British Columbia Convenes First Minority Government in 65 Years

  • Throne speech set to spur vote to topple Premier Christy Clark
  • NDP-Green alliance holds one-seat edge on incumbent Liberals

Christy Clark, premier of British Columbia.

Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

The western province of British Columbia convened its first minority government in more than six decades after a dramatic election that’s sparking political turmoil in Canada’s fastest-growing economy.

The legislature resumed in Victoria Thursday with Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon set to deliver a throne speech starting at 2 p.m. local time. Parliamentary procedure dictates the speech -- which typically lays out the government’s agenda for the session -- must be debated for four days before Premier Christy Clark can test the confidence of the house as she promised after her Liberal Party failed to win a majority last month.

That vote is expected on June 29 and is set to oust the Liberals after 16 years in power. A period of political upheaval is set to follow, raising speculation about a fresh election in the Pacific Coast province. That would spell further uncertainty in a region that’s home to proposed multibillion-dollar energy projects and is one of Canada’s main engines for jobs and growth.

An alliance between the left-leaning New Democratic Party and the Green Party holds a one-seat majority in the 87-member legislature -- just enough to oust the Liberals. However, they’re likely to lose that edge if they are forced to give up a member to be Speaker, without which nothing can happen in the legislature. 

Why Politics in a Canadian Province Matters for Business

While Steve Thomson, a Liberal lawmaker, was elected Speaker on Thursday to allow the session to proceed, he is expected to step down when Clark loses the confidence vote, which will leave the two opposing sides in a deadlock over who will replace him.

What will happen thereafter is testing political convention and constitutional law.

The province, which hasn’t had a minority government since 1952, is headed for a hung legislature. The Liberals and the NDP-Green alliance could each hold 43 votes, making legislation difficult to pass. The Speaker -- a traditionally non-partisan, ceremonial enforcer of house rules -- would turn into a constant tie-breaker.

Under their pact, the NDP and Greens have pledged to maintain an NDP-led government until the next scheduled election in four years. Michael de Jong, the incumbent Liberal finance minister and house leader, told reporters last week such a scenario is “not workable” and suggested it could lead to a snap election.

A poll by the Angus Reid Institute this week indicated about one in 10 would vote differently if given another chance, especially among those who had backed the Greens.

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