British Columbia

Eyes turn to B.C.'s lieutenant governor in minority government

British Columbia's lieutenant governor is beefing up on her constitutional knowledge. Next week, British Columbia will finally know the results of the 2017 election. If it remains a minority government it will thrust Judith Guichon into a critical role.

Judith Guichon was appointed as the Crown's representative to B.C. in 2012

B.C. has elected a minority government. What's next?

CBC News Vancouver at 6

4 years ago
CBC's legislative reporter Richard Zussman breaks down the likely scenarios. 2:54

British Columbia's Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon is beefing up on her constitutional knowledge.

Next week, British Columbia will finally know the results of the 2017 election. If it remains a minority government, it will thrust Guichon, the former rancher and owner operator of Gerard Guichon Ranch Limited in the Nicola Valley, into a critical role.  

As the Crown's representative in British Columbia, Guichon must determine if a leader has the ability to govern in the legislature.

"Our assumption is she would act in the highest possible public interest and not in the interest of any given party, or any partisan way," said University of British Columbia political scientist Max Cameron.

Guichon was appointed in 2012 by then-prime minister Stephen Harper to serve as the Queen's representative in British Columbia. She is not conducting any interviews about the potential minority government.  

The B.C. Liberals still have a chance to form a majority government, with the potential for the ridings of Courtenay-Comox and Maple Ridge-Mission switching to the B.C. Liberals after all the votes are counted. 

But let's examine the possible scenarios Guichon faces if B.C. remains in a minority government situation. 

1. Clark reaches a deal with the Green Party to support Liberal legislation

Former prime minister Stephen Harper named Nicola Valley rancher Judith Guichon as the lieutenant-governor of British Columbia in 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The B.C. Liberals are currently negotiating with the B.C. Greens on putting forward a throne speech and budget that could be supported by the party, which would hold the balance of power in a minority situation with their three seats.

That potentially would include changes to electoral reform, political donations, welfare rates and minimum wage, as well as official party status for the Greens.

In this scenario, Guichon's decision would be quite easy.

"Clark would say I have the support, I can make that work and I think the expectation would be the lieutenant governor would accept that advice and convene the legislature," said Cameron.

2. NDP and Greens agree to a deal before the legislature is reconvened

B.C. Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon would have to decide which party has the best ability to govern in British Columbia. (CBC)

This is the most complex scenario, which provides the most options and puts the most pressure on Guichon.

If Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and NDP leader John Horgan agree to work together, Cameron said Clark could go to the lieutenant governor and say she no longer has the ability to govern. 

But at that point, she could also advise Guichon that the best option would be to dissolve parliament and send B.C. back to the polls.

"The longer it takes, the more likely it is for the lieutenant governor to call an election. You would be hesitant to call it right away," said Cameron. 

If Guichon does turn down the advice, she could decide to invite Horgan to Government House to explain how he could form a government. If convinced, she could reconvene the legislature and provide the NDP a chance to govern.

"In a situation like this, I would expect that she would be taking advice from the best constitutional lawyers in the country, and that she would be very wise to reflect long and hard on these decisions," said Cameron.

The final option under this scenario is Clark telling Guichon she doesn't believe the deal between the other two parties is very strong, and that she wants the opportunity to put together a throne speech that she believes at least one Green MLA would support. 

"It's just very unlikely the lieutenant governor would want to go against the sitting premier. But she does in fact have that power," said Cameron.

Judith Guichon is framed by members of an honour guard while standing on the steps of the B.C. Legislature after being sworn in as the 29th lieutenant-governor of the province in Victoria on Nov. 2, 2012. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

3. B.C. Liberals are defeated in a confidence vote

A government can afford to lose votes, but they can't afford to lose confidence motions: they're the ones that take down governments, and they automatically include the throne Speech and the budget. 

If Christy Clark was to put forward a throne speech that failed to get more than half the votes in the legislature, then Guichon would be left to decide what to do. 

"She has a choice. I think she would want to know the advice of sitting Premier Christy Clark. But she would have the choice to either accept that advice, which could be to dissolve the legislature and call a new election," said Cameron.

"My guess is, at that point she would want to invite John Horgan to speak with her, and ask him whether he would form government. Then she would have to decide."

For someone used to managing a ranch with 700 cattle and 700 yearling, these next few weeks may be the toughest wrangling Guichon has ever had to do.