Democracy in British Columbia 2017 : suddenly it’s very interesting

Jun 19th, 2017 | By Randall White | Category: In Brief

Beautiful girls on the Capilano suspension bridge in beautiful BC.

[UPDATED JUNE 20, 22]. Without a doubt the most interesting thing in Canadian politics right now is the continuing fallout from the May 9, 2017 provincial election in beautiful British Columbia on Canada’s Pacific coast.

To start with, make a strong mental note that 44 seats constitute the barest of majorities in BC’s 87-seat elected Legislative Assembly.

(And recall from high school, or wherever else you were once told about it, that having or being able to regularly find a majority in the popularly elected legislature or parliament, to support your program by passing crucial laws, is what government is finally all about in our kind of parliamentary democracy.)

Alas or otherwise, depending on your point of view, when all the ballots were finally and properly counted (and where necessary recounted, two weeks after the May 9 election day), the lovely Christy Clark’s previously governing Liberals won 43 seats with 40.36% of the province-wide popular vote — one seat shy of a bare majority.

John Horgan’s New Democrats won 41 seats with 40.28% of the popular vote — 3 seats shy of a bare majority. And (make another strong mental note here) Andrew Weaver’s Green party won 3 seats with 16.84% of the vote!

Beautiful (and soon-to-be former?) BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark on Parliament Hill in Ottawa with Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (who in an earlier career taught high school in BC, where his mother was born and raised), February 5, 2016.

For the time being Christy Clark’s Liberals — the party with the largest number of seats — have remained in office as the BC government.

For a short while after the election it also seemed that the easiest ultimate resolution of the challenging numbers would be for Andrew Weaver’s Green party to strike a deal with the Clark Liberals, that would give Premier Clark a “stable” governing majority of 43+3 = 46 seats.

It soon enough became clear, however, that the Greens were more interested in backing the more environment-friendly (and otherwise “progressive”?) New Democrats, to bring about a change at last from the Liberals who have been governing BC for the past 16 years. (Under the lovely Christy Clark, and then before that Gordon Campbell.)

On this scenario a new minority government will have NDP leader John Horgan as premier, in partnership with Andrew Weaver’s Greens, and with a 41+3 = 44-seat bare governing majority in the legislature. (As some advocates have also stressed, this NDP-Green government will represent 40.28% + 16.84% = 57.12% of the province-wide popular vote in the May 9 election.)

NDP leader John Horgan (r) and Green party leader Andrew Weaver (l) sign their agreement for government of BC, May 30, 2017.

A written document to this effect has been drawn up and signed by both Mr. Horgan for the New Democrats and Mr. Weaver for the Greens. On the weight of this evidence even Premier Clark has seemed to accept that her now-43-seat Liberal government’s days are numbered.

Back on June 7 Premier Clark “recalled the legislature for June 22 to test the confidence of the house in her government … Clark said last week that she fully expects to go down in defeat at the hands of the NDP and Greens.”

Now the new BC legislature will report for work this coming Thursday — only a day or two hence as I write. It will no doubt take a few more days for a suitable opportunity to test the Assembly’s confidence in Premier Clark’s government to arise. But the NDP-Green takeover scenario appears intact, except that there apparently remains one still-to-be-resolved fly in the ointment. Well … maybe make that two

UPDATE JUNE 20 : See “BC wants Christy Clark to accept defeat, new poll suggests … Angus Reid poll finds 71% surveyed don’t want another election,” Mike Laanela, CBC News. Dr W comments : “Cynics will just say voters never want another election so soon after the last one. But then when it happens almost no one complains.”

UPDATE JUNE 22 : For an account of what happened when the Legislative Assembly returned today, see Rob Shaw’s report in the Vancouver Sun : “BC legislature resumes, MLAs elect Liberal Steve Thomson as Speaker.” But don’t think this headline means the Liberals have resolved the now famous NDP-Green alliance Speaker issue (click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below) by doing some altruistic, crazily public-spirited thing at last.

As Mr.Shaw explains : “if the NDP-Green alliance defeats Clark’s throne speech on a confidence vote next week, it’s expected the Liberal Speaker will resign and force the NDP to elect someone to the position … That would leave both parties deadlocked at 43 votes each, and force the previously non-partisan Speaker to cast the deciding vote on virtually all motions and bills. That is ‘uncharted territory’ for a legislature or parliament, say experts.” We should all clearly be staying tuned …

New kind of Speaker and/or new election?

One apparently still-to-be-resolved fly in the ointment concerns filling the essential position of Speaker of the Assembly — a feature of “Westminster” parliamentary government that “can be traced back in England at least to the 14th century.”

The Speaker must be a member of the Assembly, and the NDP-Green alliance would like Christy Clark’s Liberals to provide such a member from their contingent of 43. If the alliance itself has to provide one that could effectively deprive it of a crucial vote in the Assembly — following the convention that “Canadian Speakers have increasingly withdrawn from partisan activity,” and “may vote only in case of a tie.”

Up to the present moment, as best as I can make out at any rate, the Clark Liberals have only stressed their unwillingness to help their new NDP-Green governing rivals out in this way.

(See, eg : “Martyn Brown: Winning the public relations battle over the speaker stalemate in BC” ; and “Mike Smyth: For the third time, No! I won’t be Speaker, says Liberal MLA.”)

It does seem to me (as someone the University of Toronto once made the mistake of awarding a PhD in political science, with a specialization in Canadian government and politics) that our parliamentary democratic constitutional conventions in these matters are flexible enough to allow for a somewhat more partisan NDP Speaker for BC in these particular circumstances — committed to preserving the government by voting with it in 43-43 ties.

Yet not everyone appears happy about this option. Moreover, even if this is what finally happens, the NDP-Green alliance, with a bare 44-seat majority in an 87-seat legislature, may soon enough prove not very stable at all.

(See, eg : “Philippe Lagassé, a Carleton University professor who studies our parliamentary system, said a new election is likely to be called soon, simply because the proposed NDP/Green alliance is so fragile.” And : “Why British Columbia should hold another election—right away,” by UBC political science professor David Moscrop — “With drama over the Speaker’s chair, it’s clear this BC legislature is doomed—so let’s get on with sorting it out at the ballot box.”)

In 2012 MSN Travel ranked Vancouver women “sixth most beautiful in the world,” especially noted for their “ bum-hugging yoga pants.”

All of which just adds to the continuing fascination and mystery of the continuing fallout from the May 9, 2017 provincial election in beautiful British Columbia on Canada’s Pacific coast.

And the next chapter in this gripping drama will begin this coming Thursday, when the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia meets for the first time in beautiful downtown Victoria on Vancouver Island — and starts trying to make sense of the challenging numbers the members have been presented with by the free and democratic people of Canada ‘s Pacific coast (well… and various parts of the Rocky Mountains and rugged BC interior too).

Back here in Ontario, some of us will be sitting on the edges of our seats …

Part of what appears to be going on has a few (if hardly at all exact) similarities with what happened in Ontario in 1985 — when a Liberal-NDP alliance voted no confidence in Frank Miller’s Progressive Conservative minority government, and finally put an end to 42 years of uninterrupted PC rule in Canada’s most populous province.

At some other end of things, what’s going on in BC this week and next is no doubt also being carefully scrutinized by more than a few attentive observers north of the Great Lakes, for hints about what may or may not happen in the next Ontario provincial election just under a year from now on June 7, 2018.

BC election 2017 : preliminary chronology (& other sources in the news)

MAY 9 — British Columbia general election, 2017 :  From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

MAY 11 — BC Election : Absentee Ballots Could Change The Final Outcome. The Canadian Press. (“‘This is the most exciting British Columbia election, certainly in modern history, maybe even in history,’’ said David Moscrop, a University of British Columbia political scientist.”)

MAY 14 — BC Election : Recounts In 2 Ridings Could Swing Outcome. The Canadian Press.

Beautiful Pamela Anderson from beautiful BC, in her youth.

MAY 16 — NDP Leader Horgan rejects Liberal Leader Christy Clark’s collaboration overtures.   Rob Shaw, Vancouver Sun.

MAY 29 — BC Green Party agrees to support NDP in the legislature. Justin McElroy, CBC News.

MAY 30 — BC Election : Greens to support NDP in four-year government deal. Rob Shaw, Vancouver Sun.

JUNE 5 — Why British Columbia should hold another election—right away. David Moscrop, Maclean’s. (“With drama over the Speaker’s chair, it’s clear this BC legislature is doomed—so let’s get on with sorting it out at the ballot box.”)

JUNE 5 — Why the BC Liberals should suck it up and offer a Speaker.  Jason Markusoff, Maclean’s. (“Voters have decided how they want the assembly divided. Why undermine the tradition of a non-partisan Speaker?”)

JUNE 7 — BC legislature returns on June 22; Liberals face defeat. Lindsay Kines, Victoria Times Colonist.

JUNE 8 — Martyn Brown: Anticipating BC’s ultimate knock-knock joke. The Georgia Straight. (“It’s quite a pickle we’ve gotten ourselves into, British Columbia: electing a house with potentially no speaker home, including the most sensible choice, former speaker and BC Liberal MLA Linda Reid.”)

JUNE 14 — Mike Smyth: There could be trouble brewing in NDP-Green paradise. The Province, Vancouver.

JUNE 14 — Vaughn Palmer: Horgan downplays ‘division’ with ‘gabby’ Weaver.  Vancouver Sun. (“That still left the question of how the New Democrats would swing the Speaker when the power-sharing agreement kicks in, as expected, next month.”)

JUNE 15 — Martyn Brown: Winning the public relations battle over the speaker stalemate in BC. The Georgia Straight.

Mounties on the Capilano suspension bridge in beautiful BC, apparently to help celebrate Canada 150.

JUNE 18 — Will there be another election? Everything you need to know about what’s going on in BC politics. Stuart Thomson, Vancouver Sun. (“Philippe Lagassé, a Carleton University professor who studies our parliamentary system, said a new election is likely to be called soon, simply because the proposed NDP/Green alliance is so fragile.”)

JUNE 18 — Mike Smyth: For the third time, No! I won’t be Speaker, says Liberal MLA. The Province, Vancouver. (“Columnist Mike Smyth writes about NDP-Green attempts to lure Liberal MLA Darryl Plecas to be Speaker.”)

JUNE 18/19 — Christy Clark to focus on social reforms in BC throne speech. The Province, Vancouver / Rob Shaw, Vancouver Sun. (“Clark’s Liberals were sharply criticized during the spring election campaign for not offering more support for social programs to help the province’s most vulnerable … an alliance of NDP and Green MLAs has a one-vote advantage over Clark’s Liberals, and has signalled it will vote down the throne speech the following week, forcing Clark to resign as premier and toppling her government.”)

The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons. Parliament of Canada.

Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.

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