Minority Government a Rarity in BC

Posted by Daniel on May 10, 2010 - 7 comments

The British electorate has spoken but what exactly it said is still not clear. No matter who the Liberal Democrats decide to support, there is going to be a minority government at Westminster (or what the Brits prefer to call a "hung parliament").

Judging from the press commentary I have read, the prospect of a minority seems to unnerve the British. For some reason Canadians find the uncertainty much more acceptable. We are living with a minority now, of course, and seem happy enough to put up with it, at least for the time being.

But at the provincial level, minority governments are much rarer, at least here in British Columbia. The last time we had one was back in 1952. In the provincial election that year the coalition of Liberals and Conservatives, which had held power since the war, fractured and was replaced by the upstart Social Credit League, which managed to win 19 seats in the 48-seat legislature. That was one more than the CCF but obviously not enough to form a majority. To complicate the situation, the CCF led in the popular vote (34% to the Socreds 30%).

Lt.-Gov. Clarence Wallace faced a bit of a dilemma. Should he ask the Socreds, who had the most seats, to form a government, or the popular-vote-leading CCF? Wallace dithered, but on civvy street he was one of the province's most successful industrialists so there was little chance that he was going to let the socialists get their hands on power, and in the end he opted for Social Credit. By this time, the Socreds had chosen a new leader, former Conservative MLA W.A.C. Bennett, and so on August 1, 1952, "Wacky" Bennett became premier. Little did anyone guess that he would remain so for the next 20 years!

Anyway, BC got a minority government for just the second time in its history. It did not last long. When the legislature met the following February, Bennett engineered his own defeat, called another election, and that June, 1953, swept back into office with a reasonable majority.

The only other minority government in BC history occurred in 1924 when the Liberals, led by John Oliver, were reduced to 23 seats out of 48. In this case the Liberals managed to hang on to office for four years until they were demolished by the Conservatives in the election of 1928.

There is much talk these days of a third party emerging to challenge the Liberals and the New Democrats. Perhaps we are on the verge of another minority situation here, though I doubt it. When the right wing splits it usually means success for the NDP and I would wager that that would be the case again. But that is a subject for another day.