Factbox: Speaker role latest twist in British Columbia political drama

(Reuters) - A new government in British Columbia, the western Canadian province where the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Greens joined forces to unseat the ruling Liberals last week, remains on hold over the thorny issue of electing a speaker for the legislature.

BC Green leader Andrew Weaver and BC New Democrat leader John Horgan answer questions from the media after pledging their support for the Confidence and Supply Agreement in the Hall of Honour in the British Columbia legislature building in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada May 30, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Light

The knife-edge May 9 election resulted in the NDP-Greens holding a one-seat lead over the Liberals, which won 43 seats in the provincial legislature.

Neither side wants to give up an elected seat to take on the role of speaker, a traditionally neutral referee presiding over parliamentary debates who ensures that rules and procedures are followed.

The speaker, who must be appointed before any legislative business can proceed, only votes to break a tie. Traditionally, this vote would be used to extend debate or maintain the status quo. Speakers also do not automatically back their own party in tie-breaking votes.

The following are three possible scenarios that could unfold in the next few weeks or months:


Greens leader Andrew Weaver has said his party will not put forward a speaker candidate. NDP leader John Horgan has not given a definitive answer yet.

If an elected NDP official were to become speaker, the NDP-Greens would be tied with 43 seats in the 87-seat legislature with the ruling Liberals. The speaker could vote in favor of the NDP repeatedly but such a move would undermine the position’s “cloak of impartiality,” said Hamish Telford, a political science professor at the University of the Fraser Valley. That would weaken the speaker, the legislature and the legitimacy of the government, he said.


All 43 elected Liberal officials indicated at a caucus meeting last week that none of them would stand for the job, the National Post newspaper reported.

The pressure is mounting on British Columbia premier Christy Clark’s Liberals, however, to accept that they have lost the election and to put forward a candidate. That would reduce the Liberals’ seats to 42 in the legislature meaning votes would likely not result in a tiebreaker, as the Greens-NDP hold 44 seats.

“The choice is whether BC wants an NDP government held up by a partisan NDP or Green speaker, or a non-partisan Liberal one,” said Philippe Lagassé, an international affairs professor at Carleton University.


In this scenario, the lieutenant-governor could be forced to call a new election as no new business can proceed in the legislative assembly until one is elected.

Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver, editing by G Crosse