Surely the end of Confederation, Pipelines, and Life As We Know It!
I jest, of course…
John Horgan has been sworn in as the 36th premier of BC. He and his new cabinet — 11 women, 11 men — were sworn in on Tuesday by Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon.
Guichon, you may recall, put Christy Clark in her place after the BC Liberals lost the non-confidence vote in the Legislature last month. Clark had announced that she would not do what a defeated premier is supposed to do in such circumstances — recommend a course of action to the L-G. But, Clark said, if the L-G were to ask her opinion, she would say that the NDP, with the support of the Greens, did not have enough seats to form a stable government, and so the L-G should call an election. The point of that little manoeuvre? To get the election Clark so desperately wanted called, but in such a way that the lieutenant-governor would wear the stain of having called it. So Clark could go out on the campaign trail and say something like, “Yeah, bummer about having another election so soon after the last one…I feel your pain…but if you all vote for me this time, I will bring stability back yada yada…” — or some such blather. (In my short time living in BC, I have become convinced that, to borrow a phrase from Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, “there ain’t no valley low enough” to keep Christy Clark from stooping there if she thought it would keep her in power.)
Anyway, Guichon showed her a thing or two. I wasn’t at Government House for the dressing-down, but I imagine the conversation went something like this:
CC: So, Your Honour, I’ve lost the non-confidence vote, my government’s been defeated in the House, so, ah, ball’s in your court, and I’m not gonna tell ya what to do.
LG: Well, Christy — can I call you Christy, since you’re not the Premier any longer? — that’s not how we roll in Westminster-style parliamentary democracy and you don’t get off the hook on this one. It is the job of the defeated premier to advise the Queen’s representative — that would be me — to either invite the Leader of the Official Opposition to try to form a government, or call an election. One or the other. There is no Option C. So which is it gonna be?
CC (looking at the floor sheepishly): Well, Your Honour, I think you should call an election.
LG: That’s your advice? Call an election? I just want to make sure we’re both clear on that.
CC: Yes, Your Honour.
LG: Well, thank you for that, but I’m going to ask Mister Horgan to give it a go first. But thanks for dropping by. We have some lovely parting gifts for you on the way out.
As I said, I wasn’t there, so the bit about the lovely parting gifts is mere speculation on my part, given that Clark treated the whole political process from election night onwards like a TV game show.
But back to the Horgan government, to which I referred in the headline as the “socialist horde”. This was for three reasons:
- I was trying to be funny.
- The BC Greens, while committing to support the NDP when it counts — on confidence votes and money bills — are not part of the Horgan government. This is not a coalition. I don’t think it’s even appropriate to refer to it as a partnership. This is an, um, arrangement. But the Greens remain a separate entity — they are their own caucus, and there are no Greens in Horgan’s cabinet.
- I was mocking those whose melodramatic handwringing, wailing, and gnashing of teeth over BC’s, Alberta’s, and indeed the nation’s impending doom has already begun.
It’s no secret that the 1% — and a good chunk of the next 9%, I would reckon — share a deep, personal, self-interested commitment to hating on New Democrats since there’s a chance the New Democrats might make them share one or two of their toys with the other neighbourhood kids. But if it’s government red-tape you’re worried about, BC today has a category-5 level of bureaucratic dysfunctionality (just try getting your driver’s license, registration, car insurance and health care coverage switched over — it’s a process), and that’s after 16 years of Liberal rule.
And in Alberta, there are doubtless fears, the fires of which have been stoked by the Righties and some sectors of the media, that Horgan’s horde will block expansion of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline. (It’s not much of a horde, really…with the support of the Greens, they have only a one-seat advantage in the Legislature, and it remains to be seen how they will deal with the tricky question of Speaker.)
Well, let me make a bold prediction here. Horgan’s government is going to be far too busy putting out fires — metaphorically and literally — to do anything substantive about the pipeline issue.
First, almost all his MLAs, and all but three of his cabinet ministers, come from ridings in the southwest corner of the province — Vancouver, the lower mainland, Victoria and Vancouver Island. That’s a very uneven power base. It exacerbates the urban-rural split and presents him with daily challenges to governing this province.
Second, there’s his first priority — putting out fires, literally. As I write this, 155 wildfires continue to burn across BC, fifteen are threatening communities, and 32 thousand people remain on evacuation order.
Two crises immediately follow that emergency — fentanyl, and softwood lumber.
Horgan intends to recall the Legislature in early September. Once he does, he will have to govern, with the support of the Greens, with exactly one more seat than the BC Liberals have. Once a Speaker is chosen, the two sides will be tied. The position of Speaker is supposed to be neutral and impartial, and the Speaker votes only to break ties. Which means, of course, that potentially the Speaker will have to cast a vote on every piece of legislation. If the Speaker votes with the governing party every time in order to keep the government from falling, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the illusion of impartiality.
There will be too many pressures. Pressure on the Speaker. Pressure on the Greens, to keep the government going on one hand, to maintain their separateness and their relevance on the other. Pressure from the opposition Liberals, led by the relentless Christy Clark, who will stalk this government like a hunter on prey, and at the first opportunity, bring it down.
It might not go down this way. Clark might allow sportsmanlike conduct to get in the way of ambition for a while….although I haven’t seen any evidence of that yet.
John Horgan and the New Democrats have — whether you agree with it or not — an ambitious agenda. They would love to stay in office for 4 years in order to enact it. Green leader Andrew Weaver says he wants to keep them in office that long to prove that proportional representation can work. (Proportional representation pretty much guarantees that no party wins a majority of seats.) Lofty ideals are about to collide head-on with political reality.
I give this government six months. It could be less. It could be more. With luck, we get campaign finance reform legislation out of this before the government collapses. But don’t expect much more.