Q6. Is Bill 75 a confidence vote?

This answer’s easy: No

A6. The short answer is No, Bill 75 is not a confidence vote.

But as usual in politics, there’s a longer, more complicated answer.

A “confidence vote” is any vote that triggers an election if the government loses.

An annual budget is always a confidence vote. If the budget is defeated, the government must resign and there must be an election. That last happened in Nova Scotia in 1999.

There can also be a motion of non-confidence. A motion can be presented only if the House is sitting.  If a motion of non-confidence passes, the government must resign and there must be an election.  Under a majority government, there is zero chance of a non-confidence motion passing, so the Nova Scotia legislature rarely sees them any more.  There used to be at least one every year, but the practice of having an annual non-confidence vote stopped in 1998.

Apart from the budget and a non-confidence motion, there is only one other situation that involves confidence: if the government declares, in advance, that a vote is a confidence vote.

Why would a government do that? Why would they deliberately run the risk of having to resign and triggering an election? There are two possible reasons.

First, a government may actually wish to trigger an election. That happened in 2009, when the Progressive Conservative government of Rodney MacDonald was fairly certain that its budget would be defeated. Rather than wait for the budget vote, another inconsequential bill was declared to be a matter of confidence. When that bill was defeated, the government resigned and the election was on. I was there. It was weird, and is not likely to be repeated any time soon.

Second, a government may use the threat of a confidence vote to keep its own MLAs in line. The ultimate threat of a premier with rebellious backbenchers is to call an election that the backbenchers do not want. If the backbenchers believe they may be defeated in an election, they will grumble but likely fall into line.

In the current circumstances in Nova Scotia, there is a chance that the government could declare Bill 75 to be a matter of confidence. If they do, it would be for the second reason. Otherwise, Bill 75 is not a confidence vote and it could be defeated without triggering an election.

Author: Graham Steele

A former MLA in Nova Scotia, currently Professor of Business Law in the Rowe School of Business at Dalhousie University

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