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BC Liberals warn minority legislature instability could lead to another election

Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong said NDP Leader John Horgan and Green Leader Andrew Weaver face challenges to maintain a signed agreement that will see the Greens support the New Democrats in a minority government.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's beleaguered Liberal Party is warning that instability in the minority legislature, where the NDP and Greens plan to use their combined majority to bring down the government in the coming weeks, could lead to yet another election.

The NDP and Greens have agreed to vote down the Liberal government in a confidence vote at the earliest opportunity, but there have been questions about how that alliance would function with such a slim majority of seats. All three parties have waged rhetorical war on each other in recent days, with the Liberals raising doubts about the NDP and Greens' ability to govern, and the opposition parties, in turn, accusing the Liberals of refusing to accept the results of the May 9 election.

Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong said NDP Leader John Horgan and Green Leader Andrew Weaver face challenges to maintain a signed agreement that will see the Greens support the New Democrats in a minority government.

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Explainer: What's ahead for B.C. politics​ after the NDP-Green Party agreement

"But [they] are beginning to understand that the practical workability of that agreement is very in doubt," Mr. de Jong, who is also B.C.'s current Finance Minister, told reporters outside the provincial cabinet office in Vancouver.

For example, the Liberals have said none of their ranks will serve as Speaker under an NDP government. That would force a New Democrat to serve as Speaker, who would then be frequently called upon to break tie votes in the legislature.

Mr. de Jong says the arrangement is inherently unstable, which he says raises the prospect of a snap election.

In the meantime, Mr. de Jong said the government is discharging its responsibilities under the circumstances. Pressed on the whereabouts of Premier Christy Clark, who has been keeping a relatively low profile, Mr. de Jong said she is running a "caretaker government" mindful of "the unique circumstances we are in."

The Liberals have recalled the legislature for June 22 for a Throne Speech, which the government expects will be defeated in a confidence vote the following week.

Mike Farnworth, the NDP House Leader, dismissed Mr. de Jong's speculation as nonsense. He acknowledged the "very close result" of the election, but said that, as a result, the NDP and Greens have signed their four-year agreement to allow for stable governance.

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Mr. Farnworth said Liberal concern is based on the reality facing the party.

"They are looking at the opposition benches and they are not happy," he said. "The Liberals are finally coming to terms with the fact that they are going to be in Opposition."

That said, Mr. Horgan acknowledged the risk of a snap election last week as he defended continuing NDP fundraising efforts, which the party has linked to the possibility of returning to the campaign trail.

"We're asking our donors, small donors, to be sure we're prepared if the worst happens and the BC Liberals force another election," he told reporters.

In a fundraising letter to supporters, NDP deputy director Glen Sanford wrote that the party's MLAs were eager to get to work, "but we could face an election call in just a couple of weeks" – a possibility he repeated in a subsequent interview.

In Victoria on Thursday, Mr. Weaver accused the Liberals of trying to sow doubt about the stability of a Green-backed NDP minority, and maintained that the legislature can function, even with an NDP Speaker.

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"This is nothing more than trying to work the people of British Columbia into a tizzy about a non-existent crisis," Mr. Weaver told reporters.

He said the Liberals will be at fault if there is another election soon because they have not been willing to build consensus in the legislature as Ms. Clark had promised on election night.

"If there is a snap election, the Liberals can wear that snap election because we know we can work with the BC NDP," Mr. Weaver said.

"We know we can work together and give British Columbians stability."

The May 9 election was estimated to cost taxpayers in excess of $44-million, and Elections BC says it would be ready for another campaign.

"Elections BC strives to maintain a constant state of election readiness and will conduct any election that is called, whether it is a fixed date general election, a by-election, or a snap election," the agency said in a statement.

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