I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that yesterday was a gloriously sunny, warm day here on Salt Spring; that the Greens announced they were casting their lot (and support) with the New Democrats to form a new government in British Columbia; and that angry, dark clouds are skidding across the sky today accompanied by the rumble of thunder and occasional bursts of rain.
I’m not sure Christy Clark’s people see it that way, mind you…
So, in the immortal words of Austin Powers, “What does it all mean, Basil?”
Pick up a paper, turn on a talk show, or check your social media feeds and you’ll be inundated with columnists, commentators, pundits, protestors, partisans and political scientists all proclaiming that they have the answers you seek. They’ve read the entrails, they’ve seen the future, and as always, they’re here to assure you that their (crystal) balls are biggest.
This is a perfect time to remind you of the wisdom of William Goldman — author, scriptwriter and the genius who gave us “The Princess Bride.” He also gave us a memoir of his career in Hollywood that I contend is also the best textbook on politics ever written — show business politics making the politics of politics look like child’s play by comparison. It is called, “Which Lie Did I Tell?”
(The title is not autobiographical…it comes from a story Goldman recounts in the book about a slippery Hollywood producer.)
In the book, Goldman contends that the reason so many Hollywood pictures flop at the box office is because nobody knows anything. Studio heads, producers, directors, actors, writers, crews and just about anyone associated with the making of motion pictures, he argues, will never admit that because:
- There’s so much money at stake, Hollywood movies costing what they do to make
- In the case of studio heads, their jobs — which they are destined to lose eventually, anyway — are on the line
- And ego — who wants to admit they don’t know what they’re doing?
But they don’t! They don’t know when they see a script whether it’ll turn into a hit. Even if it feels like a likely contender today, it takes so long to make a movie that they don’t know whether the moviegoing public’s tastes will have changed by the time it hits the theatres. There are a thousand reasons why it might bomb and no clear reason why it won’t. But….if it works, it’ll make so damn much money that it’ll cover the losses on all the studio’s other pictures that bomb this year, and everybody keeps working for another year!
Dave, what the heck does this tangent you’re on have to do with the BC Greens and NDP teaming up to oust the Liberals, you ask? And where do we all go from here?
I don’t know! And neither does anybody else you’re hearing from today — not that they’re likely to admit it. I mean, I know why I wrote about William Goldman: to make the point that when it comes to politics, much like show business, much of the time nobody knows anything.
Nobody knows whether this is a deal that will last for a full, four-year term of office or fall apart before summer. (The fact is, most minority governments last a little less than two years on average.)
Nobody knows what this “deal” between the NDP and Greens actually will turn out to be, over time — only what it won’t be. It is neither a coalition nor a partnership. The Greens have merely committed to supporting the NDP on confidence votes and budget votes. That commitment is important, yes, but it hardly guarantees the NDP any more security than if Andrew Weaver had said to John Horgan, “Well, y’know, I think we’ll take this on a case-by-case, vote-by-vote basis.” It’s a little better than that, but not much.
Nobody knows (yet) whether the NDP will actually get the chance to govern. Christy Clark is still premier and she won’t go quietly. Clark announced this afternoon that she will recall the Legislature, in her words: “…in very short order, certainly before the end, maybe closer to the beginning of the month of June.” Those BC Liberals do love being in power, and although they won the province-wide popular vote by barely more than 1500 ballots, they did finish first…and with two more seats than the NDP. Since Clark is refusing to resign, the Liberals remain the Government until they lose a vote of non-confidence — something they can expect to face almost immediately after the Legislature resumes.
Nobody knows whether Clark can survive the non-confidence vote. Her side is outnumbered, 44 to 43, by the NDP and Greens. But she’s a veteran political brawler, pretty much without shame, so my guess is she thinks she has at least a shot at the NDP-Green deal falling apart and the vote going her way. Clark did say that if she loses the vote, she will not call another election. So in that case, the Lieutenant-Governor would ask NDP leader John Horgan to take a shot at forming government — which he clearly believes he can do with the Greens’ support — and then we’d see how long that would last. Which brings up the next point:
Nobody knows how long the Greens and NDP can share a bed. It is said they hold a lot of the same positions, but the cultures of the two parties are significantly different. Case in point — free votes. Green MLAs are required to vote the party line only on explicit votes of non-confidence, although the deal with the NDP changes that because it also requires the Greens to support every NDP budget. This presents an ethical dilemma and a logistical near-impossibility. On the one hand, how do you keep your supporters happy if you take away your MLAs’ right to vote their conscience and require them to vote the party line — especially the line of the other party you’re propping up? On the other hand, how can you prop up a minority government for four years — Green leader Andrew Weaver’s stated goal — if you don’t require your MLAs to vote with said government? A minority government cannot keep losing votes in the Legislature and remain in government. The “deal” may say that the Greens have to support the NDP only on the budget and confidence votes. However — and forgive me because I’m about to string together a double, triple or quadruple negative — losing a vote on a government bill doesn’t magically not become a vote of non-confidence just because the government says it’s not a non-confidence vote.
And finally, nobody knows what will become of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipeline. Except maybe Justin Trudeau, who says this changes nothing — the pipeline will be built, the PM says, because it’s in the national interest. And pipelines are a federal responsibility.
The BC election changed or clarified nothing, neither does any deal between the NDP and Greens even though both parties vehemently oppose the pipeline expansion. In the parliamentary system, majority governments get to do pretty much as they please. Minority governments on the other hand need to compromise, constantly balancing their desire to do what they want with the knowledge that the voters didn’t give them permission to do so. So I bet Horgan and Weaver will quickly judge the pipeline too contentious to tackle and decide that campaign finance reform is a much more palatable issue on which to gamble their tenuous hold on power.
Then again, I might be wrong. Because nobody knows anything. And as William Goldman also pointed out via The Dread Pirate Roberts in “The Princess Bride”:
“Anyone who says differently is selling something.”