A season of high political drama in B.C. culimated in historic fashion Thursday, with the combined forces of the B.C. NDP and Greens defeating the Liberal government and leader Christy Clark in a vote of non-confidence in the B.C. legislature.
For Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka, it was an unprecedented and electric entry into political life in Victoria. Indeed, it was an unprecedented moment for all concerned.
“Thursday and Friday, that was the apex, but even leading up Thursday and Friday was quite historical,” Shypitka told the Townsman Saturday, during a break in Canada Day activities in Cranbrook Saturday.
“What I was interested in mostly was the strategy, the gamesmanship on both sides, the political chess that was being played. Maybe some people aren’t really interested in that, but it’s part of our democratic process. It really is.
“We would all like to say that we just want to do what’s right — and we all do — but it becomes a bit of a battle sometimes. We’ve all seen that it’s always there. So to see it unfold in front of your eyes, the way it did last week was absolutely incredible.”
Shypitka said the electric atmosphere in the Legislature on Thursday gave him goosebumps.
“You knew there was anticipation on the other side, there was doubt and consideration, where was the Lieutenant Governor going to go with all this, would the Speaker step down, would another one be elected. It was bizarre.
“I was really fortunate to be part of that.”
Taking one’s place in the capital for the first time is always a profound personal moment, they say. But last week’s events rendered all the members equal, whether veterans with years of experience or newly elected MLAs like Shypitka.
“I think for some reason I’m a little more subdued by it all,” he said. “Because I don’t know anything different. For me this is just the status quo. It happens every week doesn’t it? Whereas some of these MLAs have been sitting there for 20 years … and it was guesswork on everyone’s part. On some level I felt I was on an even keel with everybody.”
This week, Shypitka was heading back to Victoria straight away, for a caucus meeting on July 5.
“Now we rebuild being in Opposition. Now we’re the critics. Some of these MLAs have had these files for 16 years. And now they’re handing them over to someone who’s never done it before in their life. I pity some of these people, they’re going to get picked apart.
“But that’s the way democracy works — it goes back and forth, there’s an ebb and a flow. There’s a balance always.”
To be elected as a member of government, and in a matter of weeks finding yourself in Opposition is Canadian democracy at its most tumultuous. And Shypitka is keen to take up his part in it.
“And you know what? Some people say this new government is unstable and maybe a snap election should have been called — I say let’s see if we can work this out. Nobody knows for sure, it’s never been done before, so we might miss an opportunity if we don’t try all the different angles.”
NDP leader and Premier designate John 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.
As for Christy Clark, she said that in her discussion with Guichon after the vote Thursday, 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.
“I did ask for dissolution and she hasn’t granted that request,” Clark said. “She’s chosen another path.”
Clark offered “a true, sincere congratulations” to Horgan on his opportunity to lead, adding that “he is inheriting the best balanced books in the country, the strongest economy in the country, the best job growth in Canada and a great fiscal situation.”
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.
Legislation can be introduced and moved to committee, where the NDP and Greens would have a majority, and only brought back to the main chamber for a final vote where the tie would be broken by the NDP speaker voting in favour, Farnworth said.
With files from Tom Fletcher/Black Press