VICTORIA — British Columbia’s minority NDP government is set to table a throne speech outlining its political blueprint after months of tension, upheaval and backroom machinations following a spring election that failed to produce a clear winner.
The New Democrats will walk into the legislature Friday with a promise to make life better for residents after 16 years of Liberal rule, said Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Carole James.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” James said.
The Liberals fell one seat short of a majority in the 87-seat legislature in the May 9 election, prompting 41 New Democrats and three Green members to reach an agreement that ousted the Liberals in a non-confidence vote. The move paved the way for a minority NDP government under Premier John Horgan.
Former premier Christy Clark heightened the political drama with a failed attempt to force a new election before she resigned as Liberal leader and the MLA for Kelowna West. The vacant seat provides some breathing room for the tight NDP minority.
Clark’s resignation also temporarily reduces the pressure on Horgan’s minority government, which will be expected to yield one of its voting members to take on the role of Speaker of the legislature. The first order of business in the legislature Friday will be to elect the Speaker, who may eventually be forced to break ties in votes.
The NDP made numerous promises during the election, including pledges to cut medical services plan premiums, offer a $400 rent subsidy to offset the high cost of living, ban corporate and union donations to political parties and hold a referendum on electoral reform.
“People have waited a long time, 16 years, for a change in government,” said James.
“People are counting on us to work on their behalf. There are so many issues that need to be addressed and we’re not going to be able to fix them all overnight, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get started.”
The government will table a budget update Monday, followed by a more complete budget in February, James said. Independently audited statements released last month confirmed the NDP inherited a solid financial bottom line from the Liberals, including a surplus of $2.7 billion.
Since being officially sworn in two months ago, the NDP increased welfare rates by $100 a month, scrapped tolls on the Lower Mainland’s Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, waived post-secondary tuition costs for people who spent time in foster care and eliminated fees for adult basic education and English language programs.
The government also pressed the reset button on a couple of multibillion-dollar mega projects tied to the former Liberal government.
The $8.8 billion Site C hydroelectric dam project in northeast B.C. is under review. The $3.5 George Massey bridge project in suburban Vancouver is also on hold and the government is registered as an intervener against the $7.4 billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project between Alberta and B.C.
“We said we wanted to show people that we were going to put people first,” James said. “We were going to get up everyday and go to work on their behalf.”
Prof. Michael Prince, a social expert at the University of Victoria, said Clark’s final attempts to hold onto power by introducing a throne speech in June and adopting many NDP and Green election promises will make it difficult for the Opposition to criticize the NDP during the session.
“It’s going to be a curious new environment to watch unfold,” he said. “I think the NDP wants to see this as a government that can govern for at least a year or two and then position themselves for another election where they’d go for a majority.”
Interim Liberal Leader Rich Coleman said Thursday that they will have no difficulties hurling criticism at NDP policies they endorsed in the last Liberal throne speech.
“We’re now opposition,” he said. “Our job isn’t to go out there and build the public policy but actually to hold the government to account for what they want to do. We’re going to do that.”
Green Leader Andrew Weaver said he expects the NDP-Green voting agreement to hold despite differences that are bound to arise.
“Everyone wants the good story of the B.C. Greens bringing down the NDP, but it’s not going to happen,” he said. “We have a very good working relationship.”