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Norman Spector: If premier asks for legislature to be dissolved, send him away to think about it

An open letter to B.C.'s Lieutenant Governor

Her Honour
The Honourable Janet Austin, OBC
Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia
Government House
1401 Rockland Avenue
Victoria, B.C. V8S IV9

Your honour:

I am writing to you as a former Constitutional adviser to the Premier of B.C. and to the Prime Minister of Canada. More recently, I advised Andrew Weaver and the B.C. Green Party, and was present at the table, in negotiations with the B.C. Liberals and B.C. NDP that produced the Confidence and Supply Agreement of 2017, delivered to Government House by Mr. Weaver and John Horgan after it was formally signed by their MLAs.

As Her Majesty’s Representative in British Columbia, it is generally agreed that you are constitutionally required to accept and act on the advice of the Head of Government. However, as Lieutenant Governor, you also have the right to advise, encourage and warn her or him, as well as to offer valued counsel.

As you are no doubt aware, there are rumours in the air propelled by much press speculation about the prospect of a snap provincial election. Should Premier Horgan insist on a dissolution of the Legislature at this stage of the mandate, you would have no alternative but to accede to the request. In light of the current situation in the province, however, you would be fully entitled not to agree to such a request on the spot.

First, you may want to advise Mr. Horgan of the fixed election date that he and his Government and the Legislature have set by law to take place “on the third Saturday in October in the fourth calendar year following the general voting day for the most recently held general election.” While your office is not constitutionally bound by s. 23 of the Constitution Act, respect for the rule of law is a cardinal principle of our democracy, of which you are one of the most important safeguards.

Second, you may want to remind the Premier of the signed personal commitment he made in the CASA: “The Leader of the New Democrats will not request a dissolution of the Legislature during the term of this agreement, except following the defeat of a motion of confidence.” Reneging on that signature would be inconsistent with the norm of good faith that underlies our democracy.

Third, you may want to encourage Mr. Horgan to maintain the remarkable degree of non-partisanship that Health Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry have fostered in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. The outstanding results the Government has achieved is in large measure due to the cooperation elicited with the Official Opposition as well as with their Green partners in CASA. That non-partisanship would be squandered — and the effectiveness of pandemic management compromised — should the Premier opt for an election for one reason and for one reason alone; viz., his Party’s advantage in public opinion polls.

Which brings us to the pandemic itself. With cases rising, both Dr. Henry and Minister Dix have been stressing the need for each of us to reduce our social contacts — surely not the optimum environment for an election unless one is absolutely necessary, which is not the case in B.C. with the Government still enjoying the confidence of the Legislature.

Fundamentally, the CASA has brought about a remarkable change in political culture in B.C. — spawning as you have observed “cross-partisan teamwork” that has rarely been seen in this famously polarized province. For this and the other reasons set out above, I respectfully recommend that should Premier Horgan now request that the Legislature be dissolved, you should send him away to think about it.

Furthermore, I would urge you to make this public, in order to further enhance the role of the Lieutenant-Governor that was so remarkably exhibited by the decision of your predecessor in 2017 to call on Mr. Horgan rather than on Ms. Clark to form Government.

Yours faithfully,

Norman Spector,
Victoria, B.C.