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Déjà vu all over again?

Suzanne Anton on what may happen in the coming weeks, and how familiar it might feel to British Columbians.
Apparently very unstable. (BC NDP/wikicommons)

BC’s inconclusive 2017 election offers some insights into how the 2019 federal election might play out if no party gets a majority tonight.

In 2017, the BC Liberals ended election night with more seats than the NDP – but not a majority. When the dust settled, the BC Liberals had gone from 49 to only 43 seats. The NDP had 41, and the Greens were sitting pretty with three seats. Several cabinet ministers lost their ridings – Peter Fassbender, Amrik Virk, and myself. (And yes, it was a blow).

As was her prerogative, holding the most seats, Premier Christy Clark tested the confidence of the house. She did not succeed.

The Premier recommended to the Lieutenant Governor that a new election be called. That was an option, but the LG chose an alternate option available to her; allowing the NDP to attempt to form government. With the support of his new best friends in the Greens, NDP leader John Horgan was able to get the votes he needed to become Premier.

Horgan entered into a formal Confidence and Supply agreement with the Greens, but a minority government doesn’t even need that, as Stephen Harper and numerous others have shown over the years.

So there are numbers and then there’s the national mood. In 2017, the BC Liberals did not have the support of the province. Yes, our base was loyal, but it would have been very tough to govern after that election, even had we won a bare majority.

How will the national mood play out federally if there’s no majority?

If Liberal leader Justin Trudeau gets most seats and can persuade other parties to support him (which NDP and Greens likely would), then he can carry on as PM. He would not be teetering on the knife edge like the BC Liberals in 2017.

The more interesting scenario (for Parliamentary nerds) would be if Conservative leader Andrew Scheer gets more seats than the Liberals, but no majority.

Who gets first try at government? Tradition would say the Conservatives. A Liberal/NDP team might urge Trudeau to test the house. If the Liberals have relatively low seat counts, the numbers might work, but the result could be very challenging politically, both inside and outside the house.

If he is granted first try, or if Trudeau loses his attempt to get Parliament’s support, Scheer would need the MPs in the house for a confidence vote – or at least find a compelling reason to be elsewhere when the first confidence vote is held. He can’t govern if he can’t get the throne speech or a budget passed.

For pipeline supporters, how about this scenario? Given that both Liberals and Conservatives support TMX and no one else does, and Canadians have invested $4.5 billion in the project, a Conservative/Liberal mutual support group. I know, I know: fantasyland.

Minority governments can work; John Horgan is still the Premier. Election rumours abound, but at moment the partnership is holding, and we may not be at the polls again until the fall of 2021, as scheduled.

So, no bets here; it’s impossible to guess what will happen after tonight. But given that no one wants another quick election, it’s likely that one or other leader will put together enough support to carry them for a time. With so many parties in play, and perhaps even a couple of independents, it will be an interesting time for those who love to watch politics.

Suzanne Anton QC is a former Attorney General of BC and Vancouver City Councillor