Many governments across the country are putting the final touches on their 2016 legislative agendas, including British Columbia's. And on the West Coast it will probably be difficult to disconnect many of the announcements and policy directives from the provincial election just more than a year away.
Holding to tradition, the spring session will open some time in February, with a budget to be tabled shortly after. While Premier Christy Clark is expected to maintain a steady-as-she-goes course devoid of any major political gambles, there will certainly be moves that will attract attention and undoubtedly controversy.
Here are some of the things I'll be looking for.
Since the 2013 election, Ms. Clark has only tinkered with the executive council that was sworn in shortly after her Liberals formed a majority government three years ago. At some point, the Premier will be canvassing her cabinet members to see who, if anyone, will not be seeking re-election. If there are, they will be jettisoned in favour of fresh faces who can use their high-profile appointment to their electoral advantage.
But don't be surprised if Ms. Clark makes a move or two before that point. If she has an ounce of compassion, she will shuffle Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux to another ministry. Ms. Cadieux has led arguably the hardest department for three and a half years – far longer than anyone who has held the position. While she certainly has her critics and has overseen her fair share of blunders and controversy, she has also given the ministry the kind of long-term leadership that it has needed.
But you can do that job for only so long. (Ms. Clark should know that better than anyone. She lasted seven months in the position before resigning.) Bringing in a new minister to carry out the recommendations in the recent Plecas report is the perfect time to make a change.
The B.C. government is immersed in talks with the federal government on a national climate strategy. This is a process in which all provincial jurisdictions are involved. Any actions taken by B.C., such as an increase to its carbon tax, will not be commenced before 2018. The tricky part is trying to impose new measures that won't put B.C. businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
Consequently, much of what B.C. decides to do on this front will depend on what measures other provincial governments across the country are contemplating. B.C. takes the position that it has been an environmental leader on the climate-change front but isn't prepared to forge further ahead, at a cost to its economy, if other provinces aren't doing the same.
The transit demands of Metro Vancouver have not gone away in the wake of last year's plebiscite that rejected a plan by the region's mayors to introduce a minor sales-tax hike to finance infrastructure investment. The B.C. government took some heat for the abysmal way in which the vote was rolled out and ahead of an election year will be trying to do something to appease angry transit riders in Vancouver and Surrey who see Delta getting a new $3.5-billion, 10-lane bridge while they get nothing.
As it turns out, the new government in Ottawa ran on a pledge to spend more on infrastructure across the country. The B.C. government is in talks with officials in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government about what might be available, funding-wise, for this part of the country.
You can bet that Ms. Clark would like nothing more than to be at the centre of announcements to bring light rapid transit to vote-rich Surrey and a new subway to vote-rich Vancouver ahead of a provincial election campaign in the spring of 2017. But will there be enough money to finance both endeavours? Additionally, the mayors still don't have a vehicle to raise their one-third portion of the financing, something they had hoped to do with the sales-tax increase. Nonetheless, look for some movement on this front before year's end.
The government will almost certainly do something to address the housing-affordability crisis gripping Metro Vancouver. What is likely to emerge is some kind of relief for first-time home buyers. It will not, however, do much to quell the obscene rate at which house prices in the region are going up. The B.C. government benefits financially from the real estate madness we are witnessing and it is not about to do anything to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.