Martyn Brown: Will the real Steve Thomson please stand up?

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      If all goes according to Christy Clark’s plan, British Columbia’s newly acclaimed 38th speaker of the legislature will resign his office sometime this week, when her government falls as expected.

      Kelowna-Mission MLA Steve Thomson will become the shortest-ever serving speaker in B.C. history.

      According to the legislative library, that dubious distinction presently belongs to B.C.’s 19th speaker, John Hart. He served a whole 67 days in that capacity, under the 1949 Coalition government.

      In the meantime, many voters are wondering, who is Steve Thomson, anyway?

      You won’t find out by clicking on the B.C. Liberals’ information about its current MLAs. Each picture you click produces the same fitting message: “Sorry, the page you're looking for isn’t here.”

      Those 43 smiling faces are all now officially dead links.

      The leadership many voters were looking for just isn’t there, as that entire party is now under deconstruction.

      This is what I know about Thomson, from working with him as a candidate and cabinet minister, back in 2009-10.

      He is a man of impeccable honour, integrity, and capability. A more decent, likable, trustworthy, and honest man would be hard to find.

      Which is to say, he is perfect—absolutely perfect—for the role he now holds, as speaker.

      At 6’ 5”, he is physically imposing, but never intimidating. He is a gentle giant with brains, who commands respect with quiet confidence and the courage of his convictions—always listening, ever learning, and never shirking from acting on sound advice.

      As a former executive director of the B.C. Agriculture Council, and general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association and the B.C. Milk Producers Association, he is a proven expert at herding cats.

      As a former member of the Canadian national rugby team, he is not afraid to knock heads, push back, or plow forward.

      He is a team player, through and through. A trait that may not be such a good thing, in the current context.

      Clearly, Christy Clark has put Thomson in the speaker’s chair to remain, above all, her team player.

      As we all know, her game plan calls for him to quit when her government gets punted. Odds are, that is exactly what he will do, much to the united opposition’s chagrin.

      Yet I am still hoping, perhaps naïvely, that the real Steve Thomson that I know will please stand up.

      Not for the premier. Not for his party. And not for his personal political interest.

      But rather, for what he surely knows in his heart is actually in the public interest. For what he, of all people, must know is what one would expect from a man of his stature and character, as a servant of the people and of the legislature.

      If Thomson is the person I knew him to be, he will stand up for what he should know is right—and not for what his partisan colleagues deem to be politically expedient, which is so patently wrong.

      He will remain as speaker, to resolve the partisan stalemate that he is uniquely positioned to achieve, in the greater interests of our province.

      Don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing that Thomson is somehow bound by convention to remain as speaker for the life of this parliament. He has every right to resign whenever he wishes.

      Nor am I disputing the fact that it is typically the governing party that offers one of its members to serve as speaker.

      Typically, however, the legislature is not divided by a one-seat majority. In fact, it has never happened before in B.C.

      It begs the question: is our system of responsible government really so irresponsible that it cannot accommodate a one-seat majority? Is a one-seat majority somehow an illegitmate majority, or any less worthy than a two-seat or larger majority?

      I don’t accept that, and neither should Thomson.

      I don’t accept that the principle of “majority rules” should not apply: that the 44 members who have no confidence in the current government should suck it up and agree to let the other 43 members rule the roost.

      I don’t accept that the parties with over 300,000 more combined votes than the one that is now governing the province received should be disqualified from governing for lack of a speaker, neutral or not.

      Nor do I accept that the solution should be to immediately have another election, as the Liberals and many political pundits want.

      Cost and hassle aside, there is no guarantee that that would even produce a different result.

      Besides, we already have a minority government-in-waiting that can command the support of a legislative majority.

      That majority alliance could work just fine, if only Thomson would keep his speaker’s hat on and keep his Liberal robes in the closet, where he has now ostensibly hung them.

      I sure don’t accept that if Thomson cannot find it within himself to play a constructive role in resolving the speaker stalemate, that the NDP should be precluded from governing, because the tie-breaking vote will necessarily fall to an NDP speaker.

      If the lieutenant-governor were to ever accept that rationale as a basis for dissolving the parliament and forcing another election, without first calling on John Horgan to form a government, it truly would be a constitutional crisis.

      In that event, our notional head of state would be seen by many as a partisan shill for the party she once supported. All hell would break loose, and rightly so.

      It is certainly not Hon. Judith Guichon’s role to usurp the wishes of the legislative majority, by denying its elected members the opportunity to form a government, whatever that entails for the speaker’s role in legislative votes and proceedings.

      True enough, Thomson is under no obligation to continue on as speaker, if he sees his first duty as being responsible to his party leader, rather than to what is reasonably demanded under the present circumstances.

      The choice he makes will, in fact, forever determine the man he is, in the eyes of history. He can choose to be either the hero or the goat; a force for stability and democracy, or a gutless wonder who was unworthy of the accolades that he earned by his contributions to British Columbia.

      He, alone, can avert a situation that would put needless pressure on the lieutenant governor to either dissolve the parliament, as some constitutional “experts” have suggested she should, or to “risk” asking Horgan to form a government.

      He, alone, can avert the need for either an unnecessary and unwanted snap election, or for an NDP speaker, who would be necessarily cast in the role as a partisan tie-breaker, in most legislative proceedings.

      He, alone, can decide whether to respect the majority’s wishes as a constructive force for stability and responsible government, or to make a bad situation worse, by taking his ball and going home, as the premier would have him do.

      On the surface, the study in contrast between those two individuals couldn’t be more striking.

      As her throne speech shows, she is a crass political opportunist—desperate, unprincipled, and driven by weakness.

      By standing up to the premier and remaining willing to serve as speaker, Thomson would once again prove himself as her opposite. He would consolidate his reputation as a person of principle, strength, and leadership, whose dedication to public service and to his office is beyond reproach.

      Thomson is a big man, at 6’ 5”.

      He would be even bigger by standing tall in the face of the small-minded pressure coming from the small people in the premier’s office.

      They expect him to meekly follow their discredited game plan and quit when the government loses its confidence vote. Time will tell if he allows himself to be reduced to their loathsome level.

      Now, more than ever, confidence in the integrity and strength of our elected leaders is sorely needed.

      Our province is deeply divided and is looking for healers and uniters—a motive that speaks to the very heart of the NDP-Green alliance led by Messieurs Horgan and Weaver.

      Sadly, the mainstream media has mostly relished in baiting the speaker and the Liberals to do the wrong thing.

      “Why would they help the NDP?” they ask.

      Or as Andrew Coyne put it, “the Liberals are under no obligation to make it easy for them by providing a Speaker themselves. The notion being put about, that the premier is obliged not merely to accept defeat, but to help the opposition replace her…is simply ludicrous.”

      No, the Liberals are under no such obligation.

      Not if they don’t give a damn about making democracy work.

      Not if they want to frustrate a one-seat majority.

      Not if they want to either force another immediate election, or force the speaker into a partisan role that no one should want by choice, when a reasonable solution is readily available.

      Not if they don’t care about sparing the lieutenant-governor from an uncomfortable predicament that now threatens to call her office and her integrity into disrepute.

      Play the game, the pundits almost all say. Let’s have at it. Elbows up, as always, the more blood, the better.

      For them, it’s the spectacle that matters most, regardless of who or what gets hurt along the way—the vast majority of people who voted for change, most of all.

      There’s the rub: the best hope for convincing Thomson to do the right thing is moral suasion. Yet the mainstream media is doing zilch to apply that pressure.

      If anything, it is doing everything in its power to set an unneeded crisis of confidence in motion.

      It is apologizing for Thomson’s resignation before he has even tendered it, swayed as it is by Clark’s arguments for obstruction, by its contempt for reasoned compromise, and by its unyielding belief in oppositional politics as a winner-takes-all bloodmatch.

      What a sorry indictment of our political press.

      This is not rocket science. Other jurisdictions have made one-seat majorities work.

      Australia is doing that right now, with long-term reforms to the speaker’s role that I have previously championed, which the United Kingdom long ago embraced.

      Bernard Lord’s Conservative government in New Brunswick somehow managed to rule with a one-seat majority for three years, back in 2003.

      If the new Liberal minority only had a shred of interest in letting Thomson make the contribution he might for the good of the province, a one-seat majority would work well enough as well for B.C.

      In rugby, tries are scored by grounding the ball in the opposition's “in-goal” area.

      As a rugby aficionado, Thomson can score big time with a little trying.

      He just needs to keep the big picture in mind and never forget who most people in the crowd are really cheering for.

      They want him to succeed by being bigger, better, and bolder than his teammates ever imagined.

      They want him to help move the game forward, not backward, to help the majority alliance get on with the hard business of governing.

      I know that Thomson’s capable of doing that, if he can only find the strength to get beyond the ones in his angry scrum, who would have him lower himself to wallow with them in the muck.

      Will the real Steve Thomson please stand up? I’d like to think so, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

      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