The provincial NDP heads into its party convention this weekend, and it’s the first one in 16 years that has taken place while the party is in power. I expect it to be a bit of a love-in and quite celebratory.
The NDP has been in power now just over 100 days, which is a good time to assess how all sides in the B.C. legislature have fared since the handover of power occurred in the summer.
As well, it’s worth noting which of the politicians – old and new – have emerged as the key players on both sides of the legislature.
First, the young NDP government has proven, so far at least, to be a somewhat cautious but well performing group. There have been a few hiccups – a broken campaign promise here, a minor controversy there – but nothing that constitutes a major gaffe.
In fact, the positives have greatly outnumbered any negatives (raising social assistance rates, closing a landlord/lease loophole, overhauling election financing, scrapping tolls are all fulfilled campaign promises).
Overall, I’d give the NDP a solid B for its start in power after 16 years on the sidelines.
The NDP cabinet, as well, has proven to be quite impressive, with a few exceptions. Its front bench is as strong – if not stronger – than the previous government’s version.
Leading the way among ministers (I’ll get to the premier later) has been Attorney-General David Eby, whose strong and steady performance (at one point in the session, all the legislation in front of the House had been introduced by him) has made him stand out.
Finance Minister Carole James has also emerged as a dominant voice in government, as has Solicitor-General and Government House leader Mike Farnworth. And Health Minister Adrian Dix, Social Development Minister Shane Simpson, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson, Mental Health Minister Judy Darcy, Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark, Education Minister and Environment Minister George Heyman have all fared well in their new roles (other ministers have yet to be tested much).
Two ministers have stumbled a bit: Transportation Minister Claire Trevena (dogged by the broken Uber promise and other issues) and Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, who appears to be having trouble transitioning from being an activist to being a minister of the Crown.
On the other side of the aisle, things aren’t quite as rosy. The B.C. Liberals are clearly having trouble making the switch to Opposition after spending so long running the show.
The party’s question period performance has been spotty at best, although three rookie MLAs in particular seem to be the ones to keep an eye on: Kamloops’ Peter Milobar, Richmond’s Jas Johal and Surrey-White Rock’s Tracy Redies.
But the caucus seems to be at sea at times, which is understandable since they are in the middle of a leadership race. I suspect things will improve somewhat once the leadership question has been settled in February (I liken the current legislation session to an exhibition season; the regular season begins with the NDP’s first budget). Grade: C.
As for the Greens, they are clearly enjoying themselves and like being part of the conversation. But there is little evidence they are driving the government’s legislative agenda or having much influence on it.
As I have noted here before, the Greens lost most of their leverage by going all-in on pushing for electoral reform and proportional representation.
Since even if next fall’s referendum on PR passes, the first time an election can held on the new electoral new system is July of 2021 so the Greens are stuck supporting the NDP until at least then. Grade: B.
And now about Premier John Horgan.
The man bears little resemblance to how he was before the election. Now, he’s comfortable in his own skin and appears to be supremely relaxed and confident (long gone – hopefully for good – is the frustrated and often exasperated Horgan that was in Opposition).
He is far and away the dominant performer and personality in the legislature. He is in clear command of his government and I don’t recall anyone who seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves in the premier’s office as much as he is.
Eventually, he will have to open all those cans his government has kicked down the road (the housing crisis, the Site C dam, potential revenue problems, ICBC’s future, etc.) and some of those decisions will be anything but easy, but for now it has been relatively smooth sailing.
Give him a B+.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. This is reprinted from his weekly column with Glacier Media.
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