When B.C.’s new crop of MLAs file into the House on Wednesday – many of them for the first time – the NDP will be returning unhappily to their familiar side on the opposition benches.
Next to them, Andrew Weaver, the first elected Green Party MLA, will take his seat, serving as a reminder of the work the New Democrats need to do outside of the chamber.
While the provincial budget is debated over the next five weeks, another drama is unfolding for the NDP. The party is appointing a five-member panel to examine how it lost the May 14 election – after starting out with a substantial lead in popular support.
That report is due by October. But it may not answer the larger question of why B.C. voters don’t trust the NDP to govern.
“The challenge for us, we have only won three elections in 80 years, you have to ask yourself why that it is,” said party president Moe Sihota in an interview.
“On the broader question of who we are, that may require more time … Within our brand as a political party, there seems to be a lack of complete confidence in our ability to attract growth, jobs and investment to the province.”
The party’s governing body met last weekend to work out the terms of reference for the review, which is meant to be completed before the NDP’s next convention, in November.
That gathering provides for a leadership review and Leader Adrian Dix has suggested it will be up to members to decide if his conduct in the campaign requires his resignation.
That means part of the five-week legislature session that starts this week will give potential leadership successors a chance to demonstrate their mettle, even without an official race under way.
It will also be a chance for Mr. Weaver to do what the New Democrats fear: Show voters that there is another political alternative to the governing Liberals.
“I’m not here to destroy the NDP,” Mr. Weaver said Tuesday. He will be one of 36 MLAs on the opposition side, and NDP House Leader John Horgan and other New Democrats have been encouraging and helpful, he said. But he won’t spare the NDP as he goes after the government on its pursuit of a liquefied natural gas industry – something the NDP supported in the election campaign.
“You cannot have leadership on the climate file as you double down on the export of LNG,” said Mr. Weaver, a climate scientist, who watched U.S. President Barack Obama outline a plan to curb greenhouse-gas emissions earlier in the day. Mr. Weaver said British Columbia was once a leader on the file, but the LNG goals will derail that progress.
But aside from the internal concerns of the NDP, the main focus of the session will be on the budget. Finance Minister Mike de Jong said he will reintroduce the same fiscal plan that was first tabled in February – one that redistributes the provincial tax burden at the expense of big business for the first time since the Liberals took power a dozen years ago. That budget was not passed because the election campaign interrupted the spring session of the legislature.
However, Mr. de Jong said the updated forecasts will show declining revenues. “The structure of the budget remains unchanged, the updated numbers will reveal some downward pressure.” But he said that can still be managed, albeit with a smaller surplus than the $197-million that was estimated in February.
“This requires constant vigilance,” he said.