Will B.C. end up with a minority or majority government, when will we know, and what will decide the final outcome?
Last Tuesday’s election left the balance of power in B.C. on a knife’s edge, with the outcome in limbo and intense backroom negotiations now underway.
Premier Christy Clark and the BC Liberals hold 43 seats, one short of what she’d need to form a majority government, while the NDP holds 41 and the Green Party three.
But that could change, with the Liberals just one seat short of a majority, and five ridings where fewer than 1,000 votes separate the two largest parties – in one, the margin is just nine votes.
That district is going to a recount, while the others may yet be swayed by the some-176,000 absentee and special ballots that have yet to be counted.
Here’s where things stand now:
What happens next?
Christy Clark, as the incumbent, remains premier for the time being and will do so until she is tested with a confidence vote in the legislature — likely her first throne speech.
But before that happens, British Columbians’ votes will get a second look. Here’s the timeline for the post-election process.
- May 09 – Provincial election
- May 12 – Deadline to file for a recount
- May 22-24 — District electoral officer recounts, final vote count including absentee ballots
- May 30 — Deadline to file for a judicial recount
- May 30+ Potential judicial recounts begin
In ridings where the margin is within 100 votes or where there has been an error in counting, candidates can apply for an electoral district officer recount.
Elections BC has approved recounts for Courtenay-Comox and Vancouver-False Creek, which will take place during the final vote count on May 22-24.
Those same days, Elections BC will conduct and certify a final tally of votes, which will include for the first time absentee, mail-in, special ballots, and votes cast at the Electoral District Office.
Afterwards, candidates still have six days to apply for a judicial recount if the difference between the top two finishers is less 1/500 of the total ballots considered.
For Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, using 2013 results, that margin would have been about 74 votes.
Those recounts, if approved, could take more time yet; back in 2013, the tight race in Coquitlam-Maillardville went to a judicial recount and wasn’t decided until June 4.
Liberal path to victory
While the board, as currently set, will give the Liberals the first crack at forming a minority, the party is hoping recounts/absentee ballots could deliver them a majority, and the power that comes with it.
In order to edge over that line, the Liberals need to flip just one riding, capturing 44 seats. If they can flip two, it gives them a majority with some wiggle room – ie, a Liberal MLA could be sick or absent and the party could still win on crucial votes.
Key to a Liberal victory will be flipping either, or both, of two ridings the NDP won by slim margins: Courtenay-Comox, where the NDP leads by just nine votes, and Maple Ridge-Mission, where it has a 120 vote lead.
In Courtenay-Comox, the margin is so slim that the scheduled recount alone may overcome it.
In 2013, the riding was known as Comox-Valley, and saw more than 3,500 absentee and special votes cast. When all tallied, the NDP saw a very slight edge earning 25 more votes than the Liberals.
However, this year there may be factors that favour the Liberals: the riding’s boundaries were changed, shaving off an area that leaned NDP, and Liberal candidate Jim Benniger is the former CFB Comox base commander. It is unknown how many Canadian Forces members stationed there are deployed and voted by mail.
Maple Ridge-Mission is the Liberals’ other chance to score. In 2013, it saw 1996 advanced and special votes cast, with the Liberals seeing a 130 vote advantage among them. If they can repeat that feat again, it would be just enough to push them over the top.
A third riding, Vancouver-Fraserview, appears to be out of range for the Liberals, who would need to shift the vote tally by more than 900 votes to take.
NDP path to victory
“The game’s not over, there’s still 176,000 seconds left on the clock, and I’m going to wait and see what the final outcome was,” said NDP Leader John Horgan the day after the election, referring to as of yet uncounted absentee ballots.
For Horgan, a majority is likely out of the question, but there are two scenarios the party might consider a “win.”
If absentee ballots favour the NDP by a wide enough margin and the party flips one seat, both the NDP and the Liberals would have 42 seats in the legislature, cutting into the Liberals’ argument that they have ‘won’ a minority, and beefing up the party’s negotiating position with the Greens.
If the NDP can pull off an upset and flip two seats, while losing none, the NDP and Liberals positions will be reversed giving Horgan even more ammunition for his post-election argument that B.C. voted for change, and complicating Christy Clark’s pitch to the Greens for support.
In 2013, the NDP managed just that, capturing two extra seats in the final vote count.
The two ridings in the NDP’s crosshairs are Richmond-Queensborough and Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, both steeper climbs than the Liberals face with margins exceeding 250 votes.
Richmond-Queensborough, where the Liberals’ Jas Johal leads by 263 votes is a wildcard — the riding was newly created for this election, so has no independent history to look at.
In 2013 Richmond East, which it is heavily drawn, favoured the Liberal candidate by a large margin, while the segment of New Westminster that’s been added trended NDP.
Meanwhile, in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, the Liberals’ Joan Isaacs leads the NDP’s Jodie Wickens by 268 votes.
In 2013, that riding saw 2,098 absentee and special ballots cast in 2013, with the Liberals eking out a three-vote edge over the NDP among them.
What are the odds?
While there’s no way to know what’s in those sealed absentee and special ballots until the final count is done, one UBC economist says odds are, nothing will change.
Kevin Milligan crunched the numbers from 2013 absentee ballots, and found the NDP generally get a larger boost from them related to their overall vote share in a riding.
He then took those numbers and applied them to the 2017 election, running two sets of a million simulations.
With Elections BC revising the vote count in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain in the Liberals’ favour last week, Milligan now projects there’s just a one in four chance we’ll see an outcome different from the May 9 result.
Milligan, who admits his calculations don’t take into riding-specific factors, says there’s still a nearly ten per cent chance the Liberals pick up one seat, and 2.4 per cent chance they score two — winning their sought after majority.
On the flip side, he projects a 3.6 per cent chance the NDP grab one seat, and 5.9 per cent chance they grab two seats, upsetting the apple cart for the Liberals.
While we won’t know for which of Milligan’s projections turn out to be right until next week, one thing is for certain — it will be a day packed with drama.