Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Saturday night high, Monday morning low for winner of B.C. Liberal leadership

Maybe the next premier, elected by B.C. Liberals on Saturday night, will get the weekend to bask in the glory of their new job.

Gordon Campbell's successor is expected to receive briefing books from the civil service on Sunday, but most of the day likely will be spent enjoying the victory and taking calls of congratulations.

The nightmares come Monday.

Story continues below advertisement

That's when she - or he - is going to be openly accountable for policies and answers on the toughest files in B.C.

Here's one. A file that helped chase the last premier.

The harmonized sales tax.

How does the next premier lead the troops to winning the next referendum? Or avoid having the government tarnished by losing the vote?

And those are the easy HST questions.

Challenges in other political nightmares are no less formidable.:


Story continues below advertisement

Whoever wins has to deal with the losers. What do they do with them in the next cabinet? The challenge is especially acute if Christy Clark wins. She has declared herself the "change" candidate, so where - without an election - does she find new faces to put on the front benches? And if she can't, here's a question you may hear at the first cabinet-shuffle news conference. "Premier Clark. You ran as the change candidate, but the members of this new cabinet are all members of the old cabinet. What kind of change is that?" Ouch. The other three candidates are current MLAs, but face variations on the same unsettling theme, as all would, no doubt, want to present a fresh government. What would Kevin Falcon do with veteran cabinet ministers Mike de Jong and George Abbott? How would Mr. Abbott deal with the others? And what about Finance Minister Colin Hansen? He endorsed Mr. Falcon, and is widely respected, but won't the new premier want a new face in finance, especially after the political woes linked to the HST that came in on Mr. Hansen's watch?


This week's budget forecast a $925-million deficit. However, there's the largest contingency fund in B.C. history - $600-million, plus a $350-million forecast allowance. That cushion offers the next premier all kinds of options to lower taxes or reduce spending. Such choices can buy the party some popularity, but with the B.C. Liberals long-standing commitment to balanced budgets, the premier will have to explain why they don't just use that wriggle room to eliminate the deficit. "Whoever the new premier is, they're going to have some fiscal manoeuvring room, but it's limited and certainly not enough to finance any major new government programs," said Jock Finlayson, a policy vice-president at the Business Council of B.C.


Budgets are tight. Voters are wary about new tax loads. So how does the new premier solve the $400-million problem of the overdue Evergreen Line? The money is the shortfall that is delaying construction of the 11-kilometre rapid transit line through Burnaby, Coquitlam and Port Moody. Failure to get the line done could cost the Liberals support in the Tri-Cities area, giving the NDP an opening in the next election. "Everything is on the table," departing premier Gordon Campbell said of the issue last September. Joe Trasolini, the Port Moody mayor, likes the idea of drawing the money from the carbon tax. However, the Liberal dogma says the tax is revenue neutral. Mr. Trasolini's advice to the next premier. "Be innovative."


Story continues below advertisement

It helped end Mr. Campbell's political career. It could do the same for the next premier. "There's a series of political landmines connected to the HST," said anti-HST activist Bill Tieleman. Sidestepping them may be impossible. The candidates have talked up the HST as good policy, but how much political capital will the shiny new premier want to spend defending the unpopular tax? And how would the defeat of the tax taint the new premier and his or her attempts at a new political start? The tax's defeat would force the new leader into talks with Ottawa about replacing it, including the question of repaying more than $1-billion in federal compensation. That could have a terrible impact on the province's bottom line. That's one problem. Mr. Tieleman raises another. Voters may face the prospect of continuing to pay the tax in the months after the referendum while the new premier tries to work out an extraction deal with the federal government. The voters will not be happy.


It's a chronic headache, but accountability for dealing with it will belong to the new premier. There are countless fine details, but one big question. By 2013, spending on health care is expected to account for 42.5 per cent of the total B.C. budget. So what will the new premier do to rein that in? Ms. Clark has suggested tying increases in health-care spending to the rate of economic growth, but others have opposed the idea, suggesting the measure would carve up to $700-million from the budget.

The next premier has to come up with at least a hint of a credible vision to deal with this issue, said political scientist Michael Prince. And fast. "Otherwise it will be the same-old, same-old where we're gnashing our teeth around the ever-rising cost of acute care and chronic care," the University of Victoria professor said.

And just in case the next premier manages to last a few years, key deals covering Ottawa's transfer payments to the provinces to cover expenses, including health care, expire in three years. The talks will be challenging.

Good luck Mr. or Ms. Premier.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.