The halls of the British Columbia Legislature and the press were abuzz last week with the possibility the B.C. Liberals could face – and lose – a vote of non-confidence when they table their budget this week.
Gleefully fed by the NDP staff and house leader, the press was counting heads and calculating the odds.
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 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.
First, the vote everyone’s talking about is merely the vote to allow first reading of the budget, meaning MLAs would be asked to vote down a budget they haven’t seen – not 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 the government will be brought down on its budget vote is nonsensical.
Third, and most importantly, bringing the government down 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.
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 government employees are paid, surgeries continue as planned, roads are maintained, and government agencies keep their doors open.
In short, this is the worst kind of United States-style partisan brinksmanship.
While the B.C. Liberals and Premier Christy Clark may have lost their “moral right to govern,” 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.
All of this proves we absolutely must move the election date to the fall. The Independent MLAs have asked for this change to be made this session.
The B.C. NDP have 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 this week.
Bob Simpson is the Cariboo North MLA who is sitting as an Independent