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Christy Clark says she doesn’t see ‘a path forward’ for proposed minority government

British Columbia's Premier Christy Clark speaks to the media in Vancouver, B.C. on May 30, 2017.

Ben Nelms/REUTERS

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, on the eve of a pivotal confidence vote that is expected to topple her government, says if she is asked, she would have no choice but to tell Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon that the minority government proposed by the NDP is unworkable.

That answer could prompt Ms. Guichon to call another election just weeks after the ballots have been counted from the May vote. Ms. Clark has the option of advising the Lieutenant-Governor to call an election, but she has consistently said she would not do that. She has also said British Columbians do not want another vote.

But on Wednesday, she said she would answer a direct question if Ms. Guichon asks.

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Read more: The beginning of the end: B.C. legislature hears Throne Speech

"I'm not going to lie," the Premier told reporters on Wednesday. "It's hard to suggest it could be working. I don't see the path forward."

Ms. Clark anticipates she will lose a vote of confidence in the House on Thursday evening, and would pay a visit to the Lieutenant-Governor almost immediately. Ms. Guichon could call another election, or she could invite NDP Leader John Horgan to form a government. A decision is expected as early as Thursday night.

Ms. Clark has said it would be inappropriate to direct the Lieutenant-Governor to trigger a return to the polls. "I'm going to let her make her decision about this. It would be absolutely improper for any member of the government to try to influence that decision," she told reporters on June 21.

However, Ms. Clark said she anticipates the Lieutenant-Governor may ask for her advice. "I've got to be honest," she said. "This isn't a working legislature. I don't see any evidence that it can work." The Liberals argue that a minority NDP government, backed by the Greens, would not have enough votes in the legislature to provide stable government. The NDP and Greens have signed an accord that they say can function with 44 of the 87 seats in the legislature.

As the BC Liberal government prepares for a transition – or a snap election – after 16 years in power, it has produced a set of financial books that would give the next government far more spending flexibility than anticipated just a few months ago.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong, speaking to reporters earlier on Wednesday, revised his claims that an NDP government would run up deficits and tax the middle class to pay for its promises.

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During what he expects to be his last news conference as Finance Minister, Mr. de Jong said the provincial economy is on fire, and the government can afford to increase spending at rates he described as unaffordable during the campaign.

Mr. de Jong acknowledged that his party might have been able to hang on to its majority in the legislature had it loosened the purse strings before the May 9 election, but he said he was heeding the "abiding pessimism" of his economic forecasters.

In June, he consulted the province's independent forecast council again, and discovered things have changed dramatically – for the better. As a result, he said, the surplus in the past fiscal year is now expected to be $2.8-billion, and to exceed this year's forecasts as well.

"Are there moments of reflection and frustration and, 'Boy, if only we'd known?' I think that's natural," Mr. de Jong said. "But we didn't know."

If the result of Thursday's confidence vote is that the NDP assumes power, the Finance Minister said he would not expect to see B.C. plunged into deficit financing. Gesturing to a chart showing B.C.'s economic outlook, Mr. de Jong said, "God forbid with this, that we saw a deficit."

The Liberal government will face a vote of confidence on Thursday that it expects to lose.

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Although the fiscal update has not yet been audited, Mr. de Jong said it was appropriate to provide the revised figures ahead of the confidence vote.

During the campaign, Mr. de Jong attacked the NDP platform as unaffordable, saying it would mean "retreating back into deficit financing [and] significant tax increases."

The New Democrats had promised to raise taxes on the wealthy and real estate speculators to pay for promises that include $10-a-day daycare, building 114,000 housing units over a decade and annual $400 subsidies for renters.

The Liberal campaign featured little new spending despite a string of surplus budgets, and instead emphasized job-creation, spending control and tax cuts for the middle class. The party lost ridings in urban B.C. and ended up with 43 seats. The NDP and Greens have signed an accord to topple the Liberals with their combined 44 seats, and the NDP proposes to govern with a minority, supported on key measures by the Greens.

Last week, the BC Liberals introduced a Throne Speech that mirrors – or exceeds – the NDP and Green election platforms. Mr. de Jong said that, over three years, his government's new promises add up to $2.6-billion in spending commitments.

He said the NDP can enjoy the solid financial books he is ready to hand over, but that it was Liberal fiscal management that created those circumstances. "There are two parts to this equation – we have focused on one, which is spending the proceeds of a powerful economy. But governments ignore the other half of that equation at their peril," he said. "I fear, as pleased as an NDP government will be to inherit this, they will quickly lose sight of what it was that created this circumstance in the first place."

Both the NDP and the Greens said they would wait for the audited financial statements, expected in early July, before commenting on what the latest economic picture might mean for budget planning.

British Columbia's legislature is expected to vote on a non-confidence motion on Thursday.

If successful, it could end 16 years of Liberal rule in the province.

The motion was proposed as an amendment related to the Throne Speech.

It was moved by NDP Leader John Horgan and seconded by Green MLA Sonia Furstenau. Here is text of the motion:

"Be it resolved that the motion 'We, Her Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in Session assembled, beg leave to thank Your Honour for the gracious Speech which Your Honour has addressed to us at the opening of the present Session,' be amended by adding the following: "'but Her Honour's present government does not have the confidence of this House.'"

Video: Christy Clark on using other parties’ ideas in throne speech (The Canadian Press)
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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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