MLAs from around B.C. will join together in the Legislature on Thursday, sitting for the first time since the May election as the Lieutenant Governor delivers the Speech from the Throne at 2 p.m.
While the event is usually full of pomp and circumstance, it’s traditionally little more than a formality. But in this wild election year, nothing is quite so simple.
Here’s a look at what’s expected to happen in the coming days, and what’s at stake for the major players.
Electing the Speaker of the House
Before Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon can enter the chamber to make the speech, MLAs must elect a Speaker of the House.
Normally, this is a decision made with little fuss other than the standard theatre of MLAs pretending to drag the chosen MLA to the Speaker’s chair.
This time, however, with a razor thin margin between the Liberals’ 43 MLAs and the 44 opposition MLAs (41 NDP and three Green) no party wants to give up a member to become Speaker.
That impasse has led to weeks of contentious debate, and remains an issue that is not completely settled.
The BC Liberals have confirmed they will put up an MLA for speaker on Thursday in order to allow the Throne Speech to take place, and who will keep the job as long as the party holds power.
Usually, a speaker remains in place until the next election or if they resign due to illness, controversy, or being appointed to cabinet.
But the Liberals won’t commit to providing a speaker under an NDP government, with Finance Minister Mike de Jong even ridiculing the idea as “bizarre.”
Speech From the Throne
Generally, the Throne Speech is an uncontentious affair laying out the government’s blueprint for the next legislative session, and usually restating its election platform.
However, this speech will be different.
The BC Liberals are using it as an opportunity to launch a revamped party platform in the wake of their poor election showing, and are offering a slew of new promises if they retain power.
Over the past week, the Liberals have made U-turns on a number of positions, totalling more than $1.2-billion in spending not allocated in the Liberals’ February budget.
The promises include:
- $1-billion over four years for 60,000 new child care spaces and early childcare education (the party had initially offered funding for 13,000 spaces, and slammed the NDP’s proposed $1.5-billion proposal as unaffordable).
- An as-of-yet uncosted provincial poverty reduction plan.
- Rescinding the requirement for a referendum for new transit funding options (something Metro Vancouver Mayors have been requesting for years).
- Increasing social assistance by $100 per month, the same amount as promised in the NDP platform (an increase the Liberals have said for a decade is not financially possible while maintaining help finding work, not handouts, is the best assistance).
- $50-million for installing more than 4,500 vehicle charging stations around B.C.
Following the Throne Speech, the Legislature will recess for the weekend.
On Monday, MLAs will return to the House for the first day of debate on the speech, and the first opportunity for a motion of non-confidence to be made.
That motion would come in the form of an amendment to the speech and is expected to be put forward by the NDP.
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Debate over the Throne Speech is expected to continue Tuesday and Wednesday before the fireworks begin on Thursday with the vote of confidence.
Though that vote is expected to take place Thursday, the last few months have shown that the expected doesn’t always happen in B.C. politics.
“Anything is possible which is why not many of us are making carved in stone predictions here,” says Global BC Legislative Bureau Chief Keith Baldrey.
But Baldrey says while Clark does have some moves left, she’s unlikely to use them.
Clark could, for example, introduce a bill, such as banning corporate and union donations which she has already promised. It would force a debate.
“If they were to do that, that would push out the Throne Speech debate off to the distance, to the next week, or the week after that, beyond the June 29 date they have right now for the confidence vote. It’s an option but I don’t think they are going to do that.”
The Liberals could also attach a formal notice that ‘confidence’ would be attached to their bill.
“The Green Party has already signalled they would vote for a bill that would ban corporate and political union donations and deem it that if the bill fails, they fail a confidence vote. But if they could pass a confidence vote, that would be interesting. I don’t think it would change the material vote on the Throne Speech which would still be a confidence vote.”
When that key vote comes, the Green Party is expected to vote with the NDP to bring down the BC Liberals.
The two parties signed a pact in May in which the Greens pledged to support the NDP on budget and confidence motions.
If the Liberals lose the confidence vote, the matter is then turned over to Lt. Governor Judith Guichon.
Her constitutional powers allow her to either dissolve the House and send B.C. back to the polls for another election, or to offer another party — in this case, the NDP — the opportunity to try and hold the confidence of the House.
At that point, the speaker question will be back front and centre, with the NDP likely having to offer up one of its own MLAs to take the job.
- With files from Emily Lazatin