The halls of the B.C. legislature and the press were abuzz yesterday with the possibility that the B.C. Liberals could face—and lose—a vote of nonconfidence when they table their budget next week. Gleefully fed by the NDP staff and house leader, the media were running around counting heads and calculating the odds. Twitter was filled with people calling for the government to fall because it had lost the “moral right” to govern.
In a close head count like we have today, it’s really the four independent MLAs who will determine the outcome of any vote, not the Opposition. So much for those who claim that independents are merely voices in the wilderness.
If we do end up with a close seat count after the next election, which some people are predicting, then this week stands as a good example of how much power independents and third-party MLAs can have in the house.
Speculating about a government collapse might make for an interesting story, but be careful what you wish for. Here’s what this vote means.
First, the vote everyone’s talking about is merely to allow first reading of the budget, meaning MLAs would be asked to vote down a budget they haven’t seen. Not exactly an informed decision by any measure.
Second, regardless of the outcome, we were never going to actually vote on the budget this session. Pre-election budgets do not go through the full debate required to allow them to come to a vote. Suggesting that the government will be brought down on its budget vote is nonsensical.
Third, and most importantly, bringing the government down on Tuesday by refusing to even look at the B.C. Liberals’ budget would mean we could go to the polls without passing the interim supply bill. What does that mean? It means those MLAs voting against the government would also be voting to shut down government.
It means that, after March 31, the executive would have to obtain a special warrant to approve spending to ensure that government employees are paid, surgeries continue as planned, roads are maintained, and government agencies keep their doors open. (See Section 24 of the Financial Administration Act.)
In short, this is the worst kind of U.S.-style partisan brinksmanship.
While the B.C. Liberals and Premier Christy Clark may have lost their “moral right to govern” (and, frankly, the throne speech showed the B.C. Liberals don’t deserve a renewed mandate), we must not risk shutting the entire government down out of spite just so B.C.’s two main political parties can take their fight to the streets a few weeks earlier than scheduled. The B.C. Liberals will have to face the voters on May 14 anyway, so let’s try to do some governing until the legislature adjourns when the writ drops.
I believe the Liberals will make sure they have the majority they need to say “Yea” to first reading of the budget next Tuesday, and that’s good for B.C. Both the B.C. Liberals and NDP will face the electorate soon enough, without the prospect of shutting down the entire government.
What all of this posturing proves is that we absolutely must move the election date to the fall. The independent MLAs have asked for this change to be made this session. The NDP has supported this request, and the B.C. Liberals who have responded have dismissed it, although multiple government members have supported this idea in the past.
This is exactly the sort of reform we won’t be able to enact this session if the government falls next week.
Bob Simpson is the independent MLA for Cariboo North.