Martyn Brown: Building confidence in B.C.’s new NDP-Green alliance

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      So, now we know the details of the "Confidence and Supply Agreement" that British Columbia’s NDP and Green party MLAs have all signed, to form a stable NDP minority government.

      In its scope, content, optimism, and ambition, it is a sweeping document. If implemented, it will confidently assert B.C.’s leadership as a progressive and contemporary force for climate action, sustainable growth, and social democracy.

      No wonder John Horgan and Andrew Weaver look like they are on Cloud Nine.

      If only they could bottle that "loving feeling".

      Sooner or later, they will return to the hustings, competing once again as determined political opponents.

      For now, though, it sure feels good to revel in this moment that is so dedicated to only doing good.

      The two parties’ agreement points to an unprecedented new spirit of public service and governance, firmly rooted in cooperation, consultation, compromise, and trust.

      To the extent those values are mutually honoured, respected, and practised, it can only help lead us to a more civil society.

      Like a can of Boost Oxygen, it suggests a breath of fresh air. We could sure use a hit to reinvigorate our body politic.

      How well its restorative properties might work or last is anyone’s guess. But I, for one, am eager to give it a try.

      Whatever transpires, it is a noble experiment aimed at proving the merits of minority governments.

      It proposes a new partnership of principle. One that leaves both parties free to speak their minds and to maintain their independence, while remaining decidedly wedded to the values and vision that brought them together.

      Its power is its purpose: change you can count on, for a better British Columbia.

      A sea change is more like it. For it will dramatically alter so much in B.C. for the better, consistent with the two parties’ election platforms.

      This extensive essay is not about which specific elements of either party’s platform won out over the other, or even what policy priorities were expressly addressed in the agreement’s nearly three-dozen itemized commitments.

      Rather, it is an in-depth analysis of some of the least talked about, but most important elements of that NDP-Green accord. And of how it might actually work and why I am optimistic that it will allow the Horgan administration to govern with confidence.

      There will be no end of speculation, consternation, and debate about the accord’s policy content in the days to come. The more pertinent issue for me, at this point, is the bipartisan framework that agreement proposes, to shape and support that panoply of listed policies and priorities that it also undertakes to advance.

      It is the consultative process that framework envisions that warrants deeper inspection. Both for what it might entail in government decision-making, and for how it stands to forever change our way of thinking about minority governments.

      That is, if it works, as I hope it will.

      And as I argue below, it stands a much better chance of doing that than a cursory understanding of parliamentary confidence might suggest.

      The two leaders and their caucuses ratified their agreement in public, putting the lie to any implication from Christy Clark that this was some sort of secret backroom deal.

      There was no secret agreement

      The "deal" is, first and foremost, a statement to secure progress on many mutually desired initiatives, within a process that will allow the NDP minority government to retain the confidence of a legislative majority. A majority that is, in turn, dependent on every one of those Green and NDP members’ vote.

      At its most fundamental level, the agreement is at once an explicit vote of confidence in a new NDP government, and an implicit vote of non-confidence in the Clark government.

      The premier is hell-bound to test that premise, as she is entitled to do, through a formal vote in the legislature. She has indicated that will occur within the next week or two.

      And so we will have to wait a little while longer for British Columbians to get that new government that 60 percent of them voted for and deserve.

      Fair enough. But let’s not buy into Christy Clark’s rationale for choosing the route she did.

      As she put it, "if there is going to be a transfer of power in this province—and it certainly seems likely that there will be—it shouldn't be done behind closed doors. It should happen in public, as constitutional convention tells us it should. It should happen in the people’s house, with 87 members elected by British Columbians."

      I have to wonder if the unspoken intention of those remarks was to delegitimize the opposition’s agreement as a backroom deal. She seemed to be implying that it is somehow being foisted upon the public "behind closed doors", to affect a transfer of power that would contravene constitutional convention.


      The majority partnership sworn by those two parties to precipitate a transfer of power did happen in public. It was announced in public, signed in public, and openly pledged in black and white. 

      The deal was negotiated and written in private, as one would expect. But it was ratified in front of the media, with cameras rolling, streamed live for the world to see over the Internet.

      Nothing could be more transparent, including a vote in the legislature.

      Moreover, it is poppycock to suggest that "constitutional convention" somehow obliges the premier to test her government’s confidence in the legislature.

      Because of that openly adopted agreement, signed by 44 duly elected members, we already know that the Clark government no longer enjoys the confidence of the legislature.

      On the contrary, we now know—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that John Horgan’s NDP now holds the confidence of a majority of the people’s elected representatives in the legislature.

      Nothing the Clark government can say on its death bed, through the lieutenant-governor’s lips, will change that.

      The premier could have simply accepted that reality and chosen to facilitate a more graceful and timely transition of power.

      She could have immediately resigned as premier and recommended to Her Honour to invite Horgan to form that government.

      Instead, she has opted to prolong that transition through a formal vote of confidence in her government that she expects to lose.

      And in so doing, she has opted to further protract the uncertainty that has already hung over our province for far too long.

      Precisely when that vote of confidence will occur, or how it will come about, the premier won’t say. We should know that now.

      Heck, she has already had a month to prepare a throne speech. She should be ready to introduce it next Tuesday, if she really wanted to expedite matters.

      If Clark was even remotely as committed to the transparency that was the heart of her justification for testing her government’s confidence in the legislature before resigning, she would have clarified precisely how she envisions that playing out.

      Transparency? If Clark was truly committed to that value she would have already provided Horgan’s transition team access to the government’s transition binders. As Horgan noted at the bipartisan press conference and signing photo-op, that information is critical to a smooth and orderly transition of power.

      Clark well knows how vital it is for the NDP to have access to that detailed intelligence in preparing to accept the reins of power.

      As it is, the uncertainty caused by the close election has already substantially compressed the window of time available for preparing a budget before the government’s approved "interim supply" money runs out, at the end of September.

      Clark’s chosen route for formalizing who gets to govern will further jam that planning period. It will put more pressure on Horgan to do what needs to be done, within the ever shrinking allotted time available.

      That, too, undoubtedly factored into the premier’s decision. Politics as usual.

      Christy Clark could facilitate a smoother transfer of power by resigning as premier, but she's chosen instead to recall the legislature.

      Clark is not serving the public interest

      Typically, after an election resulting in a change in government, the interregnum period to facilitate that transition of power begins on the day after the ballots are counted.

      Presumably, that period will not now begin for the de facto new government-elect until after the Clark government is formally defeated in the legislature.

      How long will that ensuing interregnum last?

      How much longer does the premier imagine that British Columbians would have to wait until she turns over the keys of power to Horgan?

      Would it not be in the public interest to help expedite that transition process, expecting as she does, that it seems highly likely to happen?

      Would it not better serve the public interest to give Horgan’s team access to the briefing materials it needs, to hit the ground running, as the government-in-waiting it already clearly is?

      Of course it would.

      Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.

      True to form, for Premier Clark, the future’s not ours to see.

      All that we can be sure of is that some time in the not-too-distant future, it will finally all be over.

      I suppose we should be grateful that Clark has at least clarified she will not try to force a snap election, when she loses the vote of confidence in the legislature.

      Mercifully, she has agreed to accede to that majority’s will at that point, by tendering her resignation as premier and moving over to the opposition benches, where her entire caucus already belongs.

      Then the hard work of governing will begin for Premier Horgan’s administration.

      Central to that endeavour will be working to honour the Confidence and Supply Agreement, together with the Green party caucus.

      In my mind, the most important words in that entire agreement are these [emphasis added]:

      "This agreement sets out a new relationship between the two parties, founded on the principle of ‘good faith and no surprises’. … Subject to the terms of this agreement, we undertake that:

      Should the Lieutenant Governor invite the Leader of the BC New Democrats to form a new government, this agreement will continue until the next scheduled election.

      The Leader of the New Democrats will not request a dissolution of the Legislature during the term of this agreement, except following the defeat of a motion of confidence.

      The BC Green MLAs will neither move, nor vote non-confidence during the term of this agreement, so long as the principle of good faith and no surprises has been observed.

      Both parties will ensure that they have all their elected members at all sittings of the House as reasonable, and will vote in favour of the government on confidence motions.

      While individual bills, including budget bills, will not be treated or designated as matters of confidence, the overall budgetary policy of the Government, including moving to the committee of supply, will be treated as matters of confidence.

      BC Green support for policy and legislation which does not relate to confidence or supply is not subject to this agreement and will be decided on an issue by issue basis.

      As you can see, the key to that agreement is a core commitment made by all 44 signatories, not just by the NDP or Green party, to maintain their confidence in John Horgan’s government until the next election. A commitment that is subject to the terms of the agreement.

      It is intended to be explicitly binding on all of those MLAs "for four years, or until the next fixed date election", with one critical qualifier: "so long as the principle of good faith and no surprises has been observed."

      That caveat is clearly well-intentioned. Yet it is so innately subjective, you could drive a truck through the opening it provides any member or the Green party to withdraw their ongoing vote of confidence in the Horgan government.

      Fact is, the agreement itself provides ample avenue for the Greens or for any member to abandon it: on principle, at any point, and on the basis that its foundational "good faith and no surprises" condition was somehow breached.

      That seems most unlikely, as long as Horgan is making an honest effort to respect the deal, as best he can, and as long as the issue of proportional representation, in particular, remains in play.

      Otherwise, that agreement purports to commit that entire 44-member majority to a four-and-a-half-year pledge of fealty that also substantially limits what might constitute a confidence vote.

      It clearly anticipates that the government could only be defeated by the loss of a confidence vote on "overall budgetary policy". And further, that "individual bills, including budget bills, will not be treated or designated as matters of confidence."

      All of which raises the following three questions, which I address in turn below, in detail:

      What constitutes "good faith and no surprises"?

      Does the agreement’s limited interpretation of a "confidence vote" functionally define what will constitute a non-confidence vote in the government?

      What happens if the NDP-Green alliance unintentionally loses a confidence vote, or if the government loses a vote that the B.C. Liberals maintain is, in fact, a vote of confidence?

      What constitutes "good faith and no surprises"?

      The answer to this question takes us directly to the most structurally significant part of the NDP-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement.

      In answer to those who suggest the Greens won nothing from the NDP in agreeing to that deal, I say, read the parts that the media has mostly dismissed as incidental boilerplate rhetoric.

      Specifically, read the agreement’s entire section on "consultation arrangements" and its related appendix, "Consultation and Dispute Resolution between the BC Green Caucus and the BC New Democrat Government".

      In practical implications, those provisions amount to a significant degree of power sharing.

      Save and except for the Greens’ absence from representation in cabinet, the consultative process it outlines has almost all the trappings of a coalition government, at least in respect of all that agreement covers in policy terms.

      Indeed, the Greens stand to be involved in government decision-making at a much higher and more functionally significant level than government caucuses typically are.

      That unprecedented commitment to consultation represents a whopping-big concession from the NDP to the Greens.

      It will profoundly shape the Horgan administration’s grip on power, as it will deeply inform its processes and obligations for developing government policy.

      It stands to forever change the very nature of how the NDP government and all future minority governments might be expected to work in B.C.

      As the appendix states, in practice, it will require both parties to work together in good faith on everything from developing government policies, to making senior order-in-council appointments—with no surprises.

      It commits the Horgan administration to consulting with an opposition party as no government has done before in B.C.

      It also obliges the Greens to act as a single, united entity in accommodating the government’s new duty to consult and in staking their claims.

      In essence, that will extend much of what is entailed by the principle of "cabinet solidarity" to the opposition Green caucus.

      Though its three individual members will remain free to vote as they please on whatever government policies emerge from those consultative mechanisms, the caucus has agreed to be consulted as one. And also, to render one united position to the government, for its consideration in formulating cabinet policy.

      That’s big.

      The deputy leader of the B.C. Greens, Adam Olsen, will soon find himself buried in work as a result of the comprehensive agreement signed by 44 MLAs.

      The agreement also commits the government to consulting with the Greens in advance of making cabinet decisions, on every issue itemized in the accord, as the Greens essentially demand.

      The government will be obliged to share cabinet briefing notes, regularly meet with the Greens through formalized mechanisms for consultation, and provide in-depth briefings as they request on any issue covered by the agreement.

      And in doing all of that, the government must also allow "adequate time for the BC Green Caucus to review the necessary information and canvass the caucus for positions, taking into consideration the financial and human resource limitations of the BC Green office".

      Those three members will be swamped, to put it mildly. They will basically have to act as their own informal "mini-cabinet".

      They will be obliged to review any number of enormously complex policy issues, which even entire 20-member cabinets sometimes feel challenged to properly address, given other competing demands on ministers’ time.

      Soon enough they will learn the pitfalls of "who’s on first?"

      They will all be busy as hell, participating in various government-opposition committees and reviews. In addition to fulfilling their ongoing responsibilities as MLAs and as members of all-party legislative committees.

      Those Green MLAs will somehow have to do that all within reasonable prescribed timelines that allow cabinet to make decisions in good faith, without grinding the entire machinery of government to an unconscionable halt.

      It won’t be easy for ministers, either, as the lead agents for their files. But at least for the NDP, their healthy advantage in numbers should allow more of its private members to help with that heavy lifting.

      The Horgan administration would be well-advised to tap those members and their skill sets. Similar to how the Campbell government used government caucus committees—so-called GCCs in its first administration, to include all B.C. Liberal MLAs on those form of cabinet committees that were mostly aimed at ensuring deep consultation.

      The NDP-Green agreement further envisions a three-tiered consultation/dispute resolution framework, to help execute and expedite its requisite consultation process. But it still comes down to a basic challenge of numbers and resources.

      Three people can only do so much, no matter how smart they are, or how well-supported they might be by others. The Greens limited caucus budgets and resources will add to that pressure.

      The range of areas subject to that obligatory Green caucus consultation is staggering.

      It includes meaningful, prior consultation on the "broad outline of the government’s legislative programme", on "legislation to be introduced in the House", on "major policy issues", on "broad budget parameters", and on "events/policy changes with provincial or budgetary implications".

      And that is just on the highest conceptual level.

      The agreement further obliges the government to consult with the Greens on all of the agreement’s specifically itemized policy commitments, of which, there are nearly three dozen.

      Many of those are highly general in nature. The parties’ framework organizes those mutually agreed upon policy priorities under four sub-headings.

      Namely, "Making democracy work for people"; "Jobs, climate and a sustainable economy that works for everyone"; "Fixing the services people count on"; and "Making life more affordable".

      The scope of policy contemplated by those initiatives is massive, as has been widely reported.

      It relates to how our electoral system, campaign finance system, lobby system, and parliamentary system should all be reformed. And all through a consultative and collaborative partnership that gives the Greens several specific rights.

      It relates to specifics on climate action and entire fields of economic policy. In honouring the agreement’s referenced commitments, the NDP will have to deeply consult with the Greens before making decisions, and at all times, acting in good faith in formulating government policy.

      The welcome joint commitment to initiate annual $5 per tonne increases in the carbon tax, starting next April, is especially significant. Even more so is the commitment to extend that tax to so-called "fugitive emissions" and to slash-pile burning, presumably starting in that year as well.

      Never before, to my knowledge, has any opposition party had any such direct effect on government tax policy, which is usually jealously guarded by the finance minister and the premier as their own form of "royal prerogative".

      Other policy initiatives that will require deep consultation cover most facets of health-care policy, including on the composition of cabinet. The agreement obliges Horgan to appoint a dedicated minister for mental health and addictions.

      No opposition party has ever before effectively dictated a stand alone cabinet post—one that will be very hard to implement, in practical terms, based on my experience with Campbell's short-lived minister of state for mental health. It was great in theory, but devilishly difficult to execute, given the overlap of health-service delivery.

      Education, child care and child protection will also all fall under the new rubric for prior Green input and consultation, in shaping and implementing government policy.

      Several other specific initiatives for "making life affordable" will also further oblige the government to formulate policy in effective partnership with the Greens.

      The design and implementation of a provincewide poverty reduction strategy. The establishment of some new version of the old Progress Board, which the Clark government tubed. The elimination of MSP premiums. A new affordable housing strategy.

      All of it will be subject to an unprecedented, guaranteed process for policy consultation and dispute resolution that puts real power in the Green party’s hands.

      And if all of that is not enough, the NDP has also agreed "to establish a process to manage and coordinate the external communication of policy initiatives covered in this agreement, ensuring the principle of good faith and no surprises is maintained through communications".

      In other words, say goodbye to the days of surprise government photo-ops and announcements aimed at upstaging the opposition and at catching it off-guard. Or more accurately and more likely, say hello to a new means of dividing the opposition in that regard, to the extent it uniquely advantages the Green MLAs and continues to shut out the B.C. Liberals.

      Horgan’s ministers will also need to allow more time for communication planning and coordination with the Greens, before communicating government decisions.

      The Green MLAs’ quotes, presence, and political sensitivities, in respect of how any applicable government policies or decisions are presented, will need to be routinely incorporated into government news releases, photo-ops, and events.

      That’s power, believe me.

      A Canadian Study of Parliament Group paper pointed out that non-confidence motions have often failed to bring down minority governments.
      Canadian Study of Parliament Group

      Does the agreement’s limited interpretation of a "confidence vote" functionally define what will constitute a non-confidence vote in the government?

      Not necessarily, is the short answer.

      There is obviously a wealth of constitutional literature on that question, which no agreement of any simple majority of MLAs can easily override.

      Then again, that NDP-Green majority alliance could choose to amend the legislature’s standing orders, to clarify what does and does not constitute a confidence vote.

      It could perhaps amend B.C.’s Constitution Act, to specifically address that issue.

      Although I would certainly not recommend it, that majority of legislators could even amend the provision of that act that now says, "The Lieutenant Governor may, by proclamation in Her Majesty's name, prorogue or dissolve the Legislative Assembly when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit."

      All that aside, the reality is, the NDP-Green accord does make it quite clear how those two parties view the issue of confidence, and how it should apply. And that is hugely significant.

      They have expressly said that, as far as those two parties’ 44 combined members are concerned, there will be precious few confidence votes, as such.

      Under their agreement, the Greens remain free to defeat any government bill they want, including budget bills.

      So the risk of any MLA missing a vote, or siding with the B.C. Liberals against the government, is radically reduced.

      With very few exceptions, any matter put to a vote would not really matter to the government’s survival, under the terms of the agreement. A measure might fail, but the government would not fall.

      There will be far fewer opportunities to invite a question of confidence than there would have been in the absence of that confidence and supply agreement.

      If someone gets sick, or waylaid by weather conditions or other unavoidable circumstances, the government would normally have full control of when to put any matter of confidence to a vote.

      If it lacked the numbers it needed to pass its issue of confidence, it could delay that debate and vote, or even adjourn the sitting.

      The risks are not as great as they might seem to be, in light of the government’s one-seat legislative majority.

      Plus, who’s to say that the government won’t grow its numbers, by dint of what one or more members of the B.C. Liberal opposition do? Either in respect of a given vote, or in terms of sitting as independents, resigning their seats and precipitating by-elections, or even potentially crossing the floor, to join the NDP or Greens?

      If anything, those Liberal MLAs are actually much more likely to miss confidence votes. Especially if they are sprung on the legislature by the government when it knows it has the numbers to win.

      Moreover, the three Greens all live within a relative stone’s throw of the legislature. None of them will be routinely subject to travel worries, in making legislative votes on time.

      As a rule, they won’t be nearly as prone to being grounded by fog, which so often hampers MLAs that use the Helijet and seaplanes as a commuter service.

      By the same token, the NDP caucus and its cabinet will obviously be strictly "whipped", as it were. All 41 NDP members will be required to be in Victoria and to remain on the legislative precinct at all times, whenever a confidence vote might be remotely possible.

      But what if an accident happens, and the minority government fails to win a confidence vote?

      What happens if the NDP-Green alliance unintentionally loses a confidence vote, or if the government loses a vote that the B.C. Liberals maintain is, in fact, a vote of confidence?

      Here things get really tricky—and dicey.

      Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that the loss of a confidence vote necessarily means the collapse of a government, I would urge them to read this.

      That publication of the Canadian Study of Parliament Group, authored by Dr. Donald Desserud, offers a superb introductory review of "The Confidence Convention under the Canadian Parliamentary System".

      It is highly illuminating.

      Sure, it is only one of countless such academic analyses. Yet the evidence and examples it cites should build public confidence in the new NDP-Green alliance.

      Reading that review should strengthen anyone’s confidence in the likely stability of a Horgan government, notwithstanding its razor-thin legislative majority.

      As Prof. Desserud points out, "no federal government in Canadian history has resigned following a loss of confidence, however defined." Which is not to say many such votes were not conducted and lost. Still, some might find that fact astonishing.

      He notes this, as well: "the Liberal minority government under Prime Minister Paul Martin was defeated many times on motions that might well have been considered confidence votes, and three times on motions that appeared to be unequivocal votes of non-confidence (albeit one more explicitly worded than the others). Significantly, these three non-confidence motions were moved by the opposition. Martin’s government more or less ignored the first two votes. However, it acted on the third."

      That "third vote (taken on 28 November 2005) marked the first time that a Canadian federal government was defeated on an explicitly-worded non-confidence motion moved by the opposition."

      Even that vote did not force the government to resign, though it did call an election the following January.

      True enough, governments have resigned in advance of a confidence vote that they cannot avoid and expect to lose.

      The situation we now face in B.C. might have offered another case in point, if Clark had opted to take the elegant way out.

      Desserud observes that "Certainly other votes have prompted governments to request a dissolution, but these have always been votes declared or interpreted by the government-of-the-day to be votes of confidence (such as an amendment to a budget)."

      A dissolution of parliament forces an election, as opposed to a transfer of power to another elected leader and party, which can ostensibly command the confidence of a majority of members.

      Clark has already rightly pledged that she will not request a dissolution if/when she loses her vote of confidence.

      Yet under the terms of the NDP-Green accord, if Horgan should at some point also lose a vote of confidence, so defined, he would be entitled to go the lieutenant-governor and request a dissolution and an election. That is, assuming Clark could not reconstitute a new legislative majority that would hold sway with Her Honour.

      But even losing a vote of confidence would not automatically result in the Horgan administration’s demise, rare as those votes would be under the terms of the NDP-Green confidence and supply agreement.

      For starters, if Horgan and Clark disagree on a lost vote, which the latter argues should be considered a confidence vote, Horgan can do what so many other first ministers have done in our system of parliamentary democracy: just choose to ignore it.

      He could even probably get away with ignoring an "accidental" loss on a single confidence vote that he accepts as such.

      What is most important for the lieutenant-governor to consider in exercising her reserve powers is not whether a single vote was won or lost, but rather, whether any government of the day retains the confidence of the legislature. And barring obvious irrefutable evidence to the contary, she would mostly rely on the premier to give her that advice.

      Then again, a lost confidence vote might be easily remedied by another won confidence vote at some later point, likely in short order, to prove that Horgan’s government still enjoys majority support in the legislature.

      Obviously, that would fall back to the Greens to decide, in wielding their balance of power.

      You can bet that if some NDP MLA or minister somehow misses a vote, through no fault of their own, the Greens would surely want to shore up the government to pass their shared agenda.

      That will be doubly so until the issue of electoral reform is decided, which at earliest, will not be until at least the spring of 2019, after the referendum is conducted and enabling legislation is passed. Implementing that legislation will likely take another year, as the chief electoral officer will probably advise us all, at some point.

      As long as the process for deciding upon the model of proportional representation, on the outcome of the promised referendum on that model, and on the implementation of that new system is still alive, the Greens will do everything in their power to keep the NDP in power.

      Count on it.

      Beyond that, constitutional convention affords Horgan plenty of leeway to weather lost confidence votes that were not clearly indicative of a desired change in that intended power relationship.

      The lieutenant-governor would not be inclined to intervene with Horgan’s interpretation of a confidence vote. Nor would she likely overrule his decisions in respect of a lost confidence vote, unless it was clear that at least 44 members of the legislature were intent on deposing the NDP government.

      Surprising fact, I know, for any casual observer who has been listening to most of the recent media coverage on the issue.

      Fact is, there is no hard and fast rule on how confidence votes apply. The devil is in the details and circumstances surrounding any alleged loss of confidence.

      Today it is very clear that the Clark government has already lost the confidence of a majority of legislators.

      So her "last stand" is at hand, in the confidence vote that she has opted to provoke. Assuming she loses it, the LG will not afford the right to ignore it.

      In any case, Clark has already indicated that if/when that happens, she is prepared to step down and sit as the opposition leader.

      Horgan will have more flexibility.

      Again, these passages from Desserud’s paper are instructive:

      "The confidence of the House is different. It is not a matter of a specific vote that the government wins or loses, nor can confidence be reduced to a simple formula. As Dicey (1965, 437) writes, ‘... the question whether the House of Commons has or has not indirectly intimated its will that a Cabinet should give up office is not a matter as to which any definite principle can be laid down.’ Instead, confidence is best seen as something that must be considered over (some) time, a ‘euphemism,’ in Brazier’s words, ‘for saying that a government can win votes [note plural] of confidence in it’ (1982, 399, nt. 16). The government does not even have to win them all. Indeed, the argument that governments must win every vote and even every confidence vote is relatively new to parliamentary history."

      "The Speaker will not and cannot rule on whether the government has in fact lost the confidence of the House, regardless of the character, explicitness or circumstances of the vote. As Beauchesne explains: ‘the determination of the issue of confidence in the government is not a question of procedure or order, and does not involve the interpretive responsibilities of the Speaker . . . matters of confidence should at all times be clearly subject to political determination’ (Beauchesne 1989, 168)."

      "The House of Commons, then, is not the final arbiter in deciding when a government has lost the confidence of the House, nor can the House force its own dissolution (Blackburn 1990, 43 ff). So the House can pass all the votes of non-confidence it wants, and opposition MPs can claim, as did BQ leader Gilles Duceppe, that their motion was: ‘... clearly a non-confidence motion, and [that] the three opposition parties recognize it as such.’ In the end, and despite Bagehot’s apparent confidence to the contrary (House of Commons Debates, 10 May 2005), the House still lacks the constitutional authority to legally force dissolution or resignation."

      "Just as the opposition can persuade, but not force, a minister to respond to opposition questions during Question Period, the House does indeed possess considerable political power by which it can persuade the government to act in certain ways, and eventually frustrate a ministry’s ambition to govern. Yet this power is entirely political, and not enforceable by any legal means."

      Wow. Who knew, you say?

      I’ll tell you who: John Horgan and Andrew Weaver. At least, I would suspect as much.

      Hence their own high degree of confidence in the stability of the new government they are both resolved to create and keep in place, until the fall of 2021.

      John Horgan might find it easier dealing with Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon than any successor selected by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

      We are left with this reality, summarized by Desserud:

      "On questions of dissolution and confidence, then, we have this odd paradox. The Crown will not dissolve Parliament save on the advice of the very person whose legitimacy has been called into question. Even if a brave Governor General did decide to exercise her prerogative powers independent of, or against, the advice of her prime minister, the chances of her decision being accepted by the public (one that expects such decisions to be made by politically legitimate officers) are slim."

      It is also worth noting that Ms. Guichon is presently into her fifth year as B.C.’s lieutenant-governor. Her term is rapidly coming to an end, unless it is extended, as it hopefully will be.

      But typically, LGs only serve in their post for five to seven years. How a new LG might interpret constitutional convention and wish to act in respect of their royal prerogative is an open question.

      That might be especially salient in a clash between our provincial government and the federal government over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

      Who knows who Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might want to install in the LG’s chair, if he is "royally" miffed at Horgan and Weaver for frustrating his precious pipeline and the Kinder Morgan project?

      Not that that individual would act in any way that is remotely inappropriate.

      But like judges, to the extent that they do exercise unchallengeable discretionary power, as they deem to be constitutionally defensible, they are still individual human beings, with their own world views, biases, and personal understandings.

      Ms. Guichon is a much surer bet for Horgan than an unknown alternative.

      If push comes to shove on any controversy centered on a loss of confidence, he will want to have the best relationship possible with the Queen’s representative and B.C.’s notional head of state.


      For all of the talk about the tenuous nature of a 44-seat minority government, the NDP-Green alliance, backstopped by its accord, should give all British Columbians plenty of confidence.

      It offers a new partnership that promises to boldly act on the mandate given to its respective parties, through a combined 60 percent share of the popular vote.

      It offers an exciting road map for what should be a stable minority government; one that is deliberately secured by an extraordinary act of collaboration by those two opposition parties, which have locked arms in common purpose.

      There is every reason to believe that that alliance will hold and work, more or less as intended.

      The odds are good indeed that it will survive for some time. For much longer, let’s hope, than what the skeptics and the NDP’s opponents might like or suggest.

      It is an exciting time for British Columbia, and for the future of our democracy.

      I have every confidence in the world that all 44 elected members of the NDP and Green party are intent on making their marriage of convenience work, for all British Columbians.

      Indeed, that historic alliance should fill us all with hope and confidence in how Premier Horgan’s minority government might work on so many levels.

      To retain the confidence of the legislature.

      To serve its stated ideals, goals and policy outcomes.

      And to transform the way that politics are conducted, the way our representatives are elected, and the way our governments and elected members wield their collective power, on our behalf.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, and he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact Brown at