VICTORIA - Premier Christy Clark is confident her Liberal government can survive a threat by the Opposition New Democrats to test what appears to an emaciated majority in the British Columbia legislature, but she's not making any guarantees.
Clark said she believes the five-seat Liberal majority will endure, but warns that anything can happen in politics.
"I think that support is there," she said. "We'll certainly see next week. I never ever in my public life have wanted to guess ahead and predict what any legislature might do. I don't think that's ever a good bet in politics, but I'm confident about it."
Officials with both the Liberals and New Democrats admitted Thursday they were keeping a close eye on the numbers of politicians attending the legislature.
The first test of the strength of the slim Liberal majority could come as early as Tuesday when the government tables its budget and it must pass first reading to proceed. But if the NDP musters more members to the legislature and defeats the first reading, it won't mean the government immediately falls and the legislature is dissolved.
The Liberals still have the option of calling an official non-confidence vote for the next day, which offers them another opportunity to boost their numbers.
A vote defeat for the Liberals could also see the Lieutenant Governor intervene and decide to keep the legislature in operation on the grounds that the province is close to the May 14 election.
The current standings in the legislature are: 45 Liberals, 36 New Democrats and four Independents. But earlier this week, with Liberals Pat Pimm, Kevin Falcon and Rich Coleman away, the majority was down to two Liberals.
Clark said she called former Liberal MLA John Slater earlier this week and asked him to return to the Liberal caucus, but Slater is continuing the sit as an Independent.
Slater was embroiled in a nasty split with the Liberals over his on-again, off-again candidacy in his Boundary-Similkameen riding.
Slater originally suggested he wouldn't be seeking re-election, then decided he wanted to run, but the Liberals then said there were personal issues that precluded the party from endorsing his candidacy.
He is not running in the May election.
New Democrat House Leader John Horgan said his party is waiting to test the majority next week — with the support of the Independents — when the Liberal government introduces the budget.
"There's trouble in Mudville and they may not have the votes to pass their budget," he said.
Horgan said the NDP will take advantage of any opportunity it has to out-vote the Liberals and prompt what could result in the defeat of the budget and the government.
"It's my belief the government's lost its legitimacy with the public and it's my belief people are waiting for May, anxiously, and if the government doesn't have the support of the majority of the members of the legislature, then it should fall," he said.
Liberal caucus whip Eric Foster, who's in charge of making sure the Liberals have a majority at all times, said the government numbers are a concern with some members on leave, but he's confident the five-seat majority will hold.
"There are always people coming and going and we watch the numbers very closely and we'll have our people in the house," he said.
Foster said next week when the budget is introduced Liberal Blair Lekstrom has been granted leave and former finance minister Kevin Falcon is on a leave as he and his wife are awaiting the birth of their second child.
Pimm has been at home this week recovering from knee surgery.
The only New Democrat who has been away from the legislature is Vancouver Island MLA Bill Routley, who is recovering after suffering a heart attack.
Liberal MLA Randy Hawes said he will be in the legislature to support the budget and beat back any NDP challenge to the Liberal majority.
"I'm a very dedicated free-enterprise believer," said Hawes, who is not seeking re-election in May. "I'm not an NDP supporter. I don't want to see the NDP in power. I'll do whatever I can do to make sure that we remain a free enterprise government."
Hawes said he's had his differences on government issues with Premier Christy Clark, but he's not going to vote against the budget.
Liberal MLA Kash Heed was not at question period Thursday.
Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong said there have been concerns about Liberal numbers, but there's a concerted effort underway to ensure there are enough "bodies on site."
"The government is confident we continue to enjoy the confidence of the house; the majority is there," he said.