SUMMERLAND, B.C. — British Columbia Fruit Growers Association president Fred Steele doesn’t want to set anything in stone when it comes to reactions from the May 9 B.C. election.
“I think we really don’t know yet. It’s too soon to tell,” he said the morning after the election that saw the Liberal party win the most seats but fail to achieve a majority government.
The Liberal party won 43 of 87 ridings, one short of the number needed for a majority,
The NDP won 41 seats, while the Green party won in three ridings, giving it the ability to tip the balance of power.
Norm Letnick, who was agriculture minister in the previous Liberal government easily retained his seat in Kelowna-Lake Country.
Steele, who has long been a Letnick supporter, said the minister has previously gone to bat for the fruit industry and showed a willingness to work with it on key issues.
“We got some good advocates (who were elected), but we don’t know what (Green party leader) Andrew Weaver is going to do next,” Steele said.
He said Weaver could decide to throw his support behind either of the other two parties or could decide to use the Green party’s three-seat clout on a legislation-by-legislation basis.
“Right now, it’s the after-fog of the election. We don’t know what is going to happen.”
There is also the matter of counting advance poll votes and absentee votes, which could create new winners in ridings with tight races. Three ridings in particular were close, especially in Courteny Comox, where nine votes separate the NDP’s Ronna-Rae Leonard (10,058) from Liberal candidate Jim Benninger (10,049).
Steele said he was especially shocked to see former Liberal cabinet ministers lose their seats. Those include Finance Minister Peter Fassbender, Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, Technology Innovation and Citizen Services Minister Amrik Virk and Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness Naomi Yamamoto
“There was a landscape change last night,” Steele said, referring to the NDP’s gains in urban ridings.
“The premier last night called it a win, but it’s kind of like saying you have the best deck chair on the Titanic,” he said.
Steele said the party can’t be feeling too comfortable with the decline to 43 seats from the 49 it held heading into the election.
He said key issues such as carbon taxes and the Site C dam construction in the Peace River area are now up in the air until the final vote count is in. As well, much will depend on where the Green party throws its support.
Steele also addressed the concerns of a rural-urban split among voters. The Liberals control most rural, resource-based and agricultural areas, while the NDP support is based in and around Greater Vancouver and Vancouver Island.
“That is unfortunate because when you start down the road toward polarization, it’s difficult to stop it.”
Liberal leader Christy Clark said on election night that she plans to form the next government.
“Tonight is the beginning of something very different and something that I think could be really exciting for the future of our province and our kids,” she said.
NDP leader John Horgan remained unwilling to concede defeat until all votes are in.
“This is what we do know — a majority of British Columbians voted for a new government and I believe that’s what they deserve.”
Weaver, whose Green party doubled its popular vote to 16.7 percent compared to the previous election, called it a historic moment.
“What a historic day for British Columbia,” he said. “People across British Columbia have shown that they are ready for politics to be done differently.”