority government can very easily work in Canada and there are examples of minority governments on the federal and provincial level that worked quite well over this countries history. Recent examples are Paul Martin’s liberal minority from 2004 to 2006 and Stephen Harper’s successive minority governments from 2006 – 2011. Paul Martin’s minority gave us equal marriage which is a significant accomplishment in and of itself. For an older example look at Lester B. Pearson’s minority government during the 1960’s. It passed initiatives such as the Canada Pension Plan and Medicare that are now a permanent part of our social fabric.
Here in Nova Scotia we have had our fair share of provincial minorities over the years. This article from Local Express,ca mentions that Nova Scotia had a liberal minority in 1998 and PC minorities in 2003 and 2006. Now BC may not have had a minority government since the 1950’s but that doesn’t mean they can’t work. As I outlined above some very good pieces of legislation have come out of minority governments where multiple political parties were forced to work together. No one gets exactly what they want but a nice happy medium can easily be achieved.
As of this writing the specific details of the agreement are yet to come. But the Greens have agreed to a “Confidence and Supply Agreement.” This guarantees support for any budgets or confidence motions. During the election campaign the two parties agreed upon stopping the Kinder Morgan Pipeline and banning corporate and union donations. Best of luck to them on trying to pass that legislation. This government of Canada website shows that the longest minority government was three years, seven months and twenty-one days from January 1922 to September 1925 with William Lyon Mackenzie King as prime minister. The average duration of a minority government is one year, seven months and twenty-seven days. This doesn’t give them much time to implement their promise of electoral reform. Now I confess to not knowing much about the intricate details of how changing an electoral system might work but I’m assuming this is something which requires more than a year or two to really get right.
The average life of a minority government also highlights the need for both the BC Greens and the NDP to get this right and make it work. There is a good chance that if their minority government fails in some spectacular fashion that it could really benefit the liberals. I’m not completely sure if it’s an appropriate example but Joe Clark’s brief minority government that lasted nine months during 1979 to 1980 comes to mind. This was a government where Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal Party was defeated by Joe Clark’s PC party only to have the Liberals and NDP unite to defeat the PC party after a few months bringing Pierre Trudeau back to power. The point of this example is to show a worst-case scenario of how minority governments can go spectacularly wrong if not handled carefully. As of the time of this writing on May 29th, the Alberta NDP is saying they will continue to push for the Trans Mountain Pipeline. I’m far from an expert on politics but I’m if having two provincial NDP parties fighting will benefit the opposition parties in both Alberta and BC.
In closing, minority governments are generally nothing to be worried about and coalitions doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Given a chance, if they are well managed well they can be quite productive and beneficial for the electorate. If miss-managed they can also backfire. The NDP and the Greens appear to be proposing quite an ambitious agenda for their proposed minority government. I look forward to seeing how it unfolds. In many ways, this will be a litmus test for things such as electoral reform for the rest of Canada. All eyes are on BC, and I wish them the best of luck.