Clark could still win a majority, but even in a Liberal minority government Greens have policy priorities other than Trans Mountain Expansion
British Columbians woke up not entirely sure who their next premier will be now that Christy Clark may have lost her majority last night, garnering 43 seats, one short. Albertans woke up wondering if the future of their prized energy infrastructure project, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline, just became much more tenuous.
The uncertainty is compounded by close battles that will require a few weeks for advance votes to be counted, and perhaps an official recount or two.
The final tally was Liberals with 43, NDP with 41, and a breakout for the Greens at three, which would give them the balance of power in a minority situation.
“The outcome of the election remains uncertain pending the outcome of judicial recounts. Whether there will be a Liberal minority or majority government, or another coalition, is still uncertain,” wrote Prof. Werner Antweiler of the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia in an email.
Andrew Wilkinson, advanced education minister in the Liberal government, said final results may not be available until month end, after absentee ballots and judicial recounts are done.
“It could be some time before this is completely clear,” he told the Canadian Press.
The riding everyone is watching most closely is Courtenay–Comox on Vancouver Island, where NDP candidate Ronna-Rae Leonard beat Liberal Jim Benninger, a former base commander of CFB Comox, by just nine votes. Advance voting and absentee ballots from the military base have reportedly not yet been counted, making the election outcome particularly uncertain.
Ten more votes for Benninger than Leonard in the recount and it’s a whole new ball game for Clark.
Until then, Albertans just have to wait for clarity on the BC government and energy issues like the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline, LNG development, and an NDP-proposed ban on fracking. Clark supports the pipeline and champions LNG, while BC NDP leader John Horgan has campaigned against both. Weaver opposes both energy projects.
If Clark and the Liberals win a majority government, then the status quo reigns with respect to energy policy.
But a Clark minority government supported by Weaver is not necessarily the worst case scenario for the Alberta-based energy, says political scientist Keith Brownsey of Mount Royal University.
“At the top of the list for the Greens are items such as campaign finance reform, proportional representation – half a dozen other issues like this that do not affect necessarily the oil and gas sector,” he said in an interview.
“But the Trans Mountain pipeline would likely be eighth or ninth on Weaver’s top 10 list of policy priorities.”
While many Albertans worry that Clark’s precarious hold on power will spell trouble for the Kinder Morgan pipeline project that will see the existing Trans Mountain twinned for most of the route from Edmonton to Burnaby, Brownsey isn’t concerned.
“If the demonstrations do appear, Christy Clark can use them to her advantage, arguing that these people are radical environmentalists who just want to shut down the economy,” he says.
“She can make a real political play here, and she can also re-inform the public that she’s got a bounty of a billion dollars over 20 years that she wrested from Kinder Morgan. This is great stuff for her.”
Brownsey argues that Clark can actually exploit the pipeline opposition in a way that she couldn’t if she had a majority
“She can blame them for a lot of stuff. She can say that they’re behind the pipeline demonstrations, for instance. We got a bit of it last night watching Liberal supporters, some of her campaign advisers, complaining about the NDP’s very negative campaign,” he said.
“I fell off my seat. It was so bizarre because there’s no one that campaigns more negative than Clark.”
Bottom line on Trans Mountain Expansion is that inter-provincial pipelines are federal jurisdiction. The BC government can’t stop pipeline construction even if it wanted to, says Brownsey.
Nor can municipalities.
And with only one new LNG plant final investment decision (and Fortis’ $400 million expansion of an existing facility) thus far, further announcements in that sector are at least months away, if not years.
By then, the Liberal with either have a majority government or a working relationship with Weaver that provides relatively a stable minority government. The odds of a minority NDP government seem slim.
Or British Columbia voters will endure another campaign in six to 12 months, which will likely settle Clark’s fate one way or another.
Whatever happens, the Kinder Morgan pipeline and LNG seem safe for the near to medium-term.