Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Where things go now in BC

We are in a unique situation in Canadian political history.   There are only a couple of examples I know of where the government was reduced to a large minority or a bare majority.
  • Ontario 1985 - the PCs won 52 seats, the Liberals 48 and NDP 25.   The Liberals and NDP cut a deal and replaced the PC government after it was defeated on a vote of non-confidence.  With the change in government the Liberals provided the speaker and the PC speaker resigned.
  • Saskatchwan 1999 - NDP won 29 seats, the Sask Party 25 and Liberals 4.  The NDP government continued in a coalition with the Liberals with a Liberal being the speaker.
  • New Brunswick 2003 - PCs 28, Liberals 26 and NDP 1.   With the speaker the numbers were tied in the house but the Liberals decided to let the the PC government continue to rule.
  • Ontario 2011 the Liberals won 53, PCs 37 and NDP 17.   A PC member almost ran to be speaker until it was pointed out to him this would allow the Liberals to govern as if they had a majority.  The government lasted 32 months as a typical minority.
Only in the Ontario situation, where the opposition clearly had many more seats than the government, did the government change.   Interestingly in 1975 the Ontario PCs were reelected with a minority but the Liberals and NDP could not come to a deal to replace the government.

We had our election on May 9th but did not have the final results until May 24th which is the day I am starting on.

May 24th - election results are completed
May 25th to May 28th the Greens negotiate on who they will support
May 29th - NDP announces they have come to an agreement with the Greens
May 30th - 1:30 pm Christy Clark addressed the province and said she would meet the legislature in June
May 30th - 2:00 NDP and Greens sign their deal - this is many ways is the functional end of the 2017 election

June 22nd - Legislature returns and Throne Speech is read.   Is this a reasonable time to meet the legislature?  I would argue yes.   We are only talking just over three weeks between the end of the election process and the Throne Speech.  In Canadian terms this is relatively fast.   It is only a few days longer than it took in Ontario in 1985.

When will we get a vote of confidence in the government?   If every member spoke as long as they were allowed the vote would take place on July 5th or 6th.   The soonest the vote could happen is on the afternoon of June 29th.

Let us say the vote is on June 29th and the government is defeated.   Christy Clark would then resign and the Lieutenant Governor can call on John Horgan to try and form a government.   Horgan would most likely be sworn in on Friday July 7th.  

John Horgan said he would meet the legislature within a month of being sworn in which would be most likely Tuesday August 8th with a vote on August 16th or 17th on confidence in the government.   This would be the first vote of the NDP speaker to keep the government in power - yes, it will be an NDP Speaker.   The house will be tied 43 to 43 with the speaker as the 87th member.

The Speaker of the House votes only if there is a tie.  They vote for confidence in the government but against any new laws or amendment of the laws.    This is not only the convention but is alluded to in the law in Section 43 of the BC Constitution.

The problem at this point is how does the NDP manage to pass any laws when the house is tied?   The conventions that guide how the speaker votes is not one that works well for a new government trying to do anything.   Unless the Liberals agree, the NDP would not be able to pass any laws or even change the standing orders of the Legislature.

I assume the NDP would try to bring forward a budget in mid to late August.   What this budget would look like on final reading is very much in question.   During the committee stage, the point at which any bill is considered clause by clause, the Speaker does not take part and the government provides a chair who does not vote.    This means during the committee stage the NDP would have 39 votes, the Greens 3 and Liberals 43.   The Liberals would have a majority and could amend the bills as they like.   This means the Liberals could alter the NDP budget, though there are limits within the standing orders to how far the changes can go.

When the bill comes out of the committee stage in an amended form, this is what now goes forward to the 3rd and final reading.   The NDP does not have the votes to amend the bill at this point.   The NDP would have to pass a budget as amended by the Liberals even if the Liberals voted against it because the budget is a confidence motion.   Based on the NDP/Green agreement the Greens would expected to vote for the amended budget as well.

The NDP could withdraw their budget after the committee stage but this is not a good way to go.  Interim supply would only last for three months after the NDP government is sworn in.   They would have to pass a budget by early October or go to an election.

This all applies for any government bill.   $10 a day childcare?   Liberals can amend it at the committee stage.   Changes to the voting system?  Liberals could alter at committee stage.   Political donations?   Liberals could change to a form they would like to see.    Everything depends on the Liberals if it comes to the legislature.

The NDP budget is likely to be passed in mid September with some amendments from the Liberals.  Once it passes I expect the NDP to end the sitting of the house and not resume till February.   There is no reason the NDP would want to have the legislature sit more than the minimum.   I have to wonder how well the NDP/Green agreement would fare over the five winter months when the NDP is governing but the legislature is not sitting.

The NDP would bring forward a budget in February 2018.   I think this budget will be defeated because the NDP wants a new election to try and get a majority.  We will most likely have an election in late March 2018.

John Horgan is not going to be willing to govern for any length of time having to cooperate with the Liberals all the time in the house.    He will not be able to implement his political agenda.

A few things to look out for if/when the NDP is government:

  • Problems with some NDP cabinet ministers - a new government has teething pains in their first year, normally you have four years in power to the teething pains are long gone
  • Liberal and Green cooperation to amend government acts in the legislature 
  • A possible serious fillibuster by the Liberals at some point
  • More discord between the NDP and Greens
  • Anger by people that the government is defacto governing by Orders in Council
  • Loud opposition to the actions of the NDP government from business interests and from construction unions
  • Discontent from the public sector labour movement because the government will not deliver anything close to what they are seeking
  • A possible Liberal leadership race over the winter with a new leader by February 2018.   Christy Clark would not resign her seat
  • Death of any Liberal MLAs.   If a Liberal MLA were to die the NDP has a six month window in which to govern 43 to 42 before a by-election is held.   I would expect the legislature to be recalled rather quickly after the death of a Liberal to pass as much of their program as they can.  Ralph Sultan is 84 years old though a very fit 84 year old.
  • Death of any NDP MLAs.   This gets really tricky if it were to happen because now the NDP and Greens would not have a majority even with the speaker.   If the death happens while the legislature is sitting the Liberals could easily pass a non confidence motion.


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