British Columbia’s premier-designate, John Horgan, arrives at the Government house to meet Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon in Victoria on Thursday. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
As British Columbia’s New Democrats prepare to assume power, premier-designate John Horgan must navigate a dangerous path as he seeks to reshape the province.
After 16 years of Liberal rule, the NDP has ambitious plans to reposition B.C. in ways that will reverberate across the country.
The future of resource extraction, with a new government that opposes billions of dollars worth of development projects, including oil pipelines, will test British Columbia’s relationships with Alberta and Ottawa.
Gary Mason: For John Horgan, suspense then euphoria – and now the serious business of running a province
But before the fate of the Site C dam, liquefied natural gas projects or the Kinder Morgan pipeline can be altered, Mr. Horgan’s fragile government has more pressing matters to attend to in its first 100 days.
The minority government will face a strong political opposition: 43 Liberal MLAs and three Green MLAs to his 41 New Democrats. Minus the Speaker, who will come from the NDP benches, the New Democrats will have only 40 votes in the House.
The Greens have an accord with the NDP designed to allow the minority government to function by promising support on matters of confidence in the legislature, but for all else, the NDP will need to earn support for policies, projects and positions.
The New Democrats will take the next two or three weeks to review the transition documents they received on Friday and they expect an audited statement of the financial books they are to inherit in that time. Mr. Horgan needs to pick a cabinet – which presents its own challenges because of the party’s slim representation in rural in B.C. – and he must find a way to open doors in Washington when he travels there to lobby on behalf of the province’s softwood lumber industry.
In addition to his party’s election promises, the commitments he has made to the Green caucus in exchange for its support have bound his party to several actions that dictate a tight timeline.
Mr. Horgan’s government is pledged to introduce legislation to reform campaign finance and regulation of lobbyists. It will bring in bills to launch a referendum on electoral reform, and to move the fixed dates for provincial elections to the fall. As well, the Site C dam will be reviewed and the government will search for every legal tool in its toolbox to stop construction of Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion.
Mr. Horgan will write a Throne Speech and a new budget to present in early September. The budget will be substantially different than the Liberal document tabled last February: The NDP has promised to eliminate bridge tolls and increase spending on child protection, education and social housing. It wants to freeze hydro rates and eliminate Medical Service Plan premiums.
On Friday afternoon, Mr. Horgan spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and while they agreed they can work together on many points – housing, transit and transportation – they saved the debate about Kinder Morgan for Mr. Horgan’s first visit to Ottawa, which he will have to make soon.
Throughout the summer, the NDP transition team will consult with the Greens. Although they are sitting in opposition, the NDP will need them on board to accomplish change.
Mr. Horgan acknowledged in an interview that this is not really how he envisioned the job of premier: He will need to negotiate with another political party every step of the way. “It’s not how you write it up on the white board,” he said. But, he added, now he has an “extraordinary opportunity” to try something different, where MLAs on both sides will be asked to work together to develop policy and legislation.
He also said he has work to do to assure rural communities his government will promote jobs across the province. The NDP were shut out in all but four seats outside Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island, and they will be mindful that they need to rebuild support in rural B.C.
Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said that is a shared objective. “Frankly, when I talk to people in Northeast B.C. and they tell me that their economy is hurting because natural gas is in decline and the dry wells up in Fort Nelson are not happening and the rigs are all in the parking lot in Fort St. John, I say, ‘You know why? Because of arrogant policies of the BC Liberals, they have not thought about diversifying the economy to ensure that we don’t go through boom and bust cycles.’”
He said the new minority government will focus on diversifying the economy.
Mr. Horgan may not be able to deliver on some of his promises. He has assured his labour allies his government would re-write the labour code, but the Liberals and the Greens are opposed. The NDP-Green accord does not preclude the Greens from blocking legislative initiatives that are not matters of confidence.
The Greens are mindful, as they pick their own path forward, that they need to retain their distinctive brand. Mr. Weaver is emphatic that he is sitting in opposition. And the Greens realize that, although they want this accord to work, it may not last. If there is another election six months from now, they will want to show that they have secured a tangible legacy. And that means they must work fast.