Why British Columbia should hold another election—right away - Macleans.ca

Why British Columbia should hold another election—right away

With drama over the Speaker’s chair, it’s clear this B.C. legislature is doomed—so let’s get on with sorting it out at the ballot box

A cleaner readies the Legislative Assembly at the Legislature in Victoria on February 14, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

A cleaner readies the Legislative Assembly at the Legislature in Victoria on February 14, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

In May, not even a month ago, British Columbians took to the polls to elect 43 Liberals, 41 New Democrats, and three Greens. The governing Liberals managed a slight seat plurality with 40.36 per cent of the vote, while the NDP took in 40.28 per cent. Weeks after the vote, we’re still unsure who will govern the province after the legislature meets, most likely, this month. What fun!

To govern in the Westminster system, a premier or prime minister must command the confidence of the legislature—that is, they must have enough members onside to support their agenda and supply them with money to run the government, pay for programs, and so forth. While Premier Christy Clark currently has the most seats, the NDP and the Greens have struck a deal that would, in theory, allow NDP leader John Horgan to have enough support in the legislature to govern. First, though, he and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver need to bring down the government, since Clark refuses to resign. As the sitting premier, Clark gets a chance to test the confidence of the legislature, and she continues to govern until she resigns or loses a confidence vote in that legislature.

Here’s where things get tricky.

Someone needs to serve as Speaker of the legislature. Indeed, the body cannot function without a Speaker. And while the governing party typically provides a name, the Liberals have indicated they won’t put one forward this time around, and they don’t have to. That means that it’s up to the NDP and Greens to do so. However, if they do, they would have to instruct their Speaker to break with centuries of practice and vote to bring down the government when Clark presents her throne speech.

That means we are now in a situation in which one of the following must happen: the Liberals decide to bite the bullet and put forward a Speaker, the government falls, and the NDP and Greens have a go at governing (doubt it); the NDP and Greens put forward a Speaker to break tradition and turf the government, they go on to turn the Speaker into a partisan tool for months (could happen, but really shouldn’t); no one puts forward a Speaker, and we head back to an election (fun fact: this happened in Newfoundland in 1908).

So, as much as I love the summer—the beach reads, the patio drinks, the endless sunburns—British Columbians deserve another election, right away, in order to sort out the mess that they and the parties have made.

COUNTERPOINT: Why the B.C. Liberals should suck it up and offer a Speaker

This may be an unpopular argument, but after all, as Andrew Coyne has pointed out, the Liberals are under no obligation to support their opponents by offering a Speaker and facilitating an NDP government supported by the Greens. And he’s right. In an adversarial, partisan system, while parties may agree to cooperate, they certainly don’t have to, and plenty of their supporters don’t want them to. The Liberals get nothing from helping the NDP, other than the satisfaction of doing what some see to be the “right” and “reasonable” thing—but that doesn’t warm the benches on the opposition side. For their part, the NDP may go full-metal partisan themselves. “Getting strong feeling BC NDP intend to resolve impasse by turning Speaker into a partisan,” Coyne said on Twitter. “There should be hell to pay if they try.”

The role of the Speaker is to impartially manage proceedings in the legislature and, if necessary, to vote in the case of a tie (typically to continue to debate, or preserve the status quo, though Speakers do vote with the government on confidence matters). Given the deadlock, political scientist Emmett Macfarlane concluded on Twitter, “If the BC legislature can’t resolve itself, a [second] election is preferable to a lot of alternatives, like damaging the institution itself.”

So, our options right now seem to boil down to a partisan Speaker who may damage the credibility of the legislature while setting a questionable precedent in political hackery, or an inconvenient election.

On top of that, if the NDP and Greens do have a chance to govern and put forward an MLA from their side for Speaker, the legislature would be split 43-43 between them and the Liberals, with the Speaker breaking ties on the regular. That means that each day could by the government’s last—so the province would be in for months of instability (not necessarily because it would be a minority government, but because it would be such a razor-thin one). As the National Post’s Tristin Hopper put it: “An MLA with diarrhea could topple the government.”

His may be an ever-so-slightly too fine a point, but he’s right—and the same is true of one who misses a plane, sleeps in, decides to see their kid play hockey instead of attend a vote, dies, etc. In short: this legislature is doomed to fail, either by tainting an ancient institution or by collapsing in on itself like a dying star. And, in the meantime, we’re all stuck in limbo, waiting, guessing, wondering—the instability and unpredictability is unhelpful, to say the least. So, rather than risk the deleterious consequences of either, let’s skip ahead and get right to the election that’s likely coming in a year and a half or so, anyway. What’s a few weeks of democratically valuable hassle against months or years of uncertainty and potential damage to a central democratic institution?

In our democracy, the people are the ultimate arbiters of who gets to govern insofar as they elect the members of the legislature who get to determine who the premier will be. But it’s unclear where the popular will lies. In the current situation, the Liberals have tried to argue that the popular will is for them to govern (“We won the most seats, we won the most votes”); meanwhile, the NDP and the Greens have done the same (“Well, no, when you add us together, we won the most seats and the most votes; also, we can command confidence! We think. For a bit, anyway”).

MORE: How the B.C. Liberals squandered their shot to keep power

Besides, the popular will is hard to discern, anyway. We like to imagine that the people speak as one, but they almost never do. Folks vote for all kinds of different reasons, and there’s no guarantee that an election held on a Tuesday instead of the following Thursday wouldn’t produce different results; we’re a fickle and funny bunch. When votes are particularly close, like in the current situation in B.C., the popular will is even harder to know. Of course, we must respect the results of the election (as we should respect the NDP/Green deal, if they can make it work without damaging the reputation of the speakership), but we shouldn’t try to conclude too much from them, other than the fact that the province, on May 9, was deeply divided.

And yet, here we are. A deeply divided province, an election that was nearly a tie, a B.C. Liberal Party that has no reason to support its opponents, an NDP and Green Party that has little hope of much of a tenure in office, a legislature that may quickly become unworkable, a Speaker’s chair that risks being tarnished as a partisan seat, and a beautiful summer ahead of us that could be partially sacrificed so that British Columbia can enjoy a coherent, stable, and effective legislature and government for the moment and for the future.

So, let’s have an election. Then we can all go to the beach.


Why British Columbia should hold another election—right away

  1. It’s “interesting” that Clark insists on remaining in office as premier, until procedurally forced to step aside, but will not be joining other provincial leaders this week on a critical lobbying trip to Washington.

    The so-called premier of Canada’s largest softwood lumber province can’t be bothered to participate in meetings specifically designed to fight back against US trade barriers like tariffs and dumping duties on lumber?

    Truly, a pathetic political hack.

    • Clark could go on the Washington trip, but that would just invariably delay the recall of the Legislature for the election of the Speaker, and the Speech from the Throne, and delay the new NDP/Green coalition government.

      Plus, she is saving the planet by not making an airplane flight.

      • It was a 3-day trip, ending June 8. The Queen Christy has called the legislature back for June 22. That’s a two-week gap.

        Oh well, why set the BC forest industry as a priority …

  2. No surprise that a right wing publication would call for another election since the “Liberals” (that’s a lie, by the way) have lots of money from corporate donors and wealthy individuals, in whose sole interests they have governed for 16 years. If ever there was a province in desperate need of change, it’s B.C. today and it should have been four years ago.

    What should really happen is a second ballot for every riding in which no candidate received a majority of votes, with the top two finishers squaring off. Then the “Liberals” chances of winning due to a split of the progressive vote would be zero. This is what people should be demanding.

  3. I noticed you don’t mention that these comments are moderated (screened before publication on your website). Do you only publish the ones you like or agree with, and is this something you would prefer people didn’t know about?

    • What did the editors/moderators say when you asked this question?

      You did, of course, ask them first before posting – right?

      I mean, any sensible adult would do that – right?

  4. British Columbia Liberal Crisis!
    My Worldwide Brothers and Sisters please give your warm hands!

    Asking all Worldwide Liberal believes people help please!

    Asking all Canada Stayed home Liberal supporters please standing up shoulder by shoulder with us fighting the evil for the Faith of Liberal ( LOYALTY COURAGE CONFIDENCE)!

    Asking all British Columbia stayed home Liberal supporters please go to Vote Liberal in an new election which will be initialed in next following months of 2017 in British Columbia.(Election BC is recommended that sending the voting package to all residents home to avoid any further missed votes).


    We will standing shoulder by shoulder with Justin Treduea during the crisis of BC Liberal!

    We will standing up shoulder by shoulder with Liberal fighting against evil against those economic Hacker politicians & parties for this beautiful country with the faith of Liberal (LOYALTY, COURAGE, CONFIDENCE)! 

    We are going to dismissal the unfairly elected house; dismissal the proposed NDP&Green government.

    We are going to initiate an new election in British Columbia.

    Message to those Stayed home Liberal Supporters:

    BC Liberal Crisis!
    Asking all worldwide Liberal believes people supports!!

    I’m the Son of the Almighty Father, I am fighting for evil in the name of the Almighty Father, in Catholic, for the Faith (LOYALTY COURAGE CONFIDENCE)!

    Two man was hidden in a dark room making secret deal done malicious things on a woman on Liberal party, I don’t accept that!

    Stayed home Liberal Supporters!

    ” Where’s your guys loyalty gone? Your guys stayed home watching hockey game enjoying pizza and didn’t vote liberal on May 9 didn’t full fill your obligation of being loyalty to your party? Why?? I shame on your guys, and Justin Trudeaur shame on your guys.
    Didn’t you know your guys missed votes might have been made up 44 seats for Liberal?

    Liberal gives your children $10000(Fed Liberal+BC Liberal) grants tuition fee. Now, lower incoming parents could afford their children make their children a better future.

    Liberal helped thousands and thousands of your parents coming to Canada.

    Liberal helped thousands and thousands International students staying Canada after graduation.

    Liberal is the only Party respects Multiculturalism established Canada’s first ever gender balanced cabinet.

    Liberal is the only Party introduced New Canada child benefits gives your children more money lifts almost 300,000 children out of poverty.

    Liberal is the only Party lowered taxes for middle classes, benefiting about 9 million Canadians each year.

    Liberal introduced Pan-Canadian plan for pricing carbon pollution which is a crucial step toward reducing emissions, spurring innovation, and creating well-paying jobs, while protecting our air and water for our children and grandchildren.

    Liberal reinstated the long-form census that Canada’s long-form census makes it possible to include evidence-based decision making and reliable data in national policy creation. With a 98.4% response rate, Stats Canada experienced its “best census ever.”

    Liberal revitalized federal ocean science programs hiring of 135 new aquatic scientists and new research partnerships is an important part of protecting Canada’s oceans, waterways, and fisheries.

    Liberal continues to put Canada’s environment first by ensuring broad ecological protection of Rouge National Urban Park.

    Liberal is strengthening the Canada Pension Plan achieving an agreement in principle with provinces and territories to strengthen the CPP is a powerful step toward helping Canadians have a strong, secure and stable retirement.

    Liberal returned the eligibility age back to 65 for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income.

    Liberal Increased Guaranteed Income Supplement payments for single seniors.

    Liberal introduced new funding for women’s shelters.

    Liberal added $120 billion investment in infrastructure over 10 years helping strengthen Canadian communities growing the economy.

    Liberal launched National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.  

    Liberal Increased funding for Nutrition North Canadian families living in isolated communities.

    Liberal ambitious new immigration plan places an increased effort on uniting families more quickly and easily once they arrive in Canada.

    Liberal Legalized medical assistance in dying(Bill C-14).

    Liberal Re-opened the Kitsilano Coast Guard Vancouver, BC.

    Liberal is adding $2.6 billion helping every First Nations child receives a quality education.

    Liberal Increased Canada Student Grants by 50% .

    Liberal rejuvenated Canada’s presence on the world stage, re-engaging in international policy and supporting global efforts.

    Liberal signed Paris Climate Change Agreement fighting the Global warming threats.

    Liberal enhanced Services for Veterans.

    Liberal created thousands and thousands jobs opportunity for British Columbia.

    Liberal is adding 500 beds in long term Health care facilities.

    Liberal is improving the scope of practice of health care.

    Liberal is helping thousands and thousands seniors to stay home independently.

    Liberal is planning $165 million in younth health care.

    Liberal is planning $2.7 billion towards new hospitals.

    Liberal is freezing all personal income taxes.

    Liberal is cutting small business taxes by 2%.

    Liberal is planning billion dollars in middle classes tax cutting.

    Liberal is adding 13000 new child care spaces.

    Liberal is funding enrollment growth.

    Liberal is expending & adding $10 million in students text book  tuition fee saving program.

    Liberal is matching the federal government $2.2 billion in improving Metro Vancouver public transportation.

    Liberal is building George Masse replacement bridge.

    Liberal is fighting for thousands and thousands middle class people.

    Liberal is bringing ridesharing to BC

    Liberal introduced New Carsharing Tax Credit

    Liberal is investing in transportation around the province

    Liberal is creating Green Clean Engergy source for next generation.

    Liberal is moving forward with LNG.

    Liberal added skills learning program into school preparing kids for future job seeking.

    Liberal is expanding Buy Local and Grow Local.

    Liberal is helping the middle class buying homes.

    Liberal ensures Responsible development of oil and gas.

    Liberal is adding $333 million to keep BC Transit moving.

    Liberal created One stop shop for post-secondary student applications.

    Liberal is providing farmers with an incentive to grow more made-in-B.C.

    Liberal is reviewing the funding formula for school district.

    Liberal is adding funds for parks and new campsites

    Liberal is phasing out PST on electricity for all businesses.

    Liberal is funding teacher retention in rural communities

    Liberal Stands up for B.C. on softwood.

    Liberal is building more for Rural Dividend & 100% high speed connectivity.

    Liberal is adding 5,500 more hip and knee replacement surgeries.

    Liberal is protecting communities with Guns & Gangs Strategy.

    Liberal is improving procurement for B.C. tech.

    Liberal is increasing the tax credit for charitable donations.

    Liberal ensures negotiating fair, affordable, long-term contracts.

    Liberal is maintaining the carbon tax freeze.

    Liberal is introducing new LIFT program to help working single parents.

    Liberal is growing the agrifood and seafood sectors on Vancouver Island.

    Liberal is doing Reconciliation and economic development with B.C. First Nations.

    Liberal is introducing BC Ferries tax credit and loyalty program.

    Liberal is building more Island roads, highways, airports, and passenger ferries.

    Liberal Stands up for B.C. with the five conditions to protect our coastline.

    Liberal Increasing Victoria cruise ship opportunities.
    “(References: Federal Liberal & BC Liberal Website.)

    People helped you. You should say thanks instead of Stabbing him/her in the back. I totally shame on your guys!

    See! how idiot consequences we are getting now just because your guys didn’t vote!

    I admire the courage of my premier. She is a woman, she just a woman, but, she’s not afraid that two man was hidden in a dark room making secret deal done malicious things on her and her party. And now, she is standing shoulder by shoulder with liberal fighting for the evil.

    So, May I ask your guys:”

    Let’s standing up shoulder by shoulder with Liberal fighting back for the evil, for the piece of shit!

    The NDP&Green wants fight. So let’s fight. Let’s dismissal the house. Let’s dismissal the proposed NDP&Green government. Let’s initial an new election. We need to let the Green know what is the meaning of BETRAY! We are for sure that we will win more than 44 seats in the new election because we have too much stayed home Liberal Supporters!!!”

    I don’t have money, if I have I would join the new election I would beat the opposite myself.

    Liberal Supporters!
    In this most difficult time;
    A friend in need is a friend indeed!

    It’s time to gathering your guys heart together!
    It’s time for us asking FORGIVENESS!

    It’s time for us gathering together standing shoulder by shoulder to fight back.
    Please don’t look at the results. Please just look at the faith of Liberal (LOYALTY, COURAGE, CONFIDENCE )!

    Disclaimer: This article represents my personal opinion only. I’m telling the public the truth in the name of the Almighty Father that Liberal did helped people in lots of things more than other Parties. People should appreciate the one who ever helped you!!!

    IN June, 2017 9:53 AM, “Yien Fay”

  5. Oh my … such an annoying meme: the knowing scribe telling everyone else what they must do and then, out of benign omniscience, rewriting the rules of government. Much of the article assumes that sitting governments do nothing but engage in confidence votes and also that only majority governments can exist; many Canadians might disagree on that latter point and some have even held that minority governments have in the past been the best of all worlds; apparently minority governments in Canada have an average lifetime of 479 days. The supposition that Greens could be a good fit with the NDPs labor before ecology attitude; it’s just as likely they could get on board with small ‘l’ liberalism. The author is even wrong about a government needing the confidence of the majority of the house: as we have frequently seen, a selected number of abstentions is just as effective. Asking the public to rethink their vote, as the author does, is anti-democratic.

  6. “NDP and Greens have a go at governing (doubt it)”

    Again, this highlights the problems with our political system. The NDP and Greens gathered almost 60% of the popular vote, but apparently that means nothing.