With deciding to complete the Site C dam the NDP government has passed its first major test of what it means to be a governing political party rather than one mired on the Opposition benches.
Being in opposition means a party’s actions and statements are somewhat irrelevant to many people. There are no ramifications for taking positions on issues, and it’s easy to get stuck on a hamster wheel uttering one negative thing after another.
But being in government carries with it enormous responsibility, as decisions made can have far-reaching consequences. The NDP, in a few short months, has shown it has made the shift from employing an opposition mentality to a viewpoint that reflects the fact it is now in power.
Globalnews.ca coverage of the Site C decision
And the Site C decision is a perfect example of that shift.
For years, a number of NDP MLAs were ardent critics of the dam and sided with anti-dam activists, participating in protest rallies and such. They vowed to kill the project if they got into government.
Several of those MLAs are now cabinet ministers, such as Energy Minister Michelle Mungall and Agriculture Minister Lana Popham. But being in cabinet requires viewing issues through a more rounded and better informed lens, and so those one-time opponents were able to switch to an entirely different position, and thus the dam is proceeding.
Data and arguments not considered in Opposition – such as what impact cancelling the dam would have on B.C. Hydro rates, and whether it would trigger a credit rating downgrade for the province – now rose to the top of the criteria list used to determine whether the dam should be completed.
Three other criteria — the views of First Nations, greenhouse gas emissions, and the impact on agricultural land — were further down the list (they were ranked higher while in opposition).
It was still, for some, a very difficult decision but ultimately it was one even one-time anti-dam people supported.
Banished from the cabinet room was the kind of social activist thinking that dominated their years in opposition. Replacing it was a more responsible, broad-minded approach at the cabinet table.
Or, as one cabinet minister described the Site C decision to me: “This shows those who are interested in actually running a government, rather than an opposition, are really calling the shots.”
This minister called the decision “pragmatic” as opposed to “activist.” When I put that characterization to Premier John Horgan during our year-end interview, he thought that was an appropriate description.
Approving Site C involved compromise, a willingness to reconsider old views and to embrace new information. The NDP is taking enormous heat on social media from the usual sources — environmental activists, certain First Nations leaders, and some members of the party — but I detect no worries from the government that this criticism will inflict any lasting damage.
The next election is almost four years away. Other issues than the Site C will dominate political discourse over time, and the NDP will no doubt have to handle more political hot potatoes in the days ahead.
But they will be handled inside the cabinet chamber and the caucus room, rather than at protest rallies.