The British Columbia NDP and Green parties successfully combined forces on Monday to defeat two pieces of legislation that had been crafted to win their votes – a strategic move by the opposition parties to demonstrate that the province's Liberals can no longer govern.
The high-stakes game being played out in the Legislature this week is expected to lead to a vote of confidence that could topple the governing Liberals on Thursday.
The BC Liberals presented a wide-reaching bill on Monday to reform campaign finance in British Columbia – a proposed law tailored to meet the demands of the NDP and the Greens for a new set of rules that would end the province's reputation as the "wild west" of political financing in Canada.
Another bill offered the three members of the Green caucus official party status in the Legislature, which would have brought new powers and more financial support to the three MLAs who are currently treated as Independents.
But with a combined total of 44 votes in the 87-seat legislature, the opposition did not allow the bills to be read.
Premier Christy Clark however warned that the alternative to a Liberal government – an NDP minority backed by the Greens – would be unstable and risks triggering another election just weeks after the final ballots from the May 9 vote were counted.
"The road to stability in British Columbia is to ensure that we avoid the risk of an election," she told the Legislature. "I would encourage all members of this House, therefore, to vote in favour of the Throne Speech that was presented last week."
NDP leader John Horgan responded with a motion asking for an early vote of confidence. Both he and Green leader Andrew Weaver stated that they are only interested in testing the confidence of the House, and will not vote for any Liberal measures until that has been accomplished.
"The delays and the distractions that have been going on are putting at risk critically important services for people," Mr. Horgan told reporters. He cited the need for action on education funding, on the opioid crisis and on the softwood-lumber trade dispute with the United States.
Mr. Horgan, who has advocated reform of B.C.'s political-fundraising laws but continues to raise money under the existing rules, would not comment on the specifics of the Liberal's bill on campaign-finance reform. He said he would introduce his own version of the proposed legislation if and when he gets the opportunity to govern: "I am not at all interested in continuing to drag this on in the interests of the BC Liberals."
Mr. Weaver, who earlier indicated that he could support a Liberal bill to reform campaign-finance laws, said on Monday that now is not the time. "What's important is that the very first thing to do is we test the confidence of this House," he said. "In our view, it is not appropriate to be debating government business until such time as the confidence has been tested."
If the NDP and Greens are successful in defeating the Liberals on a vote of confidence, Ms. Clark would then be expected to visit Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon to offer her resignation. The Premier has stated several times that she will not ask Ms. Guichon to trigger another election. Ms. Clark has said she would leave it up to the Lieutenant-Governor to decide whether to invite Mr. Horgan to govern, or to send British Columbians back to the polls.
The NDP-Green accord aims to keep a minority NDP government in power, but the Liberals have argued that when the NDP elects a Speaker from its ranks, they will be left with an unworkable tie in the legislature. The speaker will have to routinely vote with the government to keep an NDP government functioning.
But the Liberals are mindful that they cannot be seen to be avoiding a vote of confidence.
On Monday morning, government House Leader Mike de Jong summoned reporters to his office to pledge that the confidence vote would be held on Thursday, even if time was carved out to pass other legislation. The two bills his government tabled on Monday were designed to win at least Green support, which would have helped the Liberals show that they could still govern after losing their majority in the recent election.
Before the election, the BC Liberals were reluctant to embrace changes to a political-fundraising system that allowed them to raise more than $13-million in 2016. Now, Mr. de Jong said, voters have made it clear they do want change and it was important to pass a new law before another election might be triggered.
The changes proposed by the Liberals will likely be passed in some form, no matter which party is in power. The Liberal bill would have capped individual donations at a total of $5,000 a year, and it would have prohibited union and corporate donations, as well "in-kind" donations from third parties.