In Andrew Weaver a Politician is Born

An interesting thing happened during British Columbia’s 41st general election– a distinguished professor turned Green Party leader became a politician. Once pushed from the womb of academia and into the wild and wacky world of British Columbia politics, it did not take Andrew Weaver very long to get on his feet and undermine the government and the established parliamentary system while holding a meagre three seats in the legislature. This one is going to grow to be big and strong no doubt.

Let me be clear; I am not for one moment suggesting that a coalition, or as they call it, a supported-government, is undemocratic or unparliamentary. Quite the opposite, I would indeed be among the first to stand here and explain the intricacies and realities of our parliamentary system which permits such occurrences. And I believe in the parliamentary system and one that is sustained with a first past the post electoral system with ridings distrusted across the state according to relative population. And this is how we ended up with a result where the incumbent BC Liberals hold 43 seats (one seat shy of a majority sustainment), the BC NDP holds 41 and the BC Greens hold 3 (together enough to maintain the confidence of the legislature, if they worked together).

But besides permitting the BC NDP and BC Greens to work together in the legislature to form government and sustain confidence in the legislature, the parliamentary system has a host of other conventions that inform conduct in periods such as these. For example, the incumbency convention holds that no matter the results, the government in power gets first crack in the legislature to form government. This is why you see when a Prime Minister or Premier fail to garner a plurality of seats in the legislature they publicly resign from their office.  Otherwise, the GG or LG is compelled through the incumbency convention to allow the previous head of government first crack at getting confidence in the legislature. This is also why Premier Christy Clark is still the head of the BC government– and subsequently has the ability to deliver a Throne Speech regardless of the agreement came upon by the BC NDP and BC Greens.

When the results from the 41st general election in BC came down (and they took awhile to settle out and come down officially), it was clear that the BC Liberal Party did not have a majority of seats in the legislature, and thus would not be able to sustain their majority government. But they did have a plurality and because of the incumbency convention, they remained in power and Clark was invited to continue her ministry. Andrew Weaver proved his political stripes by undermining the incumbency convention and publicly siding with the BC NDP for four years. Without even hearing officially from the government via a Throne Speech in the legislature, Weaver and two of the Green Party MLAs decided that there was absolutely nothing the government could offer to gain their support. Andrew Weaver is now playing a political game, and very dangerous one at that. Tying himself to the NDP could surely prove to undermine an honest effort by the BC Greens to pitch themselves as not too extreme to form government, or in this case, at least hold the balance of power.

But what of backroom deals and talks? Dispense with them! They are not parliament and any idea that “ratifying” them by each caucus someone seals the deal is false, pure and simple. Those are not binding on the state, and rightfully so; parliament is the official forum of the electors. We saw that when Harper, Layton and Duceppe signed an agreement when they tried to undermine the Martin ministry– it meant nothing without parliamentary action to take down the government. And furthermore when Dion, Layton and Duceppe attempted to undermine the Harper ministry– it certainly did not withhold the authority of the PM to prorogue parliament to avoid actually sealing the deal. The NDP at least have the cover of their role as the Official Opposition to claim a reason to oppose the government at all turns– I concede that opposition is just as important as government in a parliamentary system. But the BC Greens ought to have sustained the Clark government, at least to the Throne Speech in order to sustain the incumbency convention and demonstrate their respect for parliament.

A true politician was born during this election. It will be interesting to see him fumble through his teenage years with his seemingly new best friend in John Horgan.

Hung Parliament in British Columbia

The final results of the 41st general election in British Columbia have been tallied and the parliament is hung. The incumbent BC Liberals hold a total of 43 seats (one seat short of a majority mandate), the BC NDP hold 41 and the BC Green Party holds 3 seats. As of yesterday, BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver have reached an agreement that would see the BC NDP form a minority government while being propped by the Green Party for the next four years. I feel the need to be absolutely clear here, because the media at times has not, but this is not a government-in-waiting scenario. In fact, Christy Clark is still the Premier of the province, and will remain the Premier until her government falls or she resigns. However, with this new agreement there are several outcomes for this BC parliament. This post will examine those outcomes and the road to each with some commentary on the fallout from each potential scenario.

Clark Resigns as Premier

In this scenario, Premier Clark looks at the seat-count in the legislature and the agreement between the BC NDP and BC Greens and decides that she won’t present a Throne Speech in the opening of parliament and resigns as Premier. She would have to go to the Lieutenant-Governor of BC, the Hon. Judith Guichon, and request that her ministry be dissolved (but not the legislature, thus not leading to an immediate election). In this scenario the L-G would have the option of asking Mr. Horgan to form the government as per the agreement between the BC Greens (being the party and leader that seemingly are able to establish the confidence of the legislature) or she could ask another MLA from the BC Liberal Party to form government (unlikely). Additionally, in this scenario could also decide to dissolve the legislature and trigger an election but this is the most unlikely course as it would be unconventional for her to dissolve the legislature without the advice of the Premier (and a legitimate question of constitutional law would arise as to whether or not she actually has the authority to do it without said advice). It is also important to note that in this scenario, Horgan would still need to prove that he has the confidence of the legislature through the passing of a Throne Speech.

Clark Dissolves the Legislature

In this scenario, Premier Clark still heads to Government House to speak with the L-G but in this case she asks that the entire legislature be dissolved. This would trigger a new election. The downside to this approach is that the L-G could decide that Clark’s request is not in the interest of the province and undermines her responsibility to ensure a democratic government is in place in BC, and could ask the BC NDP to attempt to form government. We are getting into Byng-King territory here and so it rapidly becomes a constitutional minefield. I personally, cannot see Clark going this route for two reasons: (1) having to overcome the whole “you brought us into another election merely a month apart” will be hard to overcome on the campaign trail and (2) there is too much uncertainty in what the L-G could do (there will be a lot of egg all over Clark’s face if she requests an election only to see the L-G ask the BC NDP to form government and go on to have a successful mandate).

Clark Presses Onward

In this scenario, Premier Clark maintains power as the incumbant government under a party with a plurality of seats in the legislature. This would allow her to open parliament and bring down a Speech from the Throne that outlines her plan for the next session of parliament. If she was shewrd (and she is), this speech would include a laundry list of “goodies” for the BC NDP and BC Greens, which would put them in the awkward position of voting down something that has a policy plan in their own favour. It would bring to light the power-grab nature of the opposition’s approach leading up to the opening of parliament. If the chips fall as the seat-count shows in light of the agreement, than the Clark government would fall but she would have some ground to stand on in presenting a plan that accomodated the opposition, and it would leave the onus on them to explain why they voted down the plan.

The Speaker Issue

The last scenario with Clark pressing onward as Premier and presenting a Throne Speech also has another aspect to it; the election of the Speaker. The first act of any parliament is the election of the Speaker. Because the BC NDP and BC Greens would be holding on to power with a slim majority in the legislature between them, chances are they will turn to the BC Liberals to supply the Speaker (standard in a minority government situation for the opposition to attempt to pick off another seat from the government by sending a member to the Chair). However, the individual elected as Speaker in BC must agree to actually take the job. A scenario could very well play out where the legislature is unable to elect a Speaker because no BC Liberal MLA will accept the job. The BC NDP and the BC Greens could offer up one of their own to be the Speaker, but in a tie between the government and the opposition following a vote on the Throne Speech, conventionally the Speaker would be compelled to vote in favour of the government. So it would break up the agreement regardless. If the legislature cannot elect a Speaker and thus cannot offer confidence to a ministry, the L-G would be compelled to dissolve the legislature and a new election would be called.

Final Word

I am probably going to pen an editorial on the topic shortly, but since we are going down the path of scenarios I will mention my thought-process briefly here. There is certainly nothing immediately wrong with the politicking that we are seeing right now in BC between the BC Liberals, BC Greens and BC NDP. This is how parliament works. But there are many other principles at play here. For example, a fundamental principle of parliament is stability and the continuance of the ministry. This is a strong aspect of parliamentary democracy, the fact that it is designed to withhold extreme changes back and forth in how government’s get formed and how the legislature props up or takes down said ministry. This is evident in the incumbency convention which dictates that the incument ministry remains in power until actually defeated in the legislature or upon resignation of the Premier. It is also evident in the convention that the Speaker sides with the government or more specifically the status quo. Nothing changing things quickly and limited dramatic moments are the centerpiece of the parliamentary system. What Andrew Weaver did by playing king-maker with a meagre three seats in the legislature is unparliamentary and unstatesmen-like. It is a power grab and an attempt to subvert the legitimate government in British Columbia. This is not to say that Weaver had to support the government, he didn’t, but he could have at least heard the Throne Speech, could have at least given Clark an honest go at governing in accordance with our conventions and the formation of parliament. Instead we get backroom deals and a king-maker who essentially lost the last election. I am the last person in line to call what is happening right now undemocratic, but I am first to label Weaver what he is: a power-hungry partisan politician.

Status of Government Legislation (20 May 17)

42nd PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

29th Canadian Ministry | December 3rd, 2015 – Present

Click the links for LEGISinfo page for each piece of proposed legislation. Indicates a change from previous week update. (+) indicates a newly proposed bill. This page is updated every Sunday while the House of Commons is in session. Bills at committee stages within the House of Commons and Senate will have the relevant committee website available in (parentheses) next to the bill title.


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SENATE

Senate Pre-study

C-44, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2017 and other measures (NFFN)

At Second Reading

C-22, National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians Act

Consideration in Committee

S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration) (APPA)

C-18, An Act to amend the Rouge National Urban Park Act, the Parks Canada Agency Act and the Canada National Parks Act (ENEV)

Consideration of Committee Report

At Third Reading

S-5, An Act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Non-smokers’ Health Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

C-16, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code

Consideration of Amendments Made by the House of Commons

C-4, An Act to Amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations Act, and the Income Tax Act

C-7, An Act to Amend the Public Service Labour Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board Act and other Acts, and to provide for certain other measures


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HOUSE OF COMMONS

Senate Bills Awaiting First Reading

At Second Reading

C-5, An Act to Repeal Division 20 of Part 3 of the Economic Action Plan 2015 Act, No. 1

C-12, An Act to Amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

C-17, An Act to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act

C-21, An Act to amend the Customs Act

C-24, An Act to amend the Salaries Act and to make a consequential amendment to the Financial Administration Act

C-27, An Act to amend the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985

C-28, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (victim surcharge)

C-32, An Act related to the repeal of section 159 of the Criminal Code

C-33An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

C-34An Act to amend the Public Service Labour Relations Act and other Acts

C-38An Act to amend An Act to amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons)

C-39, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (unconstitutional provisions) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

C-42, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act, the Pension Act and the Department of Veterans Affairs Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

C-43, An Act respecting a payment to be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to support a pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy

C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts

C-46, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

C-47, An Act to amend the Export and Import Permits Act and the Criminal Code (amendments permitting the accession to the Arms Trade Treaty and other amendments)

S-2, Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians

Consideration in Committee

C-23, Preclearance Act (SECU)

C-44, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2017 and other measures (FINA)

At Report Stage

C-25, An Act to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Canada Cooperatives Act, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, and the Competition Act

C-36, An Act to amend the Statistics Act

At Third Reading

Consideration of Amendments Made by the Senate

C-6, An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act


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ROYAL ASSENT

Awaiting Royal Assent

C-31, Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act

Received Royal Assent

S-4, Tax Convention and Arrangement Implementation Act, 2016

S-1001, An Act to authorize La Capitale Financial Security Insurance Company to apply to be continued as a body corporate under the laws of the Province of Quebec

C-2, An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act

C-3, Appropriation Act No. 4, 2015-16

C-8, Appropriation Act No. 5, 2015-16

C-9, Appropriation Act No. 1, 2016-17

C-10An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act and to provide for certain other measures

C-11An Act to amend the Copyright Act (access to copyrighted works or other subject-matter for persons with perceptual disabilities)

C-13, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act, the Hazardous Products Act, the Radiation Emitting Devices Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the Pest Control Products Act and the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, and to make related amendments to another Act

C-14An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying)

C-15, Budget Implementation Act, 2016, No. 1.

C-19, Appropriation Act No. 2, 2016-17

C-20Appropriation Act No. 3, 2016-17

C-26, An Act to amend the Canada Pension Plan, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act and the Income Tax Act

C-29, Budget Implementation Act, No. 2

C-30, Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement Implementation Act

C-35, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017

C-37, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts

C-40, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017

C-41, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2018


Information current as of 20 May 2017.