VICTORIA — Shortly before noon Thursday the B.C. legislature voted on a motion that would determine the fate of the John Horgan government for another year.
The motion of confidence approved this year’s $60 billion provincial budget in principle and cleared the way for the house to begin scrutinizing and approving the spending plans of government ministries.
Both sides knew going in that the NDP administration would survive by a comfortable margin and it did.
Voting to sustain the government were all 41 NDP MLAs, plus the two Greens and the newly-turned independent Andrew Weaver.
Voting against were 39 of the 42 B.C. Liberals. Three other Opposition MLAs, Teresa Wat, Joan Isaacs and Tracy Redies were on medical leave, with the latter two away indefinitely.
The five-seat margin of victory for the government guaranteed the vote was not an edge-of-your seat affair.
Still, for all the talk about early elections and the short shelf life of minority governments, the outcome underscored how the NDP’s survival in office has become a matter of routine.
Partly that is because the Opposition ranks are reduced by the medical leaves and by the defection of B.C. Liberal MLA Darryl Plecas, now serving as Speaker and sitting as an independent.
But mainly, the Horgan government has survived for 31 months and counting because the New Democrats and Greens have respected the provisions of the confidence and supply agreement (CASA) they concluded back in 2017.
The terms bound the 44 individual MLAs who signed it to sustain the government on matters of confidence until the next scheduled election — now set for Oct 16, 2021.
The agreement also minimized the number of votes that would be regarded as matters of confidence, reducing it for most intents and purposes to the motion passed Thursday.
Barring a breakdown in the working relationship, between the New Democrats, Greens and Weaver, the next matter of confidence will probably be when the house votes this time next year on Budget 2021.
This year’s vote was unusual in that it unfolded with the public absent, by and large, from the public galleries.
The legislature has been closed to the public all week, with the exception of school tours and some invited guests.
Speaker Plecas made the call on the advice of security personnel because of the continued presence of protesters at the front steps.
Though two protesters were arrested Thursday for spray painting the driveway and some stone work at the legislature, the protests have generally been peaceful.
The protesters have not been obstructing access to the building, nevertheless the legislature was closed out, of what was said to be an abundance of caution.
Near as I can determine, the buildings have never been closed to the public for this long a period in provincial history.
The legislature protest is connected to the standoff over the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Northern B.C. and the related blockades that have spread across the country.
For Horgan, the political fallout from the protests and blockades has generated one of the first really negative opinion polls of his time in office.
Question from the Angus Reid Institute, asked of some 1,500 respondents across Canada earlier this week:
“Is your premier doing a good or bad job handling this whole issue regarding the Coastal GasLink project and the protest blockades against it?”
Answer, in the case of the premier of B.C.: 65 per cent said Horgan was doing a bad job, only 18 per cent said he was doing a good job.
This from a non-profit polling organization that has generally reported favourable ratings for the B.C. premier. In Reid’s year-end survey, Horgan finished near the top of the heap among Canadian premiers with 56 per cent approval.
But the greater than three-to-one margin against Horgan on this issue did not leave much room for excuses, even allowing for the limitations of online polling, the margin of error (plus or minus 2.5 points) and the smaller sample here in B.C.
“This is a very divisive issue for all British Columbians and all Canadians,” the premier conceded when I asked him about the poll.
“But I can’t be governed by the polls, I have to be governed by what I believe is right, and I think we’re on the right course.”
“I’m doing my level best to try and find that balance between the absolute requirement of dissent in a democratic society, but also ensuring that people don’t behave in an unlawful manner that disrupts the lives of other people who did not ask to participate in the debate but are drawn into it.”
He revisited the polling negatives later in the press conference by way of acknowledging that the pipeline standoff and resulting fallout has been hard on him and hard on the government.
“There are obstacles always and they’ve been difficult personally, professionally and politically,” the premier told reporters.
“But I firmly believe, after many decades involved in public policy making and observing events, that I think we’re absolutely on the right course and I’m gonna carry on.”
As he spoke, B.C.’s minister of Indigenous relations, Scott Fraser, was meeting with his federal counterpart and the Indigenous leaders involved in the standoff.
If the meeting makes progress in breaking the impasse, this week’s negatives could soon be forgotten. If not, then last year’s favourable rating could become a thing of the past.