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British Columbia How B.C.’s head of state Judith Guichon chose a minority government over an election

B.C. Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon is interviewed one last time before her term is over while in her office at Government House in Victoria on Thursday.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

Confronted with a rare decision to determine who would be premier of British Columbia last June − and swamped with conflicting constitutional advice − B.C. Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon says there was nothing then-premier Christy Clark could have said that would have persuaded her to call an election.

Ms. Guichon, in her first major interview about the events that led to the establishment of the province’s minority NDP government, said she had reached her decision to call on John Horgan to form a government before sitting down with Ms. Clark on the day that the Liberal government lost its grip on power.

“I think we knew at that point what the situation was. Nothing in the situation was going to change.”

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Ms. Guichon is only offering her account of that pivotal day now, as she completes her five-year term as Lieutenant-Governor. Her successor, Janet Austin, who has been chief executive of the Metro Vancouver YWCA since 2003, will be installed on April 24.

Ms. Clark spent 45 minutes in Ms. Guichon’s private office at Government House last June 29, trying to persuade the province’s unelected head of state to send British Columbians back to the polls.

Weeks earlier, the May 9 election had left the government in a state of paralysis. Ms. Clark’s Liberals, having governed for 16 years, were reduced to 44 seats − one seat short of a majority. The NDP under John Horgan won 41 seats, leaving three Green MLAs holding the balance of power.

After weeks of negotiations, the NDP and Greens announced a pact and toppled Ms. Clark’s government with a vote of non-confidence.

Upon losing the vote, the premier traveled to Government House to offer her resignation to Ms. Guichon, as convention required. Ms. Clark asked the Lieutenant-Governor to dissolve the newly elected Legislative Assembly, triggering another election.

For a head of state to reject the advice of their first minister, under Canada’s constitutional monarchy, is no minor matter.

But it was within Ms. Guichon‘s authority to choose a different outcome. And although Ms. Clark argued that the NDP-Green alliance could not produce a stable government, the Lieutenant-Governor had concluded that the strongest constitutional precedents directed her to ask Mr. Horgan to try.

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“The option was pretty clear, that if you add up the numbers, there was an opportunity for those that decided they were going to work together. It comes down to sheer numbers,” she explained on Thursday.

Ms. Guichon said she had consulted widely and received a great deal of often-conflicting advice. But in the end, she was guided by “what’s best for the province. What ultimately would produce the best results for British Columbians. And what was fair and right.”

Although it was a dramatic moment in the province’s political history, Ms. Guichon sought to play down her role, describing it as just “a brief moment in time” in a rewarding term of service.

She would prefer to be remembered for her efforts to promote sustainable land stewardship among youth and her work to help build libraries in remote communities. She spoke warmly of the hundreds of volunteers who devote their hours to maintaining the gardens at Government House.

But the constitutional crisis that emerged from the 2017 B.C. election was well-timed, she said. In the year that Canada was marking its 150th anniversary as a country, she set out to travel to more than 150 schools to explain how Canada’s constitutional monarchy works. This proved to be an opportune lesson.

“Because we separate the head of government and the head of state then during these times of crisis, or if things are a little uncertain, we have that impartial outside view and, it worked,” she said. “When it was necessary to use that power, it worked.”

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Ms. Guichon, who describes herself as the “first cowboy” to occupy the vice-regal mansion in Victoria’s posh Rockland neighbourhood, said she is looking forward to returning to her ranch in the Nicola Valley next week.

“I’ve got a rocking chair, grandchildren, and a lot of books to read,” she said.

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