B.C. ELECTION: How the B.C. Government Works
Features / May 1, 2017
What you need to know about your provincial government
Tristan Johnston, Coordinating Editor
If you’re like a lot of people, you probably don’t pay much attention to provincial politics until it comes time to vote. And if you’re like the 45 per cent of people in my riding, then you don’t even vote.
Like the federal government, the provincial one has responsibilities, although they are responsibilities that our constitution suggests are best handled locally. The provincial government has a greater say over natural resources, the environment, education, health, welfare, property and civil rights, and justice. The federal government is involved in defense, international relations, and criminal law, amongst other things.
Provincial and federal governments work together on many things, such as discussions over how much money and help provinces should receive. For instance, the federal government might approve a pipeline as an international relations or trade issue, and the provinces will get involved through their roles on the environment and natural resources.
Let’s use health care as an example. The 1984 Canadian Health Act aimed to solve the problem of different provinces having different qualities of care. While health care has always been in the realm of the provinces, the Canadian Health Act addresses the financial aspect, and does not dictate how health care should work. The federal government provides a big bag of cash, and the province decides how to spread it.
Sometimes provinces and the federal government fight over who gets to do what, or even threaten to separate, but that’s why we have a Supreme Court.
So how does the provincial government work?
When you go to vote, you’ll notice that the party leaders aren’t actually on the ballot. You only get to vote for Christy Clark if you live in Kelowna, and even if she loses, she will still be the party leader. Just like in our federal elections, voters don’t get to choose who their premier is. The party does that instead. If citizens want to take part in choosing a leader, they would need to join that party (usually for a fee) and vote for the leader of their choice.
After you vote for your MLA on May 9, presuming your candidate wins, they’ll go to the legislature on your behalf. Once in the legislature, the passing of laws works very similarly to the way it does in the federal government, with exception that B.C. has no senate. While many provinces used to have upper chambers, all of them have since been abolished.
In the event that no party holds more than half of the seats in parliament after an election, the party with the most seats forms a minority government. Minority governments generally require more cooperation amongst political parties to complete legislative business, as no party can pass bills alone.
After a bill becomes a law in the legislature, the bill goes to the lieutenant governor, who acts on behalf of the Queen of England, Elizabeth II. Yes, we still technically need to have permission from the Queen of a foreign country who doesn’t even live here in order to conduct our domestic political affairs. Granted, it’s ceremonial and you can regard it as a rubber stamp.
Lieutenant governors are appointed by the Governor General of Canada on the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada. In turn, the lieutenant governor is the one who formally appoints MLA’s to the provincial cabinet once they’ve been voted in. Other duties include rubber stamping any dissolutions or summoning of legislature, reading throne speeches, and showing up to remembrance day parades.
Technically, lieutenant governors wield tremendous power, and legally have the ability to stop parliament, veto bills, and even appoint the leader of an opposition party to be the premier. Of course, such events are extremely rare.
There are still ways for the governmental train to derail without the involvement of the lieutenant governor or the premier. If more than half of the MLA’s in legislature have had it with the government, they can call a vote of non-confidence, and if that vote succeeds a provincial election would be triggered. Elections can also be triggered by the ruling party if they see fit, but given the expense of elections to taxpayers, such events are almost entirely unheard of. Otherwise, our legislature has a four-year shelf life before requiring a replacement.
When that time is up, it’s time for another election, which is where you come in. Perhaps our system of government in B.C. is less complicated than an American state, where you choose multiple people directly on your ballot. Regardless, May 9th will be your time to help shape what the next legislature will look like.