How people elect parliaments
Three weeks after the May 9 election, the New Democrat Party and the BC Greens have agreed on the formation of a government for the Canadian province of British Columbia.
The two parties between them won 57% of the vote at the recent election.
Under the plurality single-member division voting system, the NDP won 41 seats with 40% of the vote, but the Greens won just 3 seats with just under 17%.
The governing BC Liberal party also won 40% of the vote, and secured 43 seats.
The agreement is a supply-and-confidence pact, not a coalition. There will be no Greens ministers in the provincial ministry. The Greens will support the NDP on confidence votes in the Legislative Assembly and on appropriation and budget bills.
The arrangements resembles that for the Australian government formed after the 2010 elections, where Greens and independent MHRs offered the Labor party supply and confidence support.
Supply and confidence agreements are also quite common in Australian state parliaments, but are somewhat less so in Canada.
Sitting provincial Premier Christy Clark may choose to approach the first sitting of the Legislative Assembly still holding on to government, and oblige the two other parties to vote her government out of office.
Alternative, she may choose to resign and advise the provincial Lieutenant-Governor to call on NDP John Horgan to form a government immediately.
The Assembly balance of numbers will be awkward. There is an odd number of members – 87 – and the new government’s numbers on the floor would be only 44:43. However once a Speaker of the Assembly is appointed – assuming an NDP nominee is chosen – the numbers would be even.
In order to make the legislature operational, some agreement about the role of the speaker will be required. Alternatively, the opposition Liberals could be invited to provide the Speaker, if they are willing.
Australia’s national House of Representatives faced a similar situation from 2010 to 2013. The situation led to greater parliamentary discipline as well as enhanced communication and organisation between the government and the crossbench members. The resulting Parliament ran its full term and passed a number of major pieces of legislation.
The British Columbia NDP and Greens leaders, John Horgan and Andrew Weaver, today only indicated two policy agreements, relating to an oil pipeline project and reforms to union and corporate donations to political parties.
Greens leader Andrew Weaver and New Democrat Party leader John Horgan announce their agreement outside the chamber of the Legislative Assembly (image: CBC)
Electoral reform remains a key policy area where the parties must compromise. Both support an un-determined form of proportional representation for future elections of the Legislative Assembly.
The NDP policy is to decide on a model but then offer voters a veto at a referendum. The policy claims that the NDP will support the reform case at such a referendum.
The Greens oppose the referendum veto concept, and wish to legislate this term to ensure that a new system is in place for the next election, due in four years.
Horgan has stated that the details of initial policy agreements will first be presented to his party caucus tomorrow.
The recent conduct of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who committed before the last federal election to repealing plurality voting for the national House of Commons and then reneged on the commitment, will hang over the negotiations on the issue.
Canada has seen a string of serious attempts at electoral reform in the past few decades, all eventually blocked by veto referendums or by changes of policy by governing major parties.
Repeated issue polls indicate that up to 70% of Canadian voters support some form of proportional representation.