The B.C. NDP/Green Alliance is not Unconstitutional
Opinions / July 4, 2017
Northern B.C. leader’s letter to the Lieutenant Governor claiming otherwise is simply baffling
Joseph Keller, Web Editor
When the B.C. NDP and Green Parties announced their agreement to form government as a coalition last month, observers waited with interest to see if B.C. Premier Christy Clark would blast the agreement as undemocratic.
To the premier’s credit, she has thus far made no such attempt to sway the public against her opponents’ alliance. This is why it was surprising to see the ‘coalitions are unconstitutional’ argument brought up by Northern B.C. political leader Shaely Wilbur in an open letter to the province’s Lieutenant Governor.
“Respectfully, if the crown acts in reliance on the agreement we are concerned that the Crown could be condoning an unconstitutional scheme,” wrote Wilbur, who is the president of the North Central Local Government Association.
The assertion that the agreement between the B.C NDP and the Greens is somehow unconstitutional simply does not hold up to scrutiny, as coalition governments are very much legal under the Canadian constitution. In a parliamentary system, the governing party is determined by a confidence vote. If the party with the most seats can’t gain the confidence of the House—as was the case after the B.C. Liberals failed a confidence vote on July 29—a coalition is likely the best option for representing the majority of British Columbians.
Coalitions were designed into the parliamentary system so that a government elected by a minority of voters would not necessarily be given a disproportionate amount of power. A suggestion that coalitions are somehow unconstitutional by an official in Wilbur’s position is either a deliberate misrepresentation of facts or a demonstration of severe ignorance of Canada’s governmental structure.
The most likely explanation for the letter is a partisan one. As CBC News noted in their June 5 report on the letter, Wilbur is an outspoken supporter of the B.C. Liberals, and the NCLGA supported the Liberals in last month’s election.
This would not be the first time coalitions have been characterized as undemocratic for political gain in Canada. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper was famously able to defeat a proposed Liberal/NDP coalition following the 2008 federal election by using such a strategy. Harper prorogued parliament before a non-confidence vote could be called and ran ads attacking the coalition as “undemocratic.” By the time parliament was reconvened, public opinion had turned sharply against the coalition.
The North Central Local Government Association, however, does not have the kind of sway over public opinion that Harper’s Tories had, and so Wilbur’s letter reads as a transparent partisan spin.
It’s safe to assume that B.C. Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon understands the role of coalitions in the parliamentary system well enough not to be moved by Wilbur’s open letter, but if even one supporter of the NCLGA—which represents 41 communities in the province—has been mislead by the assertion that something unconstitutional is happening in Victoria, Wilbur has done a disservice to our democratic process. Political officials should not be spreading such misinformation.