BALDREY: Pension jackpot for MLAs will prevent a B.C. election

There seems to be rising speculation that an election might be held this year because of the potential fragility of the NDP-Green alliance that forms the current government.

Don’t bet on it.

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Even if the NDP loses the Nanaimo byelection (an unlikely but not entirely impossible occurrence) and a 43-43 seat tie is produced for the legislature, do not expect a sudden vote.

Such a tie would indeed make governing difficult, but not impossible. The NDP government can only fall from power in a confidence vote in the house, and such a vote only happens once or twice a year (the budget vote is a confidence vote for example).

If a tie occurs on a confidence vote, the Speaker must vote with the government to ensure the legislative chamber continues to operate.

Where things could get problematic would be during the committee stage of legislation, when the Speaker – by convention, not by law – leaves the chamber. That could mean the government would actually be in a minority situation, but there is nothing to stop the NDP from changing (or ignoring) the rules and carrying on with the Speaker still in his chair.

And speaking of the Speaker, the current one – Independent MLA Darryl Plecas – is unpredictable to say the least. He has threatened to resign if the public does not agree with his take on why the legislature’s chief clerk and sergeant-at-arms were placed on administrative leave.

However, Plecas seems to also enormously enjoy the trappings of his office and I’d be very surprised if he ever steps aside. Still, he is a bit of a wild card in any early election speculation (even if he did quit, he would sit as an Independent and would not likely be the one to take the government down).

And forget talk about possible recall campaigns against Plecas and Attorney General David Eby having an impact. Like all previous recall campaigns (save one that was never officially examined) they are doomed to failure, as the recall bar is set very, very high in terms of the number of signatures required in a tight time frame.

What about the B.C. Greens you say? Can the party’s three MLAs be counted on to continue to prop the NDP into power, having lost a disastrous referendum (for them) on electoral reform?

While it is true the Greens have very little to show for accomplishments for partnering with the NDP (in fact, the list of the NDP’s rejection of Green policies is a long one: completing Site C, bringing the LNG industry to the province, concocting a botched referendum that seemed designed to fail etc.) I do not see any of the three bolting from their deal.

The Greens are also pleased with at least one major government initiative that they had a hand in producing: the new climate action plan. In addition, the three MLAs seem to genuinely enjoy their roles, both in the legislature and in their constituencies.

The defeat of electoral reform may doom the party’s future as a viable party, but that is not the three MLAs’ concern right now.

Finally, two other factors – both dealing with money – are on the horizon and will likely guarantee no election be held for at least a year.

The pensions for a number of MLAs on all sides of the house are vested on June 1. If they stop being an MLA before then (which happens when an election writ is dropped) then bye-bye pensions.

That situation alone is reason enough for members of the B.C. Liberal caucus to hold off on any attempt to bring down the government until then. And since that is after the end of the spring legislature session, it could mean the NDP would not face another confidence vote until the spring of 2020.

Secondly, all political parties get very generous taxpayer subsidies now to run their affairs. The B.C. Liberals are looking at picking up nearly $1 million on July 1 and a similar amount next Jan. 1. I can’t see the party turning its back on that cash by forcing a spring election for any reason.

Now, an election next year? That seems more plausible (though not necessarily likely).

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca

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