Is a minority government a possibility in B.C.?

The provincial election on May 14 will be the seminal event of the year — affecting almost everything political between now and election day.

After the election, which all polls over the past two years indicate the NDP will win, there will be further turmoil. Expect some broadsides against the government from opposing interest groups (business groups, if the NDP win), and many members of the public will wonder just what’s ahead. There will also be an effect on municipalities, TransLink and boards of education, which will be felt locally.

I’ve expected an NDP win, based on the polls, the anger over the HST and what I keep hearing from people. Many are unhappy with the BC Liberals, although they aren’t necessarily voting NDP. Some back the BC Conservatives; some say they won’t vote. By election day, many of those things could change.

But a comment by astute politics watcher Alise Mills on CKNW Wednesday has got me thinking there could be another outcome — a minority government, likely headed by NDP leader Adrian Dix, but possibly even by a Liberal, although almost certainly not Christy Clark. Clark is going to have great trouble winning her Vancouver-Point Grey seat.

B.C. has had little experience with minority governments. The last one was in 1952-53, the first government headed by W.A.C. Bennett. It lasted less than a year, and fell when it lost a House vote. The subsequent election gave Social Credit a majority, and set Bennett up to win five more elections and become B.C.’s longest-serving premier.

How is a minority government possible? It’s most likely if the three sitting independent MLAs are returned to Victoria. If all three, Vicki Huntington, John van Dongen and Bob Simpson, are re-elected, and there are three seats or less separating the NDP and Liberals, the independents will hold the balance of power. Parties need 43 seats for a majority.

The BC Conservatives and Greens could also elect an MLA or two. At this stage, neither party appears to have enough momentum to actually win a seat.

Recent polls show the NDP still holding a commanding lead, but the Liberals narrowing the gap ever so slightly. If that trend continues, and the Liberals manage to convince some of their former supporters to come back on election day, the results could be much closer than current polls indicate.

A minority government in B.C. would fulfil the wishes of many voters. They want to punish the Liberals, and at the same time not give the NDP unfettered access to the treasury. This feeling is similar to that of many Quebeckers in their recent election. They wanted to boot the Liberals out, but they didn’t want the Parti Quebecois to have a majority. Collectively, voters gave the PQ the most seats, but with strong third-party presence from the new CAQ party, the PQ is effectively shackled on major decisions.

The three independents have good profiles and are doing credible work, and a few Green or Conservative MLAs could be elected. A minority government can’t be ruled out.

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