Les Leyne: B.C. Liberals hit opposition brick wall

VKA-Leyne02832.jpg“OK, how about this? We’ll introduce campaign finance reform like you tried to do six times but we rejected. We’ll ask you to help slam it into effect in one day. Then you can defeat us, but we’ll take all the credit for getting it done, and brace for the next election using leftover corporate money we raised last time.

“Hello? Hello? Are you still there?”

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That’s essentially what the B.C. Liberals pitched as an alternative ending in what’s likely their last week on the government side of the legislature. The idea hung on the tiniest sliver of possibility, that Greens would somehow suspend their takeover ploy long enough to support passing a huge piece of legislation with enormous ramifications in just one day, graciously leave the Liberals bathed in glory for swiping one of their ideas, then resume hostilities the day after that.

There aren’t many parliaments in the world where that would work. The plot line the Liberals are trying to write in their last week is starting to look like the petitions that death-row inmates send to the governor. It looks like they took a stab at invoking some form of the faint-hope clause on the strength of Green Leader Andrew Weaver’s indications the Greens would support campaign finance reform, no matter who tried it.

If Weaver ever meant that, he backed away from it Monday, rejecting the bill even before it was introduced. They’re focused on the upcoming confidence vote, and signed a pact with the NDP to take over the government.

After the final ballot count sealed the Liberals’ fate at 44-43, Premier Christy Clark had a brief moment of humility where she recognized the inevitable and gave indications her government would go down to defeat as gracefully as possible. That plan has clearly now been junked. Monday was a clumsy effort to start a sideshow that went just where nearly everyone expected it would — nowhere.

The Liberals introduced a 29-page Election Amendment Act that was dead on arrival. It was a fascinating piece of work, nonetheless. It was the first time in living memory a government bill has been rejected by the legislature on first reading. It was so monumentally self-serving that it’s hard to imagine the circumstances where anyone in the Liberal caucus could ever imagine it would work.

Attorney General Andrew Wilkinson went through the routine ritual of moving the bill “be introduced and read for a first time now.”

A standing vote was called, and — remarkable to see — the government lost the vote. The motion was defeated 44-42 (the Speaker votes only to break ties).

The bill’s only purpose now will be to serve as a comparison for what the New Democrats come up with if their takeover is successful.

Liberals preceded it with a little stunt that also illustrated the level of desperation at play. They introduced a surprise bill to give the Greens official party status, by reducing the threshold from four MLAs to three. That’s exactly what the NDP and Greens want and have listed as a priority in their accord. But it will happen on their terms, not the Liberals’, because that introduction was defeated as well.

Clark will keep pitching right to the bitter end. She made six direct appeals to the other side on Monday to support her throne speech. “The road to stability is to ensure that we avoid the risk of an election. I would encourage all members to vote in favour of the throne speech.”

NDP MLA Carole James later asked for unanimous consent to bring up NDP Leader John Horgan’s formal non-confidence motion, but the 20 or so Liberals present objected, so it will have to wait until later this week.

Just So You Know: Afterward, Wilkinson said he found the treatment of his bill all “a bit baffling.”

“It was a chance to establish a whole new regime,” he said. There’ll be another chance to do that on Thursday, on a grander scale.

Not much doubt now how that will go. Any further bids for clemency will almost certainly be denied.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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