An NDP victory in a crucial byelection has prompted political soul-searching in British Columbia, with the Opposition Liberals hoping to revitalize their party while the Greens distance themselves from the New Democrats.
The Nanaimo byelection had the potential to tip the balance of power in the legislature, as the NDP have 41 seats and govern with the support of three Green members. The Liberals hold 42 seats. In the end, New Democrat Sheila Malcolmson won the riding with over 49 per cent of the vote.
Green Leader Andrew Weaver said he wasn't surprised by the collapse of his party's vote in the riding, from 20 per cent in the 2017 general election to seven per cent on Wednesday. He heard from many Green supporters who said they would vote NDP to maintain the status quo in the house, he said.
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However, he said the byelection sent a message that his party has to more clearly distinguish itself from the New Democrats. The Greens have a vision while the NDP has "none," other than they're not Liberals, he said.
"We haven't been very good at telling our story. We haven't been very good at telling British Columbians that a lot of the stuff that's happened are actually B.C. Green priorities — getting big money out of politics, lobbying reform," Weaver said on Thursday.
"If the B.C. NDP had been left alone with the reins of this government, we would have seen dogs' breakfasts coming across as law."
He said things are going to change in the legislature, beginning with the Greens stepping aside from a "large number" of legislative committees that examine policy issues and make recommendations to the government. The committees reflect the composition of the house, so a B.C. Liberal will take each Green member's spot.
"We're going to be focusing on our priorities and we're not going to be focusing, moving forward on ... NDP priorities," Weaver said.
Weaver also accused the NDP of taking his party's support for granted, adding that the New Democrats pushed a vote-splitting narrative in Nanaimo and knocked multiple times on the doors of homes that had Green signs on their lawns.
The New Democrats declined to respond to Weaver's comments, but Premier John Horgan acknowledged Wednesday that the byelection became a test for his government.
"This was an exciting, pivotal election campaign,'' he said. "This means we can continue to deliver on the issues we campaigned on. Health care, education, housing, those are the things people are talking about.''
Opposition Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said Thursday that his party's defeat has it shifting into a period of renewal.
Every party needs new faces and new blood, he said, adding he expects at least three members of the Liberal caucus to announce they will not be running in the next provincial election, set for 2021. He didn't name the three members.
"We've got a new approach to things and we're very excited about the future, as this is a very unstable coalition government now," said Wilkinson.
He said Tony Harris — the party's 34-year-old candidate in Nanaimo who took 40 per cent of the byelection vote — is the kind of successful and well-known local representative the party needs in the next election.
"That kind of youthful enthusiasm is exactly what we're looking for in candidates," he said.
He added that the Liberals increased their share of the vote from the last provincial election in the NDP stronghold.
Michael Prince, a social policy professor at the University of Victoria, said the Greens dropping out of legislative committees won't have much of a practical impact on the NDP. The committees produce reports but it's up to the government whether to include their recommendations in legislation, he said.
But the move suggests the Greens are going to dissent more often from the NDP in public.
"As the junior partner, there's always the risk that you get lost in the shadows of your senior partner, and certainly, as history suggests, that's a real risk," said Prince.
In 1985, Ontario's Liberals were able to govern with a minority by forming an alliance with the New Democrats. Two years later the Liberals won a majority while the NDP lost six seats.
Some have speculated the NDP's strong showing in Nanaimo will tempt Horgan to call a general election, but Prince said there is ongoing public anger about a new speculation tax on vacant secondary homes and going to the polls wouldn't be a good idea.
"I think that would be highly risky and seen as very opportunistic, so I don't expect that to happen."
— With files from Dirk Meissner in Nanaimo