VICTORIA—Romance is not in the cards for British Columbia’s politicians who return to the legislature Valentine’s Day for a throne speech that sets the stage for a provincial budget and a scrappy spring election, say political experts.
Premier Christy Clark’s Liberals are coming back rattled over a website hacking affair of their own making, while the New Democrats are looking to raise the profile of their leader, John Horgan, say political scientists Hamish Telford and Michael Prince.
Green party leader Andrew Weaver is expected to continue offering his party as the alternative to the feuding Liberals and New Democrats.
“I don’t know who’s going to get roses or chocolates,” said Prince, a public policy expert at University of Victoria. “This brouhaha of this (past) week is just an example of the kind of edge people are on.”
Clark apologized to Horgan for alleging the New Democrats illegally hacked a Liberal party website.
She made the apology Friday after Vicki Huntington, an Independent member of the legislature, said she and her staff easily accessed personal information of people who responded to a party survey on the website.
The dust-up could cloud Liberal plans to highlight the government’s economic and policy agenda, which culminates with its budget on Feb. 21, said Prince.
The budget is widely expected to be the government’s fifth consecutive balanced budget.
Ministry of Finance quarterly reports tracking the province’s bottom line point towards a budget surplus in the range of $2 billion.
Prince said the government has money to spend but remains vulnerable on issues connected to education, homelessness and low-income residents.
“Maybe there’s a fiscal surplus, but has there been a compassion surplus?” he said. “Some people I’ve talked to on the left think they could be vulnerable on what might be called compassion or meanness issues.”
Prince said the government has been slow to respond to issues on housing, education and poverty, moving only when pushed by the courts or public mood. He pointed to the Supreme Court of Canada decision on public education funding and B.C. Supreme Court decisions on homeless camps.
Telford, who teaches political science at the University of the Fraser Valley, said he expects the throne speech to highlight the government’s successful focus on fiscal management which has kept B.C.’s economy growing. But weaknesses are showing, he said.
Joblessness is rising in B.C.’s Interior and the government’s promise of jobs from the liquefied natural gas sector have not materialized, said Telford.
“If the election is going to turn on issues, it’s going to turn mostly on economic issues, particularly jobs for the Interior,” Telford said.
He said the Liberals, who have been in government since 2001, could face concerns about their best-before date. The Liberals are looking to win their fifth consecutive election in May and their longevity and political success could become a vulnerability, said Telford.
“In most Canadian jurisdictions, at that point in time, people start to get an innate sense that it’s time for a change,” Telford said.
Clark said the Liberals plan to stick to fundamental issues of jobs, homes and schools in the throne speech, session and election.
“Our vision will talk about some basic fundamental things that make B.C. better,” she said.
Horgan said the New Democrats want to talk about affordability for British Columbians, which includes the party’s proposals for a $15-per-hour minimum wage and $10-a-day daycare.
Prince said the Clark-Horgan website hacking standoff just days before the start of the session signals the parties are gearing up for a rough election campaign.
“It’s a bit of a hint of how we’re going to have a scrappy campaign,” he said. “This is not going to be the sweetness and light of (former NDP leader) Adrian Dix from the last go around.”
During the 2013 election campaign, the NDP limited personal attacks and lost despite entering the race with a 20-point lead in the polls.