For you blessèd ones who do not reside in la province Colombie-Britannique, two things should you know. First, we have had, last night, a general election. And second, nobody won.
There are so many ways the story could be told, and I am trying my best to give the simplest version.
A general election, in a parliamentary system, usually means all the members of the legislative assembly are up for election. Once the parliament has been elected, the members will select the head of government, which naturally means whoever wins control of the legislative branch also gains the executive branch. This is the system in place in British Columbia, good or bad, and is coupled with the plurality voting system aka first-past-the-post.
Right, so, there are a limited number of seats in the provincial legislative assembly. Digression: I love that the Provincial Legislative Assembly is a provincial legislative assembly – the title is also the simplest descriptive term. BC has 87 ‘ridings’, which elect 87 representatives (known as MLAs – Members of the Legislative Assembly.) Simple math will tell you that a party needs 44 seats to own a majority, and therefore be able to chose the government.
But with three or more parties it is quite possible that no one party will have a majority of the legislature. There are two possible outcomes in this situation: a “hung parliament”, which basically means you do another election right away, or a ‘minority government’, which means the parties negotiate a temporary agreement to form a coalition of some kind which has enough votes to form a government.
Quick note: this does not necessarily mean a coalition which has a majority of votes. It is quite possible for a group to say they will abstain from the vote, thereby allowing another party to have enough votes to overcome opposition. E.g. if, say, 40 seats in BC were won by party A, and 41 seats by party B, and 6 seats by party C, and party C agrees to abstain, then party B will have enough votes to overcome opposition by party A and can form government.
Something very like that example may have happened last night/this morning: the incumbent party seems to have won 43 seats, the opposition party won 41 seats, and the upstart Green party won 3 seats. In theory the Green party could form a coalition with either party and give them control of the legislature. In practice it would be risky to form government with opposition due to simple seat counts, but it is still possible.
But I said “may have happened.” The possibility exists that some, or even many, of the results reported at the end of election night news coverage can change. A half-dozen seats were won by a thousand votes or so, when most ridings are expected to have about 50,000 eligible voters, meaning 2% of the vote could easily shift who keeps the seat. And the absentee ballots – often sent by mail – have not been tallied because they have not all arrived; they could have been postmarked yesterday and still count. They usually are between 2 and 5 percent of the total eligible voters, so could clearly change some of the current results.
Some seats will have recounts of the results, which may jiggle a few of the votes about too. At least one riding is already facing an automatic judicial review because the final tally was a 9 vote difference between the two larger parties – less than 0.2% of the actual number of voters and so triggering the the review. Candidates may also request recounts for certain reasons, and some less razor-thin contests may consider if it might shift the needle enough to justify.
The BC Liberals, especially, will be eyeing every possibility. If they can pick up only one more seat they will have the narrowest of majorities, and no need to saddle themselves with an opposition party. But it might backfire, too – the Liberal back-benchers will be emboldened to stand up to their severely weakened but still imperious leader, since they can be assured of a very warm welcome should they choose to walk across the floor or sit as an independent.
The New Democrats must be the most frustrated. It is quite likely the surging Greens prevented their gaining a dominant position in the legislature by doubling their popular vote across the province – enough to cost several close seats. Yet again the NDP have underperformed when they had a clear path to victory.
The Green party should be enjoying the afterglow of a stunning achievement. They doubled their popular vote, and tripled their seat number. They at least briefly led in 5 different ridings over the course of the evening, came in second in three races and statistically tied for second (less than 1% between 2nd and 3rd) in four more. And, if everything stands as it does on May 24th, they will be able to decide who governs the province next.
If. Because, just yet, no one has won.
Pretty important to see who is saying that out loud. Clark has said the BC Liberals won, but that every vote must be counted. New Democrats have said clearly that change won, and they look forward to working with Mr Weaver. Weaver, on his part, has said the Greens won in every meaningful way, as has the province itself. I sure hope someone is transcribing all the claims and counter-claims of victory before the fact.