Bob Simpson: How Did We End Up With an Unelected Premier?


This week Christy Clark was sworn in as BC’s 35th Premier along with seventeen Liberal MLAs who will serve in her Cabinet. These 18 people make up the Executive Council.

From BC’s first Parliament in 1871 until 1929, MLAs appointed to the Executive Council were required to resign their seat and run in a by-election. This requirement to be “doubly elected” included the position of Premier. In some instances the newly appointed Cabinet Minister lost their seat in the by-election.

So, how did we go from initially requiring our Premier to be twice elected to having an unelected Premier today?

In short, it’s because we now allow political parties to exercise too much control over our legislative system.

The first BC election fought along party lines was held in 1903, but it was not until 1940 that candidates were required to declare their political affiliation on official ballots. However, political affiliation to that point was loosely defined; MLAs could freely move between “parties” because party discipline, as it is now practiced, was non-existent.

For example, one of the Cariboo’s first MLAs, “Boomer” Walkem, served in the Executive Council of two different governments because Cabinet Ministers didn’t have to follow a defeated Premier to the Opposition benches after an election defeat. Mr. Walkem wasn’t punished for what would now be considered “disloyalty.” In fact, he subsequently ended up serving as Premier — twice.

Even after party status had to be declared on the ballot, from 1941 to 1952 BC was governed by a coalition which saw political parties working together and the Executive Council consisting of people from different political persuasions.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that the current two party system became entrenched in BC. Until very recently, however, MLAs would still act independently of their party if they believed the party was not serving the best interests of their constituents. The Cariboo’s Alex Fraser is celebrated to this day for putting his constituents’ interests first, ahead of his party.

Over the past few decades, though, political parties have been able to gain complete control over our legislative system; diminishing the role of elected MLAs who are often forced to put party interests ahead of their constituents’ needs.

In short, we have an unelected Premier today because our legislative system was not designed with political parties in mind. Its founders never imagined the possibility that British Columbians would ever allow an unelected person to become Premier simply because they were the leader of a political party. On the contrary, they believed the entire Executive Council, including the Premier, should achieve a double mandate before earning the right to govern this province.

Reprinted with permission from Bob Simpson’s blog, Indie Voice.

About the author

Bob Simpson was re-elected as the MLA for Cariboo North on May 12, 2009. He was first elected to the Legislature in 2005.

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