I know I have told this story before but when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Western Ontario, I took my Canadian politics class from a professor who used to give zeros on exams. Students lived in fear of receiving a big red zero on a mid-term and I used to see students entering his exams with sweat pouring down their faces and with grim looks that foretold their fate.
I decided one day, early in the term, to ask the professor about his reputation for giving zeros and to ask him how I might avoid such a miserable outcome.
It took all of my courage to knock on his door.
"Sir," I said, in my best 'be respectful to the scary zero-giving professor' voice, "I understand that many of your students fail the mid-term. I was just wondering if you could give me any advice on how not to fail."
He looked straight at me, furrowed his brow and said, "Answer the question."
"Well yes, obviously sir, answer the question but I assume everyone must answer the question so why do some people get no marks for their answers?"
"Because they don't," he said. "They don't answer the question.They just tell me everything they know about the topic, but I want an answer! For example, if I ask you, 'Can the Governor General be replaced by a stuffed teddy bear?' then I want you to say, 'yes the GG can be replaced by stuffed teddy bear' or 'no the GG cannot be replaced by a stuffed teddy bear'. Don't just tell me what the GG does."
That was it.
The scary professor just wanted an answer to the question.
So, on the mid-term, when the question was asked, I said "No, the Governor General cannot be replaced by a stuffed teddy bear because, while the role is mostly ceremonial, the GG performs a number of critical tasks that are central to our democracy including making decisions about who will form government and their role is especially crucial when there is a minority government or a very slim majority. They need to find a way to ensure responsible government, or, in other words, that the government can maintain confidence in the House. They will have a number of options open to them. They can allow the former leader to try to maintain confidence with a minority. They can choose to allow a coalition of parties to form government. They may even have to dissolve parliament if there is a non-confidence vote and allow for another election. Under all of these scenarios, the GG plays a vital role as Head of State. Moreover, the GG appoints a Lieutenant Governor to each of the provinces to act in the same capacity at the provincial level."
I would not have received a zero for that answer.
And this week, in British Columbia, the vital role of the Lieutenant Governor has become apparent. Over the next few weeks and possibly months, the Lieutenant Governor will be responsible for assuring that responsible government can be maintained in the Legislature.
While the pundits will tell you that the government of the day will be decided by political wrangling going on now behind closed door among the parties, there is no doubt that The Honourable Judy Guichon has options before her.
Guichon is a cattle rancher from the Nicola Valley and she has a deep understanding of the province of British Columbia. She has already given Christy Clark the green light to govern until the final tally of the votes has been counted.
As of this time, Clark will be given the opportunity to try to govern with a minority.
If things stay the way they are, then Clark will need votes from other parties to maintain confidence.
If she losses confidence in the Legislature, then it is possible that the NDP could get a chance to form government but they too would need support from the Greens or the Liberals to pass legislation and to maintain confidence.
There is also the possibility of a coalition government: Liberal and Greens or NDP and Green.
In either of those scenarios the leaders would have to approach the Lieutenant Governor to propose their coalition as the government.
Whatever way the chips fall (and of course it is still possible that recounts will mean a majority Liberal government), we are likely to be in for a bumpy ride - and probably another election - sooner rather than later.