It’s rare for a government to be brought down by a vote in the Legislature only a few weeks after a general election.
The question is, what’s next for BC after the BC Liberals are defeated by the combined votes of NDP and Greens on a non-confidence vote?
Moments like this are when the Lieutenant Governor ceases to be a figurehead and becomes instead a decision-maker. Her Honour has only two options, both of which are constitutionally legitimate: Call on NDP leader John Horgan to try to form a government, or dissolve the House and call an election.
Mr. Horgan says he should be asked to form a government because he has an agreement with Green Party leader Andrew Weaver that will allow him to govern with a majority in the House. Except it won’t.
Even if the agreement holds, the arithmetic simply doesn’t work. Once an NDP Speaker is elected, there will be 43 MLAs on each side of the House. Day after day, every vote will be a tie. And while the Speaker has a casting vote, it cannot be cast for partisan purposes without irretrievably compromising the integrity of that office.
When bills come before the House for a final vote, the Speaker cannot create a majority. The result is that government bills will routinely be defeated. That’s not just a recipe for uncertainty, it’s a nightmare version of a never-ending Goundhog Day.
The NDP say they have a plan for how their arrangement can work, but so far that plan is a secret. It’s hard to see how that secrecy will instill confidence in the Lieutenant Governor, who has a decision to make.
This is not about arcane rules of House procedure. It’s about the ability to govern, which means the ability to get things done. The NDP, who finished second in the election last month, have made a deal with the Greens that allows them to topple governments, but not to govern.
In the circumstances, the better course is surely to let the people decide. It’s no longer a question of asking everyone to work for common ground; when the Greens won’t even allow debate on a measure to grant them party status, it’s plain that there’s no appetite for compromise.
Last week the BC Liberals made a massive shift in the direction of NDP and Green policy preferences; it was widely criticized, but it did at least offer the possibility of stable government. That initiative has now been rejected in the House. Deadlock is not an acceptable option. When there is no party capable of controlling the Legislature there has to be an election. The sooner the better.
Geoffrey Plant is a former attorney general in Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government and oversaw the creation of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.