Skip to main content

Emissaries of B.C. Premier Christy Clark have begun spreading the word that this week's Speech from the Throne will include a pledge to reform the province's antiquated campaign-finance laws as well as raise welfare rates for the first time in a decade.

You'd almost think an election was in the offing.

Throne speeches are usually banal outlines of what a government hopes to accomplish in the year ahead. But given the current political situation in British Columbia, the document Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon reads in the legislature later this week will get far more focus and attention than usual.

Read more: BC Liberals to reverse course on key policies in Throne Speech

As most of the world knows by now, the May 9 election left B.C. with a hung parliament. The Liberals won 43 seats, the NDP 41 and the Green Party three. The Greens have pledged to support the NDP to defeat the Liberals at the first opportunity – which will be a vote on the Throne Speech. NDP Leader John Horgan then intends to present a case to Ms. Guichon that his party has the support of a majority of members in the legislature.

Fine as far as it goes.

The Liberals will elect a speaker to get the new session of Parliament rolling. That person is expected to stay in that position until the government falls, and then resign – against the protests of the New Democrats and the Greens. But honestly, would the Liberals sacrifice an MLA to help their mortal enemies govern?

Not a chance.

This means someone from the NDP and the Greens will then have to become speaker, by tradition an impartial position. The speaker votes only in the rare event of a tie. But once the NDP (or the Greens) offer up one of their own to fill that role, it will leave 43 Liberals and 43 NDP-Greens. Conceivably, every meaningful vote will end in a tie that the speaker would have to break.

A speaker who votes to support the NDP-Green initiative each time will effectively have become a partisan tool of the government. (And we haven't even mentioned the machinations the NDP will need to get a bill through the committee stage of the house. That, too, will test the boundaries of parliamentary norms).

This is the predicament in which Judith Guichon finds herself, one, I'm sure, she could not have imagined in her wildest dreams upon assuming the post in 2012. The lieutenant-governor's job is mostly ceremonial, but does come with a warning: Occupants occasionally have to deal with what would be defined as a genuine crisis.

In this case, Ms. Guichon has turned to a cast of constitutional authorities for advice. One of those from whom she is believed to have been seeking wisdom is Goveror-General David Johnston, a constitutional scholar in his own right.

The prevailing view seems to be that Ms. Guichon has no choice but to give the NDP the opportunity to govern. Personally, I'm not so sure about that.

To sanction a scenario in which the Speaker effectively becomes just another government MLA whose vote is constantly necessary to pass legislation in a one-seat majority is a dangerous precedent. It could make a mockery of centuries-old parliamentary traditions and rules.

Rather than chance throwing the B.C. legislature into disrepute, Ms. Guichon could force another election. And I believe many in all three parties have a creeping sense that this is precisely what could happen.

Which brings us back to this week's Speech from the Throne. It will likely be the most meaty, promise-filled speech the B.C. legislature has heard in some time. The B.C. Liberals were just humbled in an election in which they had every conceivable advantage and yet were rejected by a vast swath of the population.

They are hoping they get a do-over this summer, running on a platform that is more urban friendly and generally more exciting than the boring, stand-pat set of policies the party campaigned on this spring. This is why they are already signalling they plan to ban union and corporate donations and raise welfare and disability rates – measures they had rejected repeatedly.

It is a clear attempt to win back the affections of former supporters who cast their votes for others last month. The Throne Speech will be the Liberals' first attempt at contriteness, something that does not come naturally to them.

Despite having just been through an election, the party's war chest overflows with bullion. The Liberals hope that if Ms. Guichon gives them another opportunity to raid it, they will have better fortune.