British Columbians woke up to a new political reality on Wednesday after one of the tightest provincial elections in recent history. And in a scenario that was uttered during the campaign, but few took seriously, the Green Party holds the balance of power – for now.

It is a nearly unimaginable situation.

There are still votes to be counted that could ultimately change the final result but won’t be known for a couple of weeks – absentee ballots, tens of thousands of them – but for now neither main political party emerged from Tuesday’s vote with a clear majority. There will be at least one judicial recount that could also strengthen the Liberals’ hand and change the political calculus.

As the results stand now, the Liberals have 43 seats, the NDP 41 and the Greens 3.

Liberal Leader Christy Clark will have the first chance to form a government, possibly with the assistance of Green Leader Andrew Weaver. If she is unsuccessful, NDP Leader John Horgan could get a chance – although this was all unclear late Tuesday.

During the campaign, Mr. Weaver refused to tip his hand when asked which party he would be more likely to support in a minority picture; he did say, however, that he had problems with Mr. Horgan’s temperament. On the surface, however, the Greens would seem to have far more in common with the NDP than the Liberals. Also, it may be difficult for a party that campaigned hard against the status quo to agree to prop up a party that has been in power for 16 years.

Regardless, B.C. has not been presented with this predicament since 1952 and it is unclear how it will ultimately be resolved, or how soon it will take for a clear image of what government will look like in the province to emerge.

What did become evident was that the divisive, often unpopular leadership of Ms. Clark became a factor in the campaign. And just as obvious now is the fact there is an ever-hardening urban-rural divide in the province, with support for the ideologically conservative Liberal Party based in the interior and north of the province, while the NDP is grounded in the urban ridings of Metro Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. The Green Party received votes around the province, but broke through in Greater Victoria and in Cowichan.

Despite the uncertain outcome, the result did show that a thriving economy and the enviable job creation record that the Liberals boasted was no match for a populace thirsty for change. And now, it would appear that as a result of the governing possibilities that exist, transformation is coming in the province and could extend from environment policy to B.C.’s campaign finance laws.

It is difficult to imagine Ms. Clark trying to form a governing partnership with the Greens without capitulating on a number of fronts that would be extremely difficult for her party and its core supporters to swallow.

No matter how you frame this outcome, it represents a devastating blow to the Liberals, which had assumed a “natural-governing party” aura, so lengthy was their reign, so formidable the political machine they had built. In recent years, however, their success had begun to give off a scent of arrogance and smugness.

No more was this evident than in the Liberals’ steadfast refusal to do anything to confront an emerging view it had become an institution of elites for the elites. Only Ms. Clark’s strong conservative bona fides – five balanced budgets, a refusal to raise welfare rates – allowed her party to continue garnering support in rural areas of the province where generally resentment toward the ruling class is palpable.

Mr. Horgan, meantime, was initially not given much of a chance of defeating the incumbents.

In 2014, he took over an NDP that was deeply in debt, depressed about its electoral prospects after a dispiriting election loss a year earlier and divided along ideological lines. Some members of his caucus were hardened environmentalists while others believed just as fervently that the NDP would never win unless it respected the need to develop a job creation program that included resource development.

Mr. Horgan walked a fine line, trying to keep both camps happy.

But he saved his strongest moments as leader for the most critical time: the 2017 election campaign. He proved to be a much stronger orator than people anticipated. His party “prosecuted” the Liberals on their record in government – something the NDP didn’t do the last election to their everlasting regret.

And then there was Mr. Weaver, whose strong debate performance catapulted him and his party’s policies into the public’s consciousness for the first time. He represented a fresh alternative to the two long-time, and some would say stale, mainstream alternatives. Obviously, his pitch resonated with many.

Ms. Clark also gave a strong campaign performance, but it was not enough to convince voters her party deserved another convincing majority. Now, she and her party are no doubt trying to figure out exactly how they are going to try and make this work, how they are going to cling to power.

This story is far from over.

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, May 10, 2017 6:14AM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, May 10, 2017 9:08AM EDT