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                Can BC Election Tell Us Anything About Ontario In 2018?


By Randall White

“Some things only happen in British Columbia” is the first thing Premier Christy Clark said in public, after at least the initial results of the razor-close Tuesday provincial election on Canada’s Pacific Coast became more or less clear.

Ontario voters could nonetheless be pardoned for taking some special interest in a political contest about the fate of a 16-year-old Liberal government led by a controversial female, and criticized by the mayor of the province’s largest city. 

(As Mayor Gregor Robertson recently explained: “I would certainly say there's a lot of frustration in Metro Vancouver around a provincial government that has not focused on supporting the city.”) 

So is what has happened in BC in 2017 any sort of precedent for what may or may not happen when Ontario has its next provincial election in 2018?

On Tuesday in an 87-seat BC legislature, Ms. Clark’s Liberals took 43 seats with 40.8% of the province-wide popular vote. John Horgan’s New Democrats took 41 seats with 39.9%. And Andrew Weaver’s Green Party arguably won the balance of power by taking 3 seats with 16.8% of the vote. (A bare majority is 44 seats.)

In her public speech to supporters after these results, an always smiling and effervescent Christy Clark noted that her Liberals had “won” the popular vote (in the sense of finishing first) and still took the most seats. 

She intends to “continue to lead British Columbia.” At the same time, she has also noted that the people of BC have said they want some change. They want all the parties to work together. 

NDP leader John Horgan was more open-ended in his immediate public remarks.

According to some calculations, likely recounts of a few very close races and possibly other absentee ballots still to be counted could change the present results to the advantage of New Democrats. Mr. Horgan advises not jumping to any conclusions until the results of this further counting and recounting are clear.   

(And again, if the present results prevail Andrew Weaver’s Green Party arguably has the balance of power. Their 3 seats — triple what they won in the last election in 2013 — could give either the Liberals or even New Democrats at least a bare majority in the BC legislature.)

Whether Christy Clark’s Liberals can make the minority government they seem to have won, on the present results, work remains an open question. It will be the first minority government in BC since W.A.C. Bennett began his 20-year career as Social Credit premier in 1952. 

What it all might mean for Ontario and its next provincial election in 2018 is intriguing, but arguably even more unclear. 

BC’s most recent political history began in 2001, when a revived British Columbia Liberal Party, led by former Vancouver mayor Gordon Campbell, defeated Ujjal Dosanjh’s NDP — two years before Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals beat Ernie Eves’ Conservatives in Ontario. 

The Campbell Liberals won two more elections, in 2005 and 2009. And when Campbell retired in 2011 he was succeeded as new Liberal leader and provincial premier by Christy Clark.

At that time all the polls said Ms. Clark’s Liberals were going to lose the 2013 election to Adrian Dix’s New Democrats — and she won a majority government. 

And then Kathleen Wynne won another surprise majority government in the 2014 Ontario election. 

Yet once you set aside the obvious similarities between the provincial Liberals Gordon Campbell and Dalton McGuinty, and then Christy Clark and Kathleen Wynne, differences between the Ontario and BC party systems and broader political cultures start to cloud the picture. 

As often noted, as a result of BC’s particular political history, Christy Clark’s BC Liberals are more of a traditional right-wing conservative party than Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario Liberals.

The Ontario New Democrats are also much less of a governing party than the BC New Democrats. There has been only one NDP premier of Ontario. BC has had five.

Ontario still has a strong Conservative party with active memories of governing the province. BC has not really had such a thing since the Second World War. 

Finally, the Green Party in Ontario is as yet no match for Andrew Weaver’s Green Party in BC. 

So 43 Liberals, 41 NDP, and 3 Greens is almost certainly not a very useful guide to just what may or may not happen in Ontario in 2018. 

At the same time, if Christy Clark does finally make a minority government work to the point where she can reasonably be said to have won the 2017 BC election (even just by the skin of her teeth), she will also be the first female first minister in Canadian history to be re-elected to office. 

That remains a striking statistic. And in the end it just might help Kathleen Wynne. 


About Randall White

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.
Posted date : May 11, 2017

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