Rafe: Liberal Opposition will make life very difficult for NDP-Greens

BC Liberal MLAs in the Legislature (Province of BC / Flickr)

I wish John Horgan and his new government well. He has his work cut out for him.

There has been a load of pollyannish bullshit spouted by the media about what will and what will not happen to his shaky government when it finally gets going. And that’s my first note. As soon as the LG called upon him to form a government, Mr. Horgan should have done so. After his time watching his colleagues in opposition, surely be could have have presented a Council to Her Honour in 24 hours.

Is the answer to the delay perhaps that this matter had not yet been settled with Dr. Weaver? That’s an unnerving thought and raises the first worry wart. Just what is the arrangement?

The Deal with Weaver

NDP Leader John Horgan and Green Leader Andrew Weaver sealing their pact (Photo: @jjhorgan/Twitter)

I must confess that I thought he’d get a cabinet post but that would really have necessitated a coalition government and neither party is prepared for that.

So, what does Weaver get? A right to approve/disapprove selections? That, I should think, would be too much, but just the right to be consulted? That would be mighty thin gruel.

Horgan not only must run a government but must appear to the voters to be doing so and if he has to raise his hand and get permission to go to the loo, he will hardly look like a man in charge. But at the same time Weaver has to show his little pack that he really matters in the process of governance or else, who needs him?

The words “politician” and “prickly” are synonyms and both Horgan and Weaver have egos that at this point vastly exceed their accomplishments They are required by the circumstances to like each other yet apparently don’t, and are partners, senior and junior, as curators of a nest of adders.

It is bound to be interesting.

Opposition can make life difficult

I’ve seen no media analyses of the main problem Horgan faces because they’ve never been there. Even media with experience watching and reporting have never lived in the monkey house.  Indeed, neither really has Horgan, but being Opposition leader should have prepared him for a legislature of high tension. And this one should be a lulu.

I have no idea what tactics the Liberals in opposition will use and they probably won’t know themselves until their leadership question is settled and they analyze their options. But I can tell you that they can make the government’s existence all but unbearable when the House is sitting.

The House operates out of a small red rulebook but that is backed by two volumes of practice and precedents:  Beauchesne and Sir Erskine May, with sufficient nitpicking material therein for days of delaying tactics. I don’t say that the Liberals will employ these tactics but both the NDP and the Socreds did in their days. In fact, the Socred gambit of “not a dime without debate” in 1974, quite unfairly, portrayed the NDP as wastrels. It was phoney as hell, but, more than anything else, cost the NDP the 1975 election.

Before going on, let me say that in a parliamentary system it is, as Lord Randolph Churchill said nearly 150 years ago, “the duty of the opposition to oppose”. Even though it can get ridiculous, I support that aphorism. The Opposition, however, must always be wary, lest they go too far and piss off the populace.

Almost everything the government does can give rise to an objection, a point of order that isn’t one. Same with a point of privilege – whatever the devil that is – a lengthy and often ridiculous argument unto a shouting match, a routine Speaker’s ruling usually just approved on a voice vote – “all in favour”. But to further delay, the Opposition will call for a “division”, meaning a 10-minute delay as bells summon members to the Chamber for a formal vote. I recall one day Gary Lauk, before the session had been called to order, stood up and asked the Speaker to adjourn because he didn’t think that there were an appropriate number of Ministers there for Question Period. A thoroughly specious position, out of order if only because the session had not even been called to order, but an ingenious delaying tactic.

Question Period is 15 minutes and I can remember many that ran over an hour with objections, followed by a division vote. I remember one afternoon a member drew the Speaker’s attention to the clock, the formal way of ending at 6 pm for the dinner break. Objection was taken, and it was after 7 pm before the Speaker could declare the time to be 6 pm!

The opposition usually extends a promise to the premier or minister not to call any formal vote while they are away on business but in nastier times, that might be withdrawn at the very last moment.

The ability of the Opposition to harass and delay is virtually limitless and it can be very hard on government morale.

Teetering on a one-vote edge

The government, with a one vote edge, can never be certain it has enough bodies available, and while a vote lost, if not a confidence vote, won’t bring the government down, again, it’s embarrassing and bad for morale.

As I said, I have no idea what tactics the Liberals will employ but you can be certain that good sportsmanship and accommodating the government will not be considerations. Mr. Horgan says he will govern for four years before an election is called and I must ask him if he’s a betting man.

In all these considerations, one must speculate on the NDP/Green pact. There are a lot more ways it can fold than stay together.

The Green Team

Sonia Furstenau and Adam Olsen sign letter to the Lieutenant Governor confirming NDP and BC Green Party partnership (Flickr / BC NDP Caucus)

Let’s talk about Sonia Furstenau and Adam Olsen, the other Green MLAs. What does Weaver do to keep them amused? They are not real opposition members so can’t join in on the mischief. Being a backbencher at the best of times is an exercise in overcoming world-class boredom. They all carry briefcases full of unnecessary pieces of paper and the leader spends much of his time thinking up make-work projects to keep the idle hands from doing the Devil’s work.

These are bright, ambitious people and giving speeches to service clubs and snipping ribbons at the opening of the latest car dealership is scarcely enough to keep the mind alive, much less strut your stuff. .

Let’s not forget that while Dr. Weaver is the Green leader, he is not, by any means, representative of Green Party members, of whom there are many who don’t care for him or are only there because they’re pissed off with everyone else. Weaver is very good at getting up people’s noses – we saw plenty of that in the May election.

Dr. Weaver  will see his biggest responsibility to be keeping  himself as leader, which may not correspond with Ms. Furstenau and Mr Olsen’s evening vespers. The Liberals won’t have to remind them that there’s always a warm spot for them in front of the Liberal hearth.

Four more years?

The media have, since May 9 last, been crunching numbers and giving you their speculations. But until a reporter has been there a long time, drunk a lot of beer with disgruntled MLAs, watched a host of affairs start and marriages end, watched up close the emotions and ambitions they will be struggling with – only then can they give the public an accurate picture, and, even then, you really had to be there.

This government staying in power for four years?

And pigs can truly fly, your kids aren’t going “all the way”, and you’re a Toronto Blue Jays fan.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

11 thoughts on “Rafe: Liberal Opposition will make life very difficult for NDP-Greens

  1. Allowing for your intimate knowledge of the Leg, Rafe, and I mean intimate, my sense of it is an environment wherein the Greens and NDP are intensely motivated to make it work for multiple reasons, while the fissures in the Liberal ranks have every potential to become dislocated fractures in short order. The latter have a ton of money and motivated backers, but not the individual talent, cohesion, skill, or will to present the opposition you foresee. That, and: Horgan was wise to pick his people with care rather than in haste. They’re preparing for a good time AND a long time, and despite corporate pressures (media, investment strike, etc), if they get the electoral system changed they might just pull it off. No one foresaw a Socred sport fisherman becoming a key defender of salmon and all – social and natural – connected to them; even stranger things can happen.

  2. I feel more optimistic about the BC government than I have in a long time. I am hoping that John Horgan and Andrew Weaver will keep working together a priority, and we could have a powerful government. I have always voted NDP, but have found them becoming more middle of the road and wishy washy on some issues, such as salmon farming. I am hoping that the Green influence may help the NDP to take a stronger stand.

  3. I agree Horgan shouldn’t be hanging around waiting but Rafe fails to consider the entitlement issues that plague the BC Liberals. I suspect few of them were expecting to be demoted to mere MLA status and will like neither the pay nor the expectation of attendance that will now be required of them.

    Sure, they can play petty politics in the House but how many of them care enough to commit long term to such manoeuvres? Especially if, as they like to think of themselves, they are such desirable assets to the private sector?

    1. I agree with you and hate to disagree with Rafe, despite his depth of knowledge. I used to hate Rafe’s politics when he was on the radio, but now we both sound like old commies…so. I think you’re on the right track, that They, the Liberals, have their entitled empty heads so far up their entitled tight asses that the reality of actually having to go to work will cull the BCLib opposition into a weak force that might allow the NDP/Green to survive more than a year. Long enough to gain some roots. I hope, as the federal Libs have become almost Harper like.

  4. Jim – much later than that. The Socreds were in power and weren’t in The House as a government until March 17, 1976. Gibson didn’t seek reelection in May 1979 so my guess would be 1978. Maybe we have a Hansard freak out there. Sorry you’re a Blue Jay fan but these things can’t helped.

    To Roger – within the first year

  5. Blue Jays fan here, and a realist….wishing for a common-sense..and common…approach to governing our Provence… there is mayhem enough, with floods and fires, without petty strutting by any parties in government here in BC. Really enjoyed reading your synopsis of the current situation, Rafe….

  6. OK- I am huge Toronto Blue Jays fan and will be back there this September with my 4 kids to allow them to join with me in celebration of my 70th birthday. Just wanted to make that clear.
    and about the “pigs flying”…we’ll save that for another day.

    Meanwhile I wanted to remark that I was in the gallery the night I think Gordon Gibson Jr. drew attention to the clock at regular time of “rising”. I stayed for the hilarious one hour debate until 7pm…at which time the Speaker ruled that it was indeed 6pm….would be fun to see if HANSARD recorded all that….Think it was Spring of 1975…

  7. Excellent Rafe. The reason Horgan wasn’t ready is because the NDP are not ready as usual.

    In fact I think they are somewhat in shock that they have actually formed government, no matter how slim the opportunity.

    Many pundits have us going back to the polls within 18 months. Tweedledum and Tweedldumber are already at each other’s throats and having a dick measuring contest. I give it a year tops until once more we must look again at a choice much less appetizing than the devil or the deep blue sea.


  8. So , Rafe , from a true British Columbian point of view : What kind of time frame are you thinking of…, if you were a betting man? ..

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