Kelowna-Mission MLA Steve Thomson has been acclaimed as the new Speaker of the B.C. Legislature.

The former Liberal forestry minister will preside over the house as Premier Christy Clark's minority government attempts to maintain its hold on power.

Thomson was the only candidate for the position and was acclaimed by the legislature Thursday morning.

"I can't think of a better choice to set the tone, or a bigger man to enforce the rules," said Premier Clark afterwards, referring to Thomson's roughly 6' 6" frame.

NDP Leader John Horgan also liked the choice, saying, "It's good to have a rugby guy in the chair," adding he's found Thomson fair with all members.

Steve Thomson Speaker BC Legislature

Kelowna-Mission MLA and former Liberal forestry minister Steve Thomson was elected speaker of the legislature Thursday morning. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Critical role at critical time

The Speaker's role in the legislature is normally to maintain decorum and ensure procedures are followed — and to cast the deciding vote in a tie.

But in this case that tie-breaking duty is critical because the Liberal government has a minority of 43 seats in the 87-seat legislature.

The government is expected to be defeated as early as next week in a confidence vote by the NDP and the Green alliance — together the parties have 44 seats.

Clark has already said she does not expect a Liberal MLA will stay on as Speaker if her party is defeated, meaning the NDP or Greens would likely have to appoint their own Speaker if they are asked to form the next government by the lieutenant-governor.

That would mean both sides of the legislature would be tied with 43 votes, meaning the Speaker could have to cast the deciding vote.

Although there is debate here over how a Speaker should vote, according to British parliamentary rules established by John Evelyn Denison — a 19th-century Speaker of the British House of Commons — the principle is to always vote in favour of further debate, or when no further debate is possible, to vote in favour of the status quo.

Why so much hinges on the next speaker of the B.C. legislature1:15