Drag the Speaker to the chair, it’s time to vote

Drag the Speaker to the chair, it’s time to vote

It was announced on Wednesday that Premier Christy Clark will reconvene the Legislature on Thursday, June 22. Conventional wisdom has it that Clark’s BC Liberal government will fall shortly after, after losing a confidence vote on the throne speech.

That will likely happen. The NDP/Green coalition is poised to bring the government down and Premier John Horgan will assume command, so to speak.

But hold your horses. First, before the throne speech, a Speaker must be elected to wrangle this unruly band of MLAs.

Parliament or legislature, they cannot function without a Speaker, the role having been part of the British parliamentary system since 1377.

These days, the Speaker’s role is to ensure that the rules of behaviour and procedure are followed. The Speaker is to make sure that all MLAs, no matter which party they belong to, are treated fairly and impartially. In order to keep this lot from insulting each other, MLAs speak to and through the Speaker, addressing their opponents as the “honourable member from Kootenay East”, though their thoughts may not be honourable at all.

And the Speaker votes only to break a tie.

In days of yore, the Speaker was the link between Parliament and the monarchy. If Parliament had a beef with the current king or queen, they would send the Speaker with the message Naturally, the King or Queen may not be entirely happy to hear the beef and may have decided the Speaker would look better without a head. Really. The Legislative Assembly of BC history page notes that there were nine speakers put to death by the monarch in British history.

In fact it is a long standing tradition in democratic monarchies that the elected Speaker appear reluctant to take the Speaker’s chair and must be dragged to the front of the Chamber. It’s all good fun now, but back in the 1400s, there was no acting involved. The Speaker really didn’t want the job.

This one might not either.

The current situation, with the BC Liberals holding 43 seats and the NDP/Greens 44, is a dicey one. Because one of those seats is going to be the Speaker, who only votes to break ties.

So if the Speaker nominated is a BC Liberal — and it is the party currently in power who usually puts forward a name for Speaker — that means the Liberals go down to 42 seats, not a position they would really have any desire to find themselves in. But if the Speaker comes from the Greens/NDP coalition, as many believe he or she will, their so-slim majority of 44 becomes 43, same as the BC Liberals. So the potential for many tie votes is there, although if the Speaker comes from the NDP/Green ranks he or she would likely vote with them on most issues and could break the tie on confidence votes.

In any event, there is not going to be a throne speech until there is a Speaker.

From the Legislative history page

“On the very first day of the first parliament in B.C., February 15, 1872, Lieutenant Governor Trutch would not continue with the opening proceedings because a Speaker had not yet been chosen. With Trutch absent, the members elected James Trimble as the first Speaker, and the following day the Lieutenant Governor returned and read the inaugural Speech from the Throne. To this day the Lieutenant Governor will not open parliament until a Speaker has been elected.”

The interesting question is, what if no one wants to put their name forward? Apparently back in 1908 in Newfoundland, a second election had to be called immediately because no one would put their name forward as Speaker.

But seeing as the last thing anyone in BC wants is a second election, and those newly-elected MLAs know it, a Speaker will have to be presented to Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon. She may have to do some arm-twisting to convince someone that they must step forward. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, she will not be allowed to yell “Off with his/her head!”