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British Columbia NDP Leader John Horgan walks back to his office after question period at the B.C. legislature in Victoria.

B.C. NDP to form government after confidence vote

The NDP and Greens joined forces to vote down British Columbia's Liberal government, placing the fate of the legislature in the hands of the Lieutenant-Governor

British Columbia's Lieutenant-Governor has asked the New Democrats to form government, ending 16 years of Liberal rule after a confidence vote in the legislature.

Premier Christy Clark's resignation ends the political uncertainty that has hung over the province since the May 9 election, and will allow the NDP to take power with a potentially fragile arrangement with the third-place Greens.

Here's what you need to know about what has happened so far, and what comes next.

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Related: Judith Guichon, the Lieutenant-Governor who will decide B.C.'s fate

Related: New Brunswick holds lessons for B.C. on Speaker traditions

Gary Mason: In a strange few weeks for B.C., Clark risked her political past and future

Here's what you need to know about the confidence vote and what happens next.

The confidence vote

Lost confidence

The non-confidence 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.

It reads:

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."

The Opposition New Democrats, armed with a power-sharing agreement with the B.C. Green Party, tabled an amendment to the Throne Speech that declared the legislature does not have confidence in the government.

The outcome was not a surprise; the Liberals finished the May 9 election one seat shy of a majority and were short a vote with a member in the Speaker's chair. As the standing vote was called, a hush fell over the packed House. When the roll was called, 44 MLAs – all the Greens and New Democrats – had won the motion. The Liberals, with 42 votes, were easily defeated.

A visit with the viceregal

Ms. Clark visited Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon shortly after the confidence vote. The premier had three options: request an election; advise the Lieutenant-Governor to ask the Opposition New Democrats to form government; or simply resign without offering any advice.

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Ms. Clark said earlier this week that, if asked, she would tell the Lieutenant-Governor that the current makeup of the legislature means it cannot function – even with the NDP-Green agreement in place. The premier said she would stop short of asking for an election, though her comments fuelled speculation that she was hoping for a campaign.

However, Ms. Guichon appeared unconvinced by those warnings, instead inviting NDP Leader John Horgan to form a government.

Shortly after the confidence vote, Mr. Horgan said he was eager to get to work.

"I'm excited. Now, seven weeks after the election, we can get going on a government that works for the people," he said in an interview while waiting to hear from the Lieutenant-Governor.

The Liberals had suggested the current rules that govern the legislature make a bare, one-seat majority unworkable.

Immediately after the vote, Liberal Steve Thomson resigned as Speaker, meaning the NDP will need to offer up a member to fill that role. Since the Speaker doesn't vote except in a tie, he or she will be routinely called upon to break votes in the legislature. The rules around committees are even more complicated and could actually leave the NDP-Green alliance with a minority in some instances.

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However, the New Democrats say they can use the committee system to their advantage, without having to rewrite the rules of the house, to manage the debate and reduce the need for the Speaker to participate in votes.

A change in government

The NDP have only ever won three elections in B.C. and haven't won since 1996. This time, they intend to govern with the support of the Greens, led by Andrew Weaver, who have agreed to vote with the New Democrats on confidence votes for four years in exchange for commitments on a series of policies.

Mr. Horgan is now premier-designate (Ms. Clark and her cabinet remain in place in the meantime) and will spend the coming weeks preparing to take power and deciding on a cabinet. The new premier and his cabinet will likely be sworn in by the end of July.

The New Democrats will then draft a budget plus a series of bills that they have promised to introduce as part of their accord with the Greens. As well, they will launch a review of the $8.8-billion Site C dam which could lead to the cancellation of the province's most expensive public infrastructure project in history.

However, the NDP and Green pact could face challenges. The two parties will find points of discord on issues that were not included in their agreement; Mr. Weaver sahd his party will handle those issues on a case-by-case basis and his MLAs would not be whipped on votes that aren't matters of confidence.

The standings in the legislature, even with the NDP-Green alliance, will still present challenges. The Speaker would be routinely called upon to break ties, which experts have said would require him or her to break with centuries of convention. As well, will be no margin for MLAs to be absent for travel or illness.

The Lieutenant-Governor's dilemma

The Lieutenant-Governor had been getting advice from her counterparts elsewhere in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth to guide her decision.

Some constitutional experts suggested it would be unlikely for Ms. Guichon to trigger a vote so soon after a general election, especially if the New Democrats and Greens have an agreement in place, however fragile. The two examples in Canadian history most often cited have been the King–Byng Affair in the 1920s and the fall of Frank Miller's government in Ontario in 1985; in both instances, the viceregals allowed the Opposition to form government rather than dissolving the legislature.

However, neither of those cases involved legislatures where the standings were so tight.

In the end, Ms. Guichon appeared to stick with those precedents, giving the New Democrats to attempt to govern before considering a new election.

Philippe Lagassé, an associate professor and constitutional scholar at Carleton University, said it was the right call.

"She can't look at the legislature and start making predictions about how it may or may not work," he said before the Lieutenant-Governor revealed her decision. "Ultimately, she is going to have to say, 'Is there a viable majority that will hold confidence or not?' and to my mind, that is really the best course of action for her."


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