British Columbia·Analysis

Showdown at Government House: the meeting that ended 16 years of B.C. Liberal rule

For a few hours on Thursday evening, the fate of the B.C. government hung in the balance.

Why Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon rejected Christy Clark's advice, and allowed the NDP to form government

NDP leader John Horgan arrives at Government House to speak with Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon in Victoria on June 29. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

John Horgan had waited 52 days to become the premier of British Columbia.

After winning a non-confidence vote against the B.C. Liberal government, he was willing to wait a little longer. 

For two hours on Thursday, the fate of British Columbia's government hung in the balance as Horgan waited in his legislature office, hoping to receive a historic call.

Then it came.

Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon invited him to pay her a visit and asked him to seek the confidence of the house.

And so it was a beaming Horgan, in front of the Government House facing a small crowd of reporters and supporters, that will be the final image of the unprecedented period of political uncertainty that was triggered by the results of the May 9 provincial election.

"I look forward to working harder than I've ever worked before," said Horgan, who prepares to become just the fourth elected NDP premier in B.C.'s history. 

But it was Clark's intense 90 minutes with Guichon before Horgan arrived that set the stage — and established a constitutional precedent.   

Clark asked for dissolution

Ever since the NDP and Greens announced their partnership on May 29 to try and force the Liberals — who were one seat short of a majority in the legislature — out of office, Clark had told British Columbians she would not ask Guichon to dissolve parliament and force another election.

"She will make that decision. I wouldn't be making that request either, because it's a decision solely for her," Clark said that day.

Slowly but surely, as the inevitability of a non-confidence vote grew, Clark made the argument that government couldn't work with a NDP-Green alliance, because once they lost a vote to the Speaker's chair, too many political rules would need to be bent.

Still, she wouldn't say outright she would provide advice to Guichon that she dissolve parliament. 

But when she was pressured face-to-face on Thursday, Clark did exactly what she said she wouldn't.

"I did ask for the dissolution of the house," said Clark, explaining she warned Guichon, just like she warned the public, about the instability of a NDP government supported by the Greens. 

"I told her that, and I talked to her about that, and when it became clear that I needed to ask for dissolution, which she made very clear, that I only had two choices, I did ask for dissolution." 

Christy Clark says she respects Lt.-Gov.'s decision

6 years ago
Duration 1:04
Premier asked for dissolution, but was turned down by Guichon

Those two choices, as constitutional experts had been saying for weeks, were to either advise Guichon to dissolve the house, or resign — leading to Horgan taking her job.

Clark had maintained that she had a third option: to leave it all ultimately up to the lieutenant-governor.

But Guichon thought otherwise and pushed for a decision that leaves Clark as outgoing premier, Horgan planning a swearing-in, and the province witnessing a transition of power.

Exact time of change uncertain 

It's a transition that could be complicated, considering 16 years of definitive Liberal rule will be replaced with the thinnest possible majority of support, but it's a test Horgan is ready to take. 

"We have much work to do. We'll have access to government documents tomorrow … we want to swear in a government in the next few days, and get back to work," said Horgan on Thursday.

It took three years as opposition leader. Four weeks on the campaign trail. Nearly two months in a constitutional quagmire never before seen in the province.

And a final two hours of waiting. 

But finally, at 8:26 p.m. PT on June 29, with people chanting his name and patting him on the back, John Horgan got his moment of victory.

John Horgan had waited 52 days to be the premier of British Columbia. On June 29, that moment arrived. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)