As British Columbians marvel at B.C.'s surprise election results, it is worth noting that just over one year ago, Manitoba's provincial election brought in a different kind of change and a few critical lessons about progressive budgets.
Public anger against the governing NDP's mismanagement had reached its peak, and the result was a dramatic swing to a Conservative majority government. The NDP's overspending had increased Manitoba's annual deficit to more than $1 billion, resulting in multiple credit downgrades that even put Manitoba Hydro -- a leader in the North American energy sector -- in severe fiscal crisis.
The Manitoba NDP's response to the crisis of a credit downgrade? As then-Finance Minister Greg Dewar noted:
"We take the ratings by Moody's and other agencies seriously, but we need to stay focused on creating jobs by growing Manitoba's economy and not make short-sighted cuts."
Manitoba's extreme government swing from "spend-happy" to "cut-happy" put many middle-class families in jeopardy.
Yes, despite credit downgrades -- the great alarm bell for money mismanagement -- Manitoba's NDP still couldn't commit to spending cuts. Instead, they kept pushing back projections of a balanced budget and were never able to meet their targets.
After the NDP were ousted from Manitoba, the Conservatives' attempts to fix the financial crisis led them to announce austerity measures and cuts to civil service, a cut of 900 jobs at Manitoba Hydro and explorations of privatizing air ambulance services. My husband, a former section head at the utility giant, had just transferred to B.C. for work. As news of the Manitoba Hydro cuts broke, his inbox was instantly inundated by panicked co-workers who were facing job losses. We suddenly felt very relieved that despite facing astronomical affordability issues in B.C., we didn't have to worry about his job. Manitoba's extreme government swing from "spend-happy" to "cut-happy" put many middle-class families in jeopardy.
One year after Manitoba's dramatic election, John Horgan marched the B.C. NDP into the B.C. provincial election with a promise of change. Although his party offered a socially progressive vision, it also raised alarm with the enormity of the party's spending announcements. Despite their pledge to balance budgets -- while failing to release a full cost analysis of their proposals -- critics claimed that their spending could exceed $4 billion each year, potentially resulting in severe credit downgrades for B.C.
Yes, the NDP offered a social agenda, but could they avoid a spending spree that would create a credit crisis?
The B.C. Greens have officially become this province's kingmakers.
The answer to that hypothetical question now lies in the hands of the B.C. Greens as they contemplate whether to form a coalition government with the NDP or support Clark's Liberal minority. Weaver and his party are fiscal centrists; a balanced budget was a critical mandate of their fully costed platform, which received public endorsement from economist Lindsay Tedds. Nevertheless, Weaver remains an ardent progressive who fought to ban corporate and union donations, implement proportional representation and move the province toward a more sustainable vision of the future.
Many Liberal and Green voters, including those who rejected John Horgan's strategic voting appeals, did so to prevent a B.C. credit crisis. Thanks to a near-tie in seats between the other two parties, the B.C. Greens -- with just three MLAs -- now face a unique opportunity to shift the direction of the province. If election results hold true, the B.C. Greens have officially become this province's kingmakers. This offers a unique opportunity to negotiate budgets and limit spending by Horgan's NDP under a coalition government. As a result, the B.C. Greens could both meet their progressive goals and prevent a future credit crisis by forcing the NDP to pull back on spending targets.
As multiple ridings face recounts and the public awaits the results of absentee voters, the fate of B.C. hangs in the balance. If one more riding falls to the Liberals, they will continue to reign as a majority government. If current results continue to stand, however, a Green-NDP coalition could offer a unique blend of priorities and objectives that would shift this province's focus onto building affordability, ushering in the economy of the future, reducing corruption, cleaning up campaign finances and investing in education.
Only time will tell whether Horgan and Weaver can stomach each other enough to create a successful partnership.
B.C.'s workforce has also been challenged by changes in technology, automation and the impacts of globalization. A progressive government could reposition B.C. workers into jobs and business ventures that are better suited for our economy's rapidly changing environment. Tech-based infrastructure, workforce diversification and entrepreneurship development are especially needed to protect and prepare areas of B.C. that are dominated by single industries.
Only time will tell whether current election results stand and whether Horgan and Weaver can stomach each other enough to create a successful partnership. If either a minority Liberal government or NDP-Green coalition is in B.C.'s future, there is no way of predicting how long either would last. Given the history of minority governments, there is a high chance the province would return to the polls next year, and there is no way of knowing if another election would increase the appetite for change.
For now, all we can do is wait and see -- and if Weaver gets his way, at least the next election will be free of corporate and union donations.
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