As we have stumbled toward the June 22 witching hour to watch the final dramatic act in our May 9 Political Passion Play there has been a faint hope that election rhetoric might be replaced by confidence-building debate and modest courtesies.
Alas, the three parties emerging from the fray have done so in full battle mode with the Liberals waving the Orders Of The Day (the BC Parliamentary Procedure rule book); the New Democrats, who came in second at the polls, crying foul before the curtain rises for the grand finale; and the tepid Greens meekly pledging their troth and offering three Legislature seats as a dowry to the NDP.
Premier Christy Clark has insisted that although Andrew Weaver’s hasty NDP marriage announcement could cost her the right to govern, she would “not go gentle into that goodnight.” She would depart, but only when a majority of MLAs told her they no longer had confidence in her ability to govern and she had reported that decision to the Lieutenant Governor.
John Horgan has protested she is unfairly delaying her departure just to keep him sitting in the waiting room when he should sitting in the premier’s chair. Although Christy’s Liberals defeated Horgan’s NDP 43-41 in the big contest, Weaver’s grinning addition of three Greens has given Horgan his now oft-repeated claim of overwhelming victory. Actually, he doesn’t really claim victory; just that Premier Clark was overwhelmingly defeated.
His latest whine about his political opposition is the claim that attempts are already being made to sow seeds of division between the Green and New Democrat leaders. They are united, Horgan says, and will stay united – a pledge well known and profitably enjoyed by millions of divorce lawyers. We shall watch with interest the history of the Green-NDP marriage of ideals with the first test coming up in the days following the Throne Speech.
The Legislature sits on Thursday, June 22, with the first order of business being the election of a Speaker who will preside over the Throne Speech debate and the anticipated demise of the Liberal government. It’s a moment Horgan and Weaver are looking forward to – albeit perhaps prematurely – with unrestrained and sometimes unseemly delight.
They would welcome a Liberal Speaker and the modest – but not overwhelming – vote-cushion his/her appointment would bring. But, they would want that in-House election to continue when the NDP formally became government. Liberal House Leader and Minister of Finance Mike de Jong has dismissed Horgan’s suggestion saying it is “bizarre” to suggest the newly-defeated government should voluntarily gift the NDP-Greens the non-voting Speaker’s seat and reduce Liberal MLAs by one.
Once again, we shall have to wait while they get that sorted and the time-limited Throne Debate “which shall not exceed six sitting days comprising not less than eight sittings” can commence.
The mover and seconder of the Throne Speech debate are allowed 40 minutes each to make their presentation; the Premier “or a designated member” follows with a two-hour speech time limit. The same two-hour speech limit is extended to “leaders of recognized opposition parties” which would appear to exclude Weaver whose Green’s are expecting, but do not yet hold, designated party status. It could produce a little bump in the road when Weaver takes his turn after the big guys speak and floor is open to anyone recognized by The Speaker – with a 30-minute time limit.
Amendments and sub-amendments can be made and voted on but defeat of a government amendment is not regarded as a non-confidence vote. That opportunity doesn’t arise until “the main motion is disposed of on the sixth day.” So, does all that jabberwocky add up to a final decision on who runs the province for the next four years on June 28 – six days after kick-off.
Could be, but a few legitimate house rule technicalities including the hassle to get a Speaker in place, plus cancellation of two Members’ Days sittings could disrupt the timetable. In the rule book Monday is the designated day when private member’s bills can be introduced and possibly provide a first opportunity for a non-confidence motion to be called. But the rule book states a detailed content agenda for Member’s Day must be prepared and printed for distribution on the Wednesday before the Monday sitting. As the Legislature is reconvening on a Thursday that means no agenda for the following Monday, June 26. No agenda, no meeting. The next Monday would be July 3 — but that’s a national Canada Day holiday. Nothing to despair about. Just the need for a little more patience while listening to yet more complaints from the newly united NDP-Greens leaders reaching for the brass ring of power but finding it a little slippery to grasp.
And before you ask “who writes these rules?” — the members of the legislature write them, amend them from time to time, but insist they be strictly oberved once they’re in the book.
It could take until July to clear the air – or even longer if the electorate is asked to take another attempt provide a clear cut decision at the ballot box on whom we best trust to be in charge as we travel through troubled times.