The math in the B.C. legislature just improved for the NDP’s Green-backed minority government, thanks to the defection of Abbotsford South Liberal MLA Darryl Plecas, who has agreed to become Speaker of the House.
His defection suddenly gives the NDP a one-seat cushion. How long he remains a Liberal before he is booted from caucus remains to be seen.
The NDP won 41 seats in the May election, the Liberals won 43 and the Greens won three.
An agreement between the Greens and NDP gave the NDP a working plurality of 44 seats – just one more than the Liberals.
They would have lost that one-seat edge, however, had they been forced to appoint one of their own members as Speaker, who then would have been forced to break with convention and cast tie votes to avoid a confidence crisis.
Former premier Christy Clark handed the NDP a temporary cushion when she announced her resignation as Liberal leader and MLA for Kelowna West. That gave the NDP a bit of breathing room until a by-election can be held to replace Clark. The Kelowna West seat is considered a safe Liberal riding, so the math may not change after the by-election.
But on Friday, Sept. 8, Plecas dealt the NDP another wild card by agreeing to sit as Speaker.
Until a by-election is held, the Greens and NDP will hold two more seats than the Liberals, and even after the election, if the Liberals retain Kelowna West, they would maintain a one-seat plurality.
The immediate implications for the NDP government is that now “the by-election doesn’t matter as much,” said Richard Johnston, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia.
It also reduces the risk of what Johnston calls” random events” – such as an NDP MLA missing a plane or getting sick and missing a key vote.
But even with that one-seat edge, Johnston said the NDP government is still fragile – just not quite as fragile as it was yesterday.
“But beyond that, I think it still is the case that the nature of the relationship between the Greens and NDP is as critical as it was before,” he said.
The Greens and NDP have a 10-page agreement on confidence measures like budgets. Beyond that, though, the Greens have already demonstrated that they won’t agree with the NDP on every issue. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver has already taken issue with the NDP decisions on things like bridge tolls and fixing ICBC’s structural problems.
“The uncertainties in that relationship are pretty much the same now as they were yesterday," Johnston said. "Weaver can bring the government down – that arithmetic has not changed.”
Plecas was one of the only Liberal MLAs to break ranks and criticize Clark’s leadership role.