Editorial: BC party leaders face tough questions this summer
The legislative session ended badly for BC’s NDP government, as the ill-considered plan to rebuild the Royal BC Museum exploded into a full-scale political debacle. Even former NDP Finance Minister Elizabeth Cull called the plan “deaf”.
Now that Parliament has adjourned for the summer, the three party leaders sitting in the House face some tough questions.
John Horgan’s NDP administration, by virtue of its five years in office, has the most to think about.
The legislative session ended badly for them, with the ill-considered plan to rebuild the Royal BC Museum exploding into a full-scale political debacle. Even former NDP Finance Minister Elizabeth Cull called the plan “deaf”.
More troubling, soaring gas prices and skyrocketing inflation have become the issue of the day. Because these were nowhere on the radar screen when Horgan first took office, he faces the challenge of refocusing his party midway.
Other issues notwithstanding, for now at least, the Prime Minister must signal that portfolio issues are his top priority. They dominate in elections.
Retired federal finance minister Bill Morneau, who served five years under Justin Trudeau, made a similar point last week. Morneau criticized his former colleagues for neglecting the economy while focusing on niche issues. Pay more attention to economic growth and improving productivity, he urged, noting that Canada ranks 25th out of 36 OECD countries in productivity expansion.
In some ways, it might seem like BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon has an easier path to follow. As the newly elected leader of his party, he is making a fresh start.
Yet appearances can be deceiving. Falcon’s underlying philosophy, shared broadly by his party, is built around fiscal conservatism and small government. These are not easy to integrate in much of the province, especially in the Lower Mainland and the Capital Region, where most of the votes are.
His challenge is to tone down that message and reach out to the moderate centre. However, that might be easier said than done.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney just lost a leadership exam when his party’s right wing rejected exactly such an effort. And one federal Conservative leader after another suffered a similar fate.
Falcon’s question, then, is not how to steer his party in a different direction, but how to moderate his message in terms that both satisfy his rural caucus and also work in an urban setting.
Former US President Bill Clinton was a past master in this form of “triangulation”. Whether Falcon could copy this kind of political address is debatable. His outspokenness is well known.
Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau faces an entirely different dilemma. His party has only two seats in the Legislative Assembly to post nearly 40 years of campaigning. What must be accomplished by continuing?
Furstenau could point out that his was the first green party to be formed in North America, and that there is a legacy to be protected.
She was also able to note that the Greens’ share of the vote in the last two provincial elections was at an all-time high.
However, in practice, there isn’t much difference between his platform and Horgan’s.
Yes, environmentalism is one of the driving forces of British Columbia politics, and the Greens are leading that movement. However, the NDP holds most of the dominant positions on this subject.
It would be the ultimate irony if, in the next provincial election, the Greens split the center-left vote and elected the Liberals.
We can say that it could have happened before. In each of the three provincial elections between 2005 and 2013, the Greens and NDP vote combined exceeded the Liberal turnout, but the Liberals won hands down.
So Furstenau’s challenge is to decide what matters most, sticking to his beliefs or winning an election.
The next legislative session begins on October 3. The three leaders must until then choose the path they will follow.