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Liberal minister leaves cabinet for new role as Speaker

Former forests minister Steve Thomson was acclaimed as Speaker of the B.C. legislature Thursday to oversee what could be the final days of the Liberal government.
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Speaker Steve Thomson, the Liberal MLA for Kelowna-Mission, addresses the legislature before the speech from throne on Thursday, June 22, 2017.

Former forests minister Steve Thomson was acclaimed as Speaker of the B.C. legislature Thursday to oversee what could be the final days of the Liberal government.

Thomson, Liberal MLA for Kelowna-Mission, said he volunteered for the post once it became clear that the government would put someone forward. He stepped down from cabinet Wednesday night and donned the Speaker’s robes shortly after the session opened Thursday morning.

“I’ve always had very high esteem for the legislature, for the work of the legislature, for the role of the Speaker, and I’ve always had an interest,” he told reporters at the legislature, following his appointment.

He refused to say whether he will remain in the role if, as expected, the Liberal government falls.

The NDP and B.C. Green Party have signed an accord to topple Premier Christy Clark and the Liberals in a confidence vote and Clark has suggested it will be up to the next government to find a new Speaker.

Thomson said only that he would strive to uphold the integrity of the office “in the days ahead.” He later revised that time frame to “weeks.”

“It’s not up to me to speculate about what may happen going forward,” he said. “My role and my focus will be to manage the house and the legislature with the best of my ability, with fairness and integrity.”

Pressed on the issue, Thomson said “it has been the practice that if the government changes, that it’s the government that identifies a Speaker.”

It’s a critical issue because none of the parties won a majority of seats in the May election.

The Liberals won 43 seats to 41 for the NDP and three for the Greens, and B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver signed a deal to prop up a minority government led by NDP Leader John Horgan.

If the NDP-Green alliance is forced to provide a Speaker, that will leave both sides of the house with 43 votes and leave the Speaker to break any ties.

Clark praised Thomson, a former member of Canada’s national rugby team, for his integrity, compassion and ability to bring people together.

“As I often say, politics needs more rugby players,” she told the legislature. “As the eyes of our province and our entire country are on this House like never before, I can’t think of a better choice to set the tone or a bigger man to enforce the rules.”

Horgan and Weaver, both rugby enthusiasts, welcomed Thomson’s appointment.

“I have to say, on behalf of my colleague from Oak Bay-Gordon Head, to have a rugby guy in the chair is absolutely appropriate for the raucous time ahead in the days and months and weeks and years,” Horgan said in the legislature.

He later told reporters that he’s hopeful Thomson will remain as Speaker if the NDP form government.

“Steve Thomson is a quality guy, a man of the highest integrity and I’m not convinced that he doesn’t take this responsibility very, very seriously — not as a week-long adventure, but a commitment to the entire parliament,” he said.

Weaver added that Thomson is an “exceptional choice” as Speaker. “He has the respect of the house. He brings honour and dignity to the position and I look forward to him serving as Speaker for many, many months to come.”

lkines@timescolonist.com