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Historically tight B.C. election means uncertain future

Russell Hixson
Historically tight B.C. election means uncertain future

As it currently stands, BC Liberal Party Leader Christy Clark remains premier in B.C. Though after a tight election, the final result is up in the air until a count of absentee ballots is complete, leaving construction industry stakeholders questioning what the future holds.

While preliminary results show a narrow win by Clark, she lost her 49-seat majority won in 2013. So far results have given her 43 elected seats, with 41 per cent of the popular vote.

It is B.C.’s first minority government result since 1952.

BC NDP Leader John Horgan saw a gain from 35 seats last election to 41 elected seats and 39.9 per cent of the popular vote.

The BC Greens won three seats, with Leader Andrew Weaver holding his Oak Bay riding, while also picking up new seats in Cowichan, Saanich North and the Islands, with a popular vote of 16.65 per cent.

"We don’t know what is going to happen," said BC Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson. "There are a couple of seats that are still in play."

During the election, the Building Trades praised Horgan for his pledge to fund the mayor’s transit plan, committing to use local British Columbia skilled labour and creating apprenticeship opportunities through a Project Labour Agreement.

They also criticized the Liberals for cutting employer premiums and worker benefits and for not raising the province’s share of funding for infrastructure projects.

Sigurdson said he was not surprised at the close race, but was surprised to see voters in certain areas stick with the Liberals despite what he viewed as her failing on some promises, like delivering thousands of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project jobs.

"I thought they would move away from her," said Sigurdson, adding the close results also showed the diversity of the B.C. population.

Chris Gardner, head of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of British Columbia (ICBA), was excited about some of the new blood the Liberals brought into B.C. politics through the election, but he felt the uncertainty ahead could be bad for the construction industry.

"If this result holds, that would inject a level of uncertainty in terms of government policy and government priorities that we haven’t seen in a long time," said Gardner. "It would throw doubt into a number of projects and initiatives."

During the election, the ICBA supported the Liberals, touting their five straight balanced budgets, a top-level credit rating, low personal income taxes, the near-elimination of operating debt and the 220,000 new jobs created since 2011. They also were pleased with Clark’s efforts to get major energy and infrastructure projects started.

The George Massey Tunnel Replacement project, Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline and Pacific Northwest LNG, were just some of the massive, multi-billion dollar projects Gardner said could now be at risk.

Despite this, Gardner praised some new faces in the Liberal Party, including Jas Johal, Tracy Redies and Ellis Ross.

"Those three are all new and the BC Liberals have done a good job of attracting new candidates," he said.

There were approximately 51,000 absentee ballots in the 2013 election, and Elections BC will make its final count of this year’s ballots between May 22 and 24.

This final count could shake things up. Absentee ballots and advanced ballots cast outside a voter’s riding could change the outcome. As well, candidates are allowed to get a recount in ridings where the margin of victory is fewer than 100 votes.

A riding can go to a more formal judicial recount if "the difference between the votes received by the candidate declared elected and the candidate with the next highest number of votes is less than 1/500 of the total ballots considered," according to the B.C. Elections Act.

Clark remained confident the Liberals would maintain their lead.

"Tonight we won the popular vote and we have also won the most seats," said Clark at a rally in Vancouver on May 9. "And with absentee ballots still to be counted I am confident they will strengthen our margin of victory."

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