Opinion

How did we end up with an un-elected premier?

This week Christy Clark was sworn in as B.C.’s 35th premier, along with 17 Liberal MLAs who will serve in her cabinet.

These 18 people make up the executive council.

From B.C.’s first parliament in 1871 until 1929, MLAs appointed to the executive council were required to resign their seat and run in a byelection. This requirement to be “doubly elected” included the position of premier. 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 B.C. 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 subsequently ended up serving as premier — twice.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that the current two-party system became entrenched in B.C. 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.

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.

Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.

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