Buoyed by the results of the Nanaimo by-election, B.C. Premier John Horgan says his minority NDP government has a renewed mandate to focus on services for people: Health care, education, child care and housing.
“Those are the things that people have been talking about on the doorstep for the past month, they have been talking about it for the past couple of years, and now they have a government that is going to do something about it,” Mr. Horgan told reporters moments after his party confirmed its victory.
What he didn’t mention is the ambitious clean energy agenda his government announced last December.
The next B.C. budget, which will be tabled Feb. 19, is supposed to deliver it all – making life more affordable for people, boosting services such as health care, and funding the many incentives and investments required to make the Clean BC climate plan take flight.
It is a lot to promise. The economy is expected to continue to grow, by 2.4 per cent. But the NDP have promised record-level capital investments in affordable housing, schools and hospitals, while the recent property tax revenue windfalls of the overheated real estate market are over. And two major Crown corporations, BC Hydro and the Insurance Corp. of BC, are likely to drag the balance sheet down.
The Clean BC plan unveiled in December promises rebates for retrofitting homes and for buying zero-emission vehicles, along with tax credits for low-income families and for industries that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Infrastructure – from transmission lines for big industry, to charging stations for electric vehicles – will have to be expanded. The budget coming later this month is supposed to fully fund all of this.
The Greens are on board for investments in education and day care, health and housing. But they want that within a framework of climate action. And they are troubled that the government’s commitment to climate action may be fading. The respected deputy minister for climate change, Bobbi Plecas, was shuffled out of her post last week, which the Greens interpret as a bad omen.
At this time last year, Green Leader Andrew Weaver was threatening to bring down the government over its pursuit of a liquefied natural gas industry. He only withdrew that threat last fall, after the NDP promised that the coming budget would focus on a clean energy agenda to counter the massive carbon footprint associated with the production of LNG.
But then the NDP won the Jan. 30 by-election handily, crushing the Greens in the process.
The two parties are bound by a formal agreement that allows the NDP to govern with a minority of votes in the legislature. But the by-election has left the Greens with less influence over that alliance, leading to new tensions between the two partners.
In an interview, Mr. Weaver said he believes the New Democrats are feeling so bullish right now, they would like to goad his party into pulling the plug on the minority government, forcing an early election. “They would like to see us trigger an election.”
The next scheduled provincial election is more than two years away, and the New Democrats won’t simply call a snap election this early in their mandate for fear of a backlash from voters – far better to let the Greens wear the consequences, he reasoned. “We know nobody wants an election, we know that, the NDP know that an overwhelming majority of people do not want a provincial election.”
For a variety of reasons, from the pipeline debates to the looming debt challenges for government, the New Democrats may see this as an optimal time to head back to the polls. The Nanaimo by-election also demonstrated that the NDP’s campaign machinery is running smoothly, while both the Greens and the opposition Liberals are not ready for an election.
Mr. Weaver said it would be foolish for his party to try to pull the plug on the minority government right now. “We’re not going to trigger an election. We have our priorities and we are not willing to play brinkmanship games.”
Those priorities include a number of policy areas that happen to align with the NDP. “We campaigned on dealing with the issue of affordability, we campaigned very strongly on new funding for education and child care,” Mr. Weaver said. “We would be quite excited to see support in those directions. However, the government has committed to the Clean BC plan. And we will not be happy if that is not funded.”
Instead of threatening to file for divorce, though, it seems the Greens are now determined to stay in this marriage, even if it is an unhappy one.