Let’s see if I get this straight. In British Columbia, the golden Canadian province with mountains ranging from sea to sky, valleys rich in rivers, lakes, food and fodder production and beauty beyond compare, we seem to have marched our paradise into a strange form of democratic limbo.
While others rejoice in final election vote counts, I, always feckless when dealing with numbers, fret. I’m trying to understand how the political party winning the most seats (43) in our May 9 general election can be delegated to official Opposition in the new legislative assembly while the party with two less seats (41) supported by a rump party with only three seats is standing by waiting to be proclaimed government for the next four years.
I understand the minority arithmetic – 41 plus three is 44, which is one numeral higher than 43 and the magic number required to capture the right to govern. But, is it democracy at work when the party with only three seats can actually ‘elect’ a second-place finisher rejected by voters in 43 ridings?
I’m not saying that Andrew Weaver and his ‘band of two’ broke any rules when they decided New Democrats would be more comfortable bedfellows than the Liberals. Rather, I just think he let his unexpected power overrule his well-earned reputation for thoughtful decision making. His delight when he and his two Green colleagues signed the 2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement – endorsing the NDP’s right to govern and deliver peace and wise government in the Legislature – was not reassuring.
Am I suggesting he would have been better advised to have pledged his support to the Liberals, keeping them in power? Not at all. I just think he would have been wiser to have spent a little more time reflecting on the influence he and his two MLAs could have held as arbiters between Liberals and NDP in the debating chamber. The Green influence in that role, calling for reason to replace the raucous decibel level that has been the legislative norm for far too many years, could have brought desired stability and peace more surely than the 10 sheets of paper comprising the flimsy “peace in our time” treaty.
While we wait for final transition timing and outcome, we can remember a forecast made in this space just a short while ago – we are in for tough times and none tougher than for the MLAs charged with governance. John Horgan’s New Democrats with his newly recruited Green support hold a one seat majority reduced to a 43-43 seat tie with the election of a Speaker from NDP or Green ranks.
We can expect a flurry of tied votes resolved by the Speaker’s tie breaker with nerve wracking – for the government – moments when there could be a hesitant twinge of conscience as the Greens consider a vote in favour of an expenditure they’re not entirely happy with. They have pledged to support the NDP when money bills are debated. Four years of budget support with the NDP’s proclivity to spend could prove too long for Andrew Weaver to keep his powder dry.
Of course, he may never need to fire a fatal shot at such a fragile government. When soon to be called “Premier Horgan” gets around to naming his cabinet, there will be much rejoicing among those selected. But, we can also anticipate that seeds of dissention will sprout amongst some of those rejected after having served long and well in the lean years.
Crossing the floor – switching from one party to another or choosing to sit as an independent, is not unknown in BC. It would take only two dissenters to shatter the NDP dream and leave the Green’s thinking how much wiser it would have been to stand fast, divorced from the big guys; independent, proud in policy and modest in the way they used the powers fate had granted.
In the next election, which surely will be much less than four years away, Mr. Weaver could find the electorate a little less understanding of his hasty embrace of an erstwhile political rival than he anticipated. He should never forget Disraeli’s advice to politicians that “all power is a trust; that we are accountable for the exercise; that from the people and for the people all springs….”
The day of accounting could come sooner than he thinks.