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Minority government thrusts B.C. Greens into centre of power

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver speaks to supporters at election headquarters at the Delta Ocean Pointe on election night in Victoria on Wednesday.

CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said repeatedly during the B.C. election campaign that he and his slate of 83 candidates were running to win government.

The Greens didn't win government Tuesday, but they did win power. With three seats in the legislature, two of them new, Mr. Weaver told his supporters the party was now beginning negotiations with both the BC Liberals and New Democrats on which deserves to govern the province.

Joined on stage with his new Green colleagues in the legislature, Adam Olsen and Sonia Furstenau, Mr. Weaver said his party's actions in the days ahead will be informed by an evidence-based approach to each issue.

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"I'm on the upside of the roller coaster right now – it's fun," he told reporters after finishing his speech, alluding to the fact that the final result could still change.

While the Liberals ended the night in minority position, that doesn't include absentee ballots, which, when counted later this month, could result in a majority government if the party regains just one seat.

Video: Christy Clark’s Liberals win minority government in B.C. (The Canadian Press)

Explainer: Who's running B.C. now? The election and minority rule explained

Related: BC Liberals reduced to minority with Greens holding balance of power

Read more: B.C. election: What happened and what comes next

Mr. Weaver said he will not telegraph what his party will try to negotiate with either the Liberals or the NDP, but he did say his party is not interested in pursuing a liquefied natural gas industry, a central plank in Premier Christy Clark's vision of British Columbia's economic future. Mr. Weaver did say he expects any new government to table a bill outlawing corporate and union donations as soon as the legislature sits again.

"Our No. 1 priority is removing the influence of big money from government," Mr. Weaver said.

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The Greens received 8 per cent of the popular vote in the 2013 election along with their lone seat, but Mr. Weaver boldly forecasted gains in areas of NDP strength on Vancouver Island and the Kootenays. They finished with more than 16 per cent of the popular vote based on Tuesday's preliminary results.

He said at the outset of the campaign that if he was the only Green elected, he would ultimately step aside as leader. Instead, he will be joined by Mr. Olsen, a former municipal councillor who worked to derail an LNG project near Victoria and was also an intervenor in the National Energy Board hearings for the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. He is a partner in Salish Fusion Knitwear, a family business.

Ms. Furstenau will round out the caucus. She won the Cowichan Valley riding, where she was a regional district councillor fighting the provincial government over a contaminated land site. Before that, she was a high school teacher.

Mr. Weaver said watching B.C. invest in old fossil-fuel technologies and miss opportunities to develop a sustainable and modern economy convinced him to pursue politics.

He also stuck to policy-driven messages during the campaign and criticized the NDP for pushing voters to reject the Greens to help them oust Ms. Clark's Liberals, saying it was a form of voter suppression.

"There are people out there who feel that smear and slur are the ways to win elections," Mr. Weaver said after voting in his Victoria-area riding Tuesday. "That's not our way. Our way is to inspire people to get out to vote."

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Mr. Weaver picked up his party's first seat in the 2013 election – unseating a Liberal cabinet minister – and in at least two other ridings drew more than 30 per cent of the vote that year. Since then, Mr. Weaver, an internationally acclaimed climate scientist, and his party have had their eye on gains that were just beyond their grasp in 2013, most of them on Vancouver Island.

The Island also gave the Greens their first seat in Ottawa when, in 2011, federal leader Elizabeth May won in Saanich-Gulf Islands. In the same area in the 2013 provincial election, the Greens, NDP and Liberals came within 379 votes of each other. This time, Mr. Olsen took the riding.

In the House, Mr. Weaver gained a reputation as a prolific writer of private member's bills. Several of them attracted Ms. Clark's support, including a proposal to ban mandatory high heels for restaurant servers and legislation that requires post-secondary institutions to write and maintain policies to prevent sexual violence on campus.

Jane Sterk, the former party president who recruited Mr. Weaver to run in 2013, said she expected the new premier would want to grant the Greens official status – and with it, an office budget, a higher salary for the leader and a greater opportunity to ask questions in Question Period, among other perks – if it won two or three seats and captured a significant portion of the popular vote.

That's because the Liberals looked "like a bunch of jerks" when, in 2001, they refused to grant official party status to the New Democrats after an electoral landslide that saw the party win only two seats and the Liberals 77.

"My sense is whoever's premier would have to think pretty seriously about what the optics are if they were to deny the Green Party official party status," she said.

Still, Norman Ruff, an associate professor emeritus at the University of Victoria who has studied B.C. politics since 1968, said Mr. Weaver has transformed the Greens from an environmental movement to a modern political party that, regardless of Tuesday's results, now has the apparatus to compete heartily in numerous ridings.

"In his short time he's been leader, he has transformed the image of the Green Party and we'll have to see whether the first-past-the-post puts a brake on whatever momentum he may have got from that," Prof. Ruff said.

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About the Author
News reporter

Mike Hager is a general assignment reporter at the newspaper’s B.C. bureau. He grew up in Vancouver and graduated from the University of Western Ontario’s Huron College and Langara College. Before joining The Globe and Mail, he spent three years working for The Vancouver Sun. More

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