British Columbia

B.C. Liberals ask for guidance on role of Speaker in ties

With nothing on the agenda for the B.C. Liberals between now and a non-confidence vote they expect to lose Thursday, House Leader Mike de Jong has made a unique request to the Speaker.

'It’s about trying to trigger an election that they don’t want to take responsibility for,' NDP claim

Newly appointed Speaker Steve Thomson is led by the sergeant-at-arms to start the throne speech debate in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, June 26, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

With nothing on the agenda for the B.C. Liberals between now and a non-confidence vote Thursday they expect to lose, House Leader Mike de Jong has made a unique request to the Speaker. 

"What is the role of the Speaker in various circumstances? What is the role of breaking tie votes? What is their role if there were to be proposed changes to the standing orders?" said de Jong to reporters, explaining the official letter that was submitted to the Speaker Tuesday morning.

"I put a series of questions to the Speaker and asked for guidance on the basis, I think, all members would be interested in knowing the answers to those questions definitively and in an authoritative way."

De Jong said the request was relevant given the "very real possibility" the NDP, with support from the Green Party, would form government following the non-confidence vote. If current Liberal Speaker Steve Thomson resigns, the NDP would likely be forced to have his replacement come from their ranks, resulting in 43 Liberal MLAs and 43 NDP and Green MLAs.

"I think the workability of a reconfigured parliament with an NDP-Green government based on the numbers is going to be challenging, but it's most important today what the role of the Speaker would be in that situation," he said.

But de Jong protested the idea the report by the current Speaker — which he requested be issued before Thursday's vote — would be used to try and persuade Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon that a snap election would be preferable to a NDP government.

"My pre-eminent concern is that members have this information from an authoritative source."

NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth addresses reporters on June 27, 2017. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

'Games playing by this government' 

De Jong's request was immediately denounced by NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth.

"It seems to me to be another in a series of attempts by this government to deny this obvious, which is: they are going to be defeated in a throne speech on Thursday, and they are desperately trying to find a way to cling to power or have an election which they profess not to want," said Farnworth.

"It's an attempt by this government to hold onto power. It's another games playing by this government."

However, Farnworth was less clear on how an NDP-led legislature would operate in tie votes at the final reading of bills, along with ties at the committee level. 

Convention is that Speakers break ties in the interest of continuing debate, but, at final reading, will vote against legislation, unless it is a confidence vote. 

"You're just going to have to wait and see how it would work, but it will work," he said.

"We will be using the rules of the house, as they happen right now ... We'll be following precedent."

Tuesday marked the 49th day since British Columbia's election. A non-confidence vote is expected on Thursday. 

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