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Tourists walk around the legislature grounds in Victoria, Tuesday, July 2, 2013. Traditionally, the legislature's Speaker is to function as a non-partisan, detached arbiter of the rules governing the legislature. But that position is challenged with a legislature evenly divided.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

In 2003, a New Brunswick government was elected with a tenuous one-seat majority, pressing the Speaker into a more partisan role as he was forced to regularly break ties in favour of the ruling Progressive Conservatives.

The Opposition Liberals and constitutional scholars howled that hundreds of years of parliamentary tradition were being thrown out the window.

Veterans of that three-year government are telling British Columbians to expect the unexpected.

Related: B.C. NDP to form government, ending 16 years of Liberal rule

No one was in the hot seat more than former PC MLA Bev Harrison, a former Speaker who again accepted the role in 2003.

Like British Columbia, the legislature had to choose someone for the post, a referee job that requires a level of cross-partisan respect to keep order in the House. Traditionally, the Speaker is to function as a non-partisan, detached arbiter of the rules governing the legislature. But that position is challenged with a legislature evenly divided.

Mr. Harrison said in an interview with The Globe and Mail this week that he knew he was heading into a dicey situation, one that would leave him vulnerable to accusations his position would ultimately erode tradition. But he said he had a duty to ensure the stability of the government ruled by his party.

"I did it. I had to. At that point, it was a question of should I precipitate an election when it might not have been in the interest of the province to do it?" he said.

But Mr. Harrison was forced into a position where he routinely voted in favour of government bills. That contradicts the convention that Speakers have a duty to further debate.

Mr. Harrison's reticence to vote against government bills meant he was behaving as a partisan, contrary to the nature of the job, said Shawn Graham, who was Liberal leader at the time.

"A number of rulings did not preserve the status quo in parliamentary tradition and caused great consternation with his peers, I presume, across the Commonwealth," Mr. Graham said.

But Geoff Martin, a professor at Mount Allison University who has been studying New Brunswick politics for 25 years, said Mr. Harrison's behaviour wasn't a surprise: The MLA knew he was expected to "dance with the one that brung ya."

It is that sort of compromise of tradition that the BC Liberals have been highlighting this week as they used the legislature to send a message to Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon that long-standing traditions around Speaker impartiality and the way bills are ushered through the House would have to change if the NDP required that the Speaker vote with the government.

Mr. Harrison noted that most of the legislative agenda in New Brunswick is debated and carried out in the legislature rather than within the committees used in B.C. to modify bills. That meant that the province's Progressive Conservative government faced fewer hurdles than the BC New Democrats could face in attempting to change laws.

The NDP maintain they have a workable plan that would not compromise tradition or require changes to the province's Standing Orders, governing how the House operates.

"For the Speaker to have shepherded this for a couple years is notable," said Prof. Martin, who failed as an NDP candidate in the 2003 election. "But what it ultimately comes down to is the government was safe from no-confidence motions and, at least for the first couple of years, they were. And just as the [BC] NDP might be safe for the first couple years based on Green Party support."

In 2003, the Liberals, fresh from almost tripling their seat count, decided to give the Progressive Conservatives the benefit of the doubt to see if they could govern effectively in the first two years of their four-year term. In fact, the government lasted three.

"We were cognizant of the fact that New Brunswickers are very prudent," said Mr. Graham, now a consultant who helps Chinese firms do business in Canada. "If we had caused an early election it would have backfired greatly on us."

But the PC government soon began to face headaches from its backbenchers, Mr. Graham said, over its mistrust of an agreement it had with the Liberals to engage in "pairing," whereby a lawmaker will sit out a vote to maintain the balance of power if a rival politician cannot make it to the legislature because of sickness or an emergency such as a missed flight.

"Unfortunately, it caused [PC] members to have to be present all the time and allowed the opposition greater flexibility, because we could pick and choose at what votes we wanted to have full attendance," said Mr. Graham, who went on to become premier after the 2006 election.

In his struggle to gain another seat needed to get a clearer majority, Progressive Conservative premier Bernard Lord kept enticing opposition MLAs to vacate their seats and run provincial agencies, which gave his party a temporary advantage in the legislature.

Mr. Lord did this first by appointing Liberal MLA Bernard Richard, now B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth in Care, to become New Brunswick's Ombudsman and later getting NDP leader Elizabeth Weir to ditch her party's lone seat in order to head the provincial energy efficiency and conservation body.

However, both times, the resulting byelections brought a Liberal win.

All this maneuvering led to backroom squabbles between the Conservative cabinet and its backbenchers, who "became very empowered and started to flex their muscle," Mr. Graham said.

"Certainly all the tricks came out," Prof. Martin recalled.

"There was that possibility of shifting ground and those unexpected things like someone does cross the floor, someone resigns, someone dies in office."

Eventually, Mr. Harrison was shuffled from Speaker into cabinet to be replaced by an independent MLA who had left and then rejoined the Conservative caucus. That Speaker soon faced a motion of censure for the political tradeoffs he allegedly received to rejoin the caucus.

The government survived that motion, but lost its credibility.

After three years, Mr. Lord asked the Lieutenant-Governor to call an election rather than risk losing another byelection. He subsequently lost.

During those three years, the minority government faced a stagnant economy and the ongoing bust of dotcom businesses, but it did not accomplish much, according to Prof. Martin.

"There wasn't gridlock, but I wouldn't say there were necessarily major accomplishments."

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says her throne speech Thursday had to reflect ideas from all parties after she was handed a minority government in May’s election. The speech included ideas from NDP and Green party platforms.

The Canadian Press