BC NDP Leader John Horgan's math problem – how to make a bare majority in Parliament work – continues to test the strength of his alliance with B.C.'s Green MLAs.
Mr. Horgan and Green Leader Andrew Weaver held a news conference on Wednesday to assure voters they can make the provincial legislature work with their combined force of 44 members.
But the details of just how that will function, given how unlikely it is that the Liberals will assist by offering up one of their MLAs to sit as Speaker of the House, remain unexplained. And they suggested the Liberals have an obligation to solve that problem for them.
The two leaders were responding to concerns that their accord, which is designed to allow an NDP minority government to assume power, is falling apart even before the House is recalled.
"We have an accord, we have confidence that this will work out, there is no argument between John and I," Mr. Weaver said.
Mr. Horgan added: "There is no division."
The fact that they needed to deliver those assurances was prompted by questions they face around the challenge of ensuring there is a Speaker in the legislature. The governing Liberals have 43 seats and the NDP and Greens can topple that government on a vote on confidence with 44 votes.
But the Speaker is, by convention, elected from the government benches. If the NDP have to eventually give up one of their MLAs for the non-partisan role, it means the legislature could be tied on every vote. The non-partisan Speaker would then be regularly voting to break ties – a highly partisan role.
As it stands, of the 87 MLAs who are heading to the legislature on June 22, it seems not one of them is interested in the job.
Premier Christy Clark said this week that she will ensure there is a Speaker elected that will allow her Speech from the Throne to be read, and her house leader, Mike de Jong, says the typical convention that a Speaker comes from the government benches will apply to the Liberals.
However, Ms. Clark has indicated she sees no obligation to ensure there is a Speaker if – or more likely when – her government falls. So a Speaker could be elected next week who would then resign once the Liberals lose power.
Mr. Horgan and Mr. Weaver say whoever the Liberals put forward as Speaker next week should remain even after the government is defeated. They said it would be undemocratic if Ms. Clark did not ensure that happened.
"The government – current – is going to put forward a Speaker. Good. That Speaker should be in place as a non-partisan for the term of Parliament," Mr. Horgan said.
Mr. Weaver raised doubts about his party's pact with the New Democrats this week with an interview with The Province newspaper in which he said he understood the NDP were working something out with the Liberals, and that if the Liberals did not put forward a Speaker, that would make the Greens "pause and reflect upon the conditions of our agreement being met."
On Wednesday, Mr. Weaver told reporters that his caucus considered making such an arrangement a condition of their pact with the NDP, but they decided against such a demand. He said the fact that the Liberals are balking at providing a Speaker for the duration of this Parliament makes the foundations of that accord trickier to navigate. But he said he still intends to honour the accord.
"It would cause us pause to see how this would work. It is more difficult, but it still can work," he said. "You can still proceed, but you have to be more cautious."
Mr. Horgan would not say how he would resolve the issue if a Liberal Speaker quits the post.
"There will be a Speaker in a new government. Whether that is a Green, a New Democrat or a Liberal remains to be seen."
Andrew Wilkinson, a senior Liberal cabinet minister, would not say if any of the 43 Liberal MLAs will allow their name to be put forward for the post – either next week or under an NDP minority government. Without a Speaker, the House cannot function and, left unresolved, it would likely force another election.
"The identity of the Speaker is still up in the air," he told reporters. He said it is a problem for the NDP to address. "We all know the NDP deal with the Greens gives the NDP enough seats to seize power. But there are some very valid questions that remain unanswered about the stability of the NDP-Green deal, whether they do have a workable majority."
After the final ballots from the May 9 election were counted, the Greens negotiated with both the Liberals and the NDP to determine which party they would support. Mr. Weaver said Wednesday that although the numbers are tougher to manage with an NDP accord, "we know we made the right decision."