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The beginning of the end: B.C. legislature to hear Throne Speech

B.C. Premier Christy Clark and B.C. Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon make their way into the B.C. legislature for the Throne Speech in February of 2016

British Columbia’s Lieutenant-Governor is scheduled to present the province’s latest Throne Speech, setting off a process that is expected to end the Liberal government of Premier Christy Clark.

The May 9 election reduced the Liberals to 43 seats in the legislature, one short of a majority. The New Democrats, who won 41 seats, and the Greens, with three, have signed an agreement to use their combined majority to vote down the government at the earliest opportunity. That will likely happen next week.

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Here’s what you need to know about what’s happened so far, and what comes next.

Liberal MLA Steve Thomson was acclaimed Speaker after formally resigning his post as forests minister.

The role of the legislature’s Speaker has received considerable attention given the standings in the legislature. Because the Speaker only votes in the event of a tie, an NDP or Green Speaker would have been be called upon to cast the deciding vote on the imminent confidence vote attached to the Throne Speech. That would have been a particular problem because Speakers, by convention, are expected to vote with the government on confidence motions to prevent it from falling.

But Mr. Thomson may not be in the role for long. The Liberals have suggested none of their members want to serve as Speaker under an NDP government, suggesting the new Speaker will likely resign. That would force the New Democrats or Greens to put forward someone, who would be expected to routinely break ties in the legislature – typically a rare occurrence.

NDP Leader John Horgan referenced the uncertainty in a speech following Mr. Thomson’s election, thanking him for serving in the “days and weeks and months and years ahead.” That prompted laughter and applause from the other MLAs.

A portion of the official proclamation recalling the B.C. legislature for June 22, 2017.

Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon is expected to present her Throne Speech after 2 p.m. PT.

The Liberal government has already released many of the details from the speech, which is expected to represent a dramatic about-face from a re-election platform the party campaigned on a little more than a month ago.

Changes include an increase to social assistance rates, after a decade of refusing to adjust them; a new approach to public-transit funding; campaign finance reform to ban corporate and union donations; and a $1-billion child-care program.

The policies have little chance of being implemented any time soon, and critics have dismissed the effort as a cynical death-bed conversion. But the Liberals insist they learned the lessons of their disappointing election result and are simply responding to what voters told them.

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver hold a signed document in which they agree to take down the Liberal government and support an NDP minority government.

The schedule for what happens next is mapped out in the legislature’s standing orders, which require a minimum of four days of debate on the Throne Speech. On the fourth day – next Thursday – the New Democrats are expected to propose an amendment declaring the legislature has lost confidence in the house. The amendment would pass with a vote of 44-42, and the government would fall.

Premier Christy Clark would then visit the Lieutenant-Governor to inform her that the government had lost the confidence of the house. Experts have suggested the Lieutenant-Governor is likely to ask Mr. Horgan to form government, especially since the New Democrats have a power-sharing agreement in place with the Greens, clearing the way for Mr. Horgan to become premier.

Ms. Clark has already said she does not intend to ask for a new election, though that decision is ultimately up to the Lieutenant-Governor.

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