Les Leyne: Election of Speaker gains significance in 44-43 parliament

Les Leyne mugshot genericA line from the Harry Potter series comes to mind when picturing the upcoming sitting of the B.C. legislature. J.K. Rowling had a character sum up the mystical clash of opposing forces that drove the plot of the books and movies: “Either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives.”

Which is why parliamentary buff James Bowden (parliamentum.org), one of many who have been following B.C.’s drama, cited the quote in calling it the Harry Potter Parliament.

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The point is that the NDP-Green alliance and the B.C. Liberals are locked in a death match. There are no circumstances where compromise, the basis of all politics, can resolve it.

Just to make it even more compelling, the next move on the chessboard involves sacrificing a piece, by electing a Speaker. In a 44-43 parliament, the likes of which B.C. has never seen, the election of a Speaker is going to get a burst of publicity unlike any other. (The last two elections of Speakers were each reported in one sentence, at the tail end of long wrap-ups about other events.)

When B.C.’s 41st Parliament gets underway this month, the election is the first order of business, because there is no parliament without one. Everyone is automatically in the running. MLAs have to formally withdraw their names from the race to stay out of it. So there is intense speculation about what kind of scheming will go into it.

Liberals have reportedly agreed they won’t run, but even that’s in question. There’s a long-shot chance someone could break ranks and leave their name in. And filling the job doesn’t look attractive at this point to the NDP, either, based on the arithmetic.

A Liberal MLA becoming Speaker would make it 44-42 for the NDP, meaning they would win the first confidence vote and the Liberal government would fall within days of it being constituted. The lieutenant-governor would then likely invite the NDP to take over, based on the agreement it has with the Greens, which indicates it could enjoy “the confidence of the house.”

An NDP MLA taking the job would make it a tied house at 43-43, with the Speaker breaking tie votes. But that Speaker couldn’t possibly support the Liberal throne speech, so the convention of the Speaker siding with the government on ties would be bypassed.

And the experts say tie-breaking votes are supposed to be the exception, not the rule. A Speaker routinely siding with his or her own party day in and day out would have a corrosive effect on the legislature.

If no one runs, that would invoke the possibility of the nuclear option — a snap election, on the basis that the legislature is unworkable. Nobody wants that. Fear of that potential scenario is driving a lot of game theories on how to handle the situation.

Some of the other variations:

• A Liberal Speaker could preside over the demise of the Liberal government, then resign, and leave the impasse for the incoming NDP government to resolve.

• A Green MLA could take the job. Greens and the NDP have already cautioned everyone that the accord is only for confidence votes. On other matters, Greens could break with the NDP. So a Green Speaker would keep the legislature running for a while, by voting the NDP line on confidence issues. But he or she could vote against it on others, on a case-by-case basis.

As a measure of the escalating pressure, Green Leader Andrew Weaver said on social media Monday it was “hypocritical” of Clark not to nominate a Liberal as Speaker. Greens are trying to pressure the Liberals into doing something they don’t want to do themselves.

The quote at the outset described Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort’s mutual predicament (it’s the reader’s choice who’s who in the legislature). The dynamic drove seven books and eight movies over 12 years. The 41st Parliament isn’t likely to last nearly as long.

It would take some wizardry to make it run two seasons, and it could even turn into just a single half-hour sitcom.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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