B.C. Premier Christy Clark has effectively just advised Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon to call an election.
Of course, she didn’t couch it in those terms.
But at a surprise end-of-day news conference on Wednesday, the Premier told reporters that if asked by Ms. Guichon, she will tell the Lieutenant-Governor she doesn’t think the legislature can function as is.
Ms. Clark said she didn’t consider that giving advice, something she has said she will not do. But honestly, what else would you call it?
She also said she would not offer that view unsolicited. But that’s silly.
Ms. Guichon does not live in a bubble. She is certainly aware of the public discussion taking place around the future of the legislature and she will certainly be aware of the Premier’s comments.
She now knows where Ms. Clark stands on the crucial question of whether she thinks the legislature can be viable under an NDP government.
And the answer is a resounding no.
It was yet another bizarre twist in the drama that has enveloped B.C.’s political scene since the May 9 election ended in a hung parliament. But the New Democratic Party, with the help of three Green MLAs, are planning to defeat the government in a vote of confidence on Thursday and take office.
They may not get the chance now.
The Premier said she based her view on the fact the NDP and the Greens have shown no interest in working collaboratively with the Liberals to bring in new legislation such as campaign-finance reform. Why would they? Would the Liberals work to keep the NDP in power if the roles were reversed? Of course they wouldn’t.
The whole situation is politically fraught. Just ahead of the Premier’s news conference, the Office of the Speaker issued its response to questions from Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong on the role of the Speaker in a tight parliament. The only way the NDP and Greens could govern is by having an NDP-appointed Speaker break ties in a 43-43 legislature.
Obviously, the Speaker is going to vote in favour of the government’s legislation, thereby opening him or her up to charges of partisan favouritism. In his response, Speaker Steve Thomson, a Liberal cabinet minister until last week, said the “principle of impartiality” of the Speaker is well established in Commonwealth parliamentary institutions based on the Westminster model.
But he said he refused to be drawn in to the potential scenario that would emerge under an NDP government: “… it is important that the Speaker does not provide a formal or public ruling on any hypothetical or abstract situation.”
Okay, so he doesn’t want to speak specifically to the situation that could emerge this week, but he’s saying the Speaker should be an “impartial” overseer of the legislature, not a partisan tool.
Again, this constitutes an opinion that the Lieutenant-Governor would now also be aware of.
Where once it seemed difficult to fathom Ms. Guichon not giving the NDP a chance to govern, it’s now difficult imagining her ignoring the advice of Ms. Clark and the Speaker’s Office.
Ms. Clark has said repeatedly that British Columbians do not want an election. She is absolutely right about that. The question will be: Whom will the public blame when an election is called?
Ms. Clark is going to try to lay it on the NDP and the Greens, and suggest it is their fault. They had a chance to work with the Liberals to bring in legislation they support. They made the legislature a non-functioning mess, forcing the Lieutenant-Governor to call an election.
Whether the public buys that spin remains to be seen.
The eyes of the province, and country, now turn on Ms. Guichon. If she doesn’t give the NDP a chance to govern with a one-seat majority, something that has managed to work elsewhere in Canada for as many as three years, she will face enormous criticism.
She will be seen as coming down on the side of a government that wants an election, rather than relinquish power. The stakes couldn’t be any higher.