B.C.’s new political waters are somewhat unfamiliar, but not completely uncharted, for Langley Liberal MLAs Rich Coleman and Mary Polak.
On Thursday, June 29, Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon asked NDP Leader John Horgan to form the province’s government, ending 16 years of B.C. Liberal rule.
The combined forces of the B.C. NDP and Greens defeated the Liberal government and leader Christy Clark in a vote of non-confidence in the B.C. legislature.
This means Polak (Langley) and Coleman (Langley East) will continue as locally elected MLAs.
However, Polak will give up her recently appointed position as health minister, and Coleman is no longer the minister of energy and mines, and deputy premier.
Horgan said he told Guichon he can maintain the confidence of the legislature, with 44 seats for the NDP and Greens to 43 B.C. Liberals.
Clark said in her discussion with Guichon, she was asked to choose between two options, handing over power to the NDP-Green alliance or dissolving the parliament and going to a new election.
Coleman knew full well there “was a possibility of two outcomes” relative to Guichon’s decision, “that is solely hers.”
“When a house loses a confidence vote you either have an election or you see if there is another combination of parties that can govern,” he said.
“She made the latter decision, which I didn’t think was outside the realm of possibility. I honestly don’t believe it’s workable. Knowing how the house works and all the details, I know that the government won’t last very long, simply because they won’t have the votes in committee to be able to pass legislation.”
Polak says the tight result will make things very challenging for the Green/NDP coalition to manage the house.
“But, in terms of our role as opposition, I think it’s something that for Rich, for me, you always know that it is possible as an outcome to an election,” she added.
“That doesn’t usually occur when you win the most seats, but in this case, it has. Mr. Horgan will now have an opportunity to test the confidence of the house. We’ll see how that occurs.”
Coleman sympathized with staffers who work for either the government or the opposition.
Their future, he said, is in limbo.
“They are now wondering if they’ll have a job or not in the next few weeks, because there has to be a transition,” he continued.
Coleman said his biggest concern is for “my friends who are First Nations in northeastern and northwestern British Columbia.”
“They were really looking for natural resources to be the future, to reduce the poverty and the suicide rates in their communities and increase the job opportunities for their young people,” Coleman said.
“I will certainly watch that closely to make sure that isn’t lost in all this, because we can’t forget about people who are less fortunate than us elsewhere in the province.”
He also said resource and development is needed to “pay the bills” for hospitals and schools and other facilities.
That said, both Polak and Coleman said the B.C. Liberals will move forward in their new role.
“We will fulfill our role as opposition,” Polak said. “Our primary role always is to be the representatives of our community; that’s what all of us do as MLAs. Obviously, we’re disappointed we’re not in government, but I think it’s a lot harder for our supporters and people who worked so hard on a campaign to see this occur at the end of that.”
“I did five years in opposition, so I know how much you can do just as a constituency MLA, too,” Coleman said. “I’m an opposition member and my job is to challenge the government, and that’s what I’ll do.”
On June 30, the day before Canada celebrated its 150th birthday, Polak said this province and country can be proud of the peaceful way it was able to transition to a new government.
“In many places around the world, when an election result was that close, you wouldn’t be seeing a peaceful transition like this,” she said.
“For all the focus this whole process has garnered, one of the benefits is, it’s a real opportunity for people to learn about the value of our form of government.”
Horgan has estimated that it could take the rest of the summer to go through government transition documents, meet with deputy ministers, and review Crown corporations such as BC Hydro and ICBC. The legislature may not be called for delivery of a new throne speech until after Labour Day, he said.
NDP house leader Mike Farnworth said in an interview Thursday he is confident that even after appointing a speaker from the NDP bench, leaving 43 MLAs on each side, the alliance of NDP and Green MLAs can pass legislation. Rules of the legislature allow the speaker to vote only in the event of a tie, and the speaker is restricted to voting for further debate or to support the government.
— with files from Black Press