Columnist Mike Smyth writes about the latest in B.C.’s political drama.
If you think B.C.’s political game of thrones has been wild and crazy to this point, you better brace yourselves: this week’s endgame promises to be the wildest yet.
On Monday, the opposition NDP-Green alliance will make its first official attempt to dislodge Premier Christy Clark from power and end 16 years of Liberal rule in B.C.
They’ll do that by trying to call an immediate non-confidence vote against the minority government, something that will only be allowed with the unanimous consent of all MLAs in the 87-seat legislature.
Just one problem: Clark is refusing to go gently into the night. Instead, she’s raging against the forces of doom closing in on her government.
Watch for the Liberals to refuse to provide that unanimous consent. Instead of signing their own summary execution order, it appears the Liberals will stretch things out and fight until the bitter end.
That would force the NDP-Green tag team to go through a lengthier process of providing formal notice of a non-confidence motion, triggering a debate and vote that will likely take place this Thursday, June 29.
That’s the date the Clark government would probably be defeated — 16 years, one month and 13 days after the 2001 election that marked the beginning of the Liberal dynasty.
What would happen next? Things will just get crazier, of course. But with so many variables, it’s impossible to predict with certainty how anything will unfold. Just consider:
THE CLONE SPEECH: Starting on Monday, MLAs will debate the Liberal government’s throne speech, which turned into a clone speech last week after Clark copy-catted a long list of NDP and Green policies she previously ridiculed and scorned.
Clark and the Liberals suddenly supported increasing the carbon tax, eliminating bridge tolls, spending $1 billion on a “low- or no-cost” child care program, hiking welfare rates, banning corporate and union donations to political parties and many other core NDP principles.
Why would Clark suddenly offer a near-blanket endorsement of the NDP election platform? She said she is trying to persuade at least one NDP or Green MLA to betray their own parties and vote with the Liberals.
If that happened, Clark would narrowly survive in power. But I’d say there’s a better chance of Donald Trump naming Hillary Clinton as his attorney general than of any NDP or Green switching sides to Clark.
LIBERAL LEGISLATION: As debate on the clone speech continues, there’s a chance the Liberals could introduce legislation, including a bill to immediately ban those corporate and union donations to political parties.
Green party Leader Andrew Weaver said he might support that bill, which would set up the bizarre scenario of the Greens backing Liberal legislation before voting to kick the Liberals out of office.
This would be embarrassing for Horgan, the NDP leader, especially if the Liberal bill specifically bans so called “in-kind” donations from unions to political parties. (In the last election, it was revealed the Steelworkers Union was paying the salaries of key NDP campaign officials.)
But I think it would help the NDP-Green alliance to disagree on some issues. If the public sees one partner in the alliance exercising a watchdog role on the other, an NDP-Green government could prove more appealing to voters.
SPEAKER FOR A WEEK: The new Speaker of the legislature is former Liberal cabinet minister Steve Thomson, one of the most respected Liberal MLAs in the house.
NDP leader John Horgan praised Thomson as “a quality guy of the highest integrity” and said he hopes the Kelowna MLA serves as Speaker for “years”.
Fat chance. With the party standings in the legislature so close — 44 seats for the NDP-Green alliance versus 43 for the Liberals — no party wants to give up one of their own MLAs to be the Speaker, who only votes to break a tie.
Thomson was asked if he will quit if the Clark government is defeated on that non-confidence motion and the NDP takes over. “It’s the government that identifies a Speaker,” he said.
Translation: He could be the shortest-serving Speaker in B.C. history.
NUMBERS GAME: If Christy Clark and her Liberals go down to defeat this week, as expected, that Speaker’s job becomes critical.
That’s because after Thomson quits, the NDP will be forced put up one of their own MLAs as the Speaker if Horgan becomes premier.
That will drop the party standings in the legislature into a 43-43 deadlock, with the “non-partisan” Speaker voting to break tie after tie.
And there are other problems: During the committee stage of bills, the Speaker leaves the legislative chamber and the Deputy Speaker takes over, which would eliminate the NDP-Green majority. So the NDP will have to re-write the time-honoured procedural rules of the legislature.
“We can make this work,” Horgan insisted. But others are not as convinced.
THE LAST WORD: The person who will have the final say on who wins this game of thrones is Judith Guichon, the lieutenant-governor.
Many constitutional experts say if the Clark government is defeated, Guichon will be duty-bound to invite the NDP to form a new government, with backing from the Greens and Horgan as the premier.
Others — like former Liberal attorney-general Geoff Plant — argue the prospect of the “non-partisan” Speaker constantly voting to keep the government in power will be enough to convince Guichon that a snap election call is a better option.
Personally, I think Horgan should be allowed a chance to govern, even though the numbers are as close as they can possibly be.
“A majority is a majority,” Horgan said.
He could become premier within days. Then another chapter of B.C.’s wildest-ever political drama will begin.