B.C. government a Royal farce
(June 13, 2017)

More than a month after the provincial election and British Columbia’s government is still in limbo. First, absentee ballots had to be counted and recounts done to confirm Election Day results—Liberal 43, NDP, 41, Green, 3. Next, Green Party leader Andrew Weaver took his time pledging his party’s support for John Horgan’s NDP. Then, on May 29, Horgan and Weaver submitted a 10-page document to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor attesting that they had an arrangement to provide B.C. with stable government for four years. In fact, it is the only viable governing scenario because Liberal Premier Christy Clark could not strike a deal with the Greens.

According to British tradition, on which our federal and provincial governments are based, the party with the most seats in a hung legislature has first crack at forming a working with a smaller party to form a government. Since the NDP/Green partnership has already been presented to Government House, Horgan had to have been given the first right to govern. In other words, Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon was obliged to ask John Horgan to form a government.

However, she did not. Instead, Guichon asked Clark to open the legislature as premier, thus perpetuating political instability for perhaps a month or more. One has to sympathize with Horgan who laments delays that have deprived British Columbians of a legitimate, working government.

In response to a question about why the lieutenant governor did not ask Horgan to form a government right away, Guichon’s private secretary Jerymy Brownridge gave the following explanation:

“With no party obtaining a clear majority, we have a minority government situation. How British Columbia will be governed needs to be decided by the elected members voting in the House. This is a very important part of our democratic system that the Lieutenant Governor is obliged to protect. Even where two or more parties indicate they have come to an agreement to vote together, the House must be called so that all elected members can hold a vote.”

This explanation is non-responsive. First, it fails to address the question of why Guichon did not ask Horgan. Second, Brownridge’s depiction of how governments are selected is misleading. Although it is true that elected members can bring down a government by passing a motion of non-confidence, it is the Crown (the lieutenant governor), not the elected members, who determines who gets to form that government. The lieutenant governor’s website makes this point clear: “The Lieutenant Governor ensures the continued existence of government in British Columbia [and] selects a First Minister as Premier of the Province …”

Note the indefinite article: a First Minister. There is no rule that says it has to be a sitting premier. By allowing Clark to drag out her premiership to the bitter end, the lieutenant governor has actively inhibited B.C.’s democratically elected officials from governing and has acted with disregard for peace, order and good government.