BY LORNE ECKERSLEY
For sheer theatre it would be pretty hard to beat what has been going on politically in this province since the May 9th election. I was a little surprised that the Liberals couldn’t hammer out an agreement with the Greens, but then I guess it is hard to envision the Liberals backing off on Site C or pipeline construction.
From a purely strategic perspective, I think the NDP-Green alliance has been very well put together, giving the Greens a modicum of independence while potentially allowing the NDP to govern for a decent length of time.
But on the other hand, the Liberal strategy of forcing the opposition to vote against bills from their own platforms is devilishly clever. The message, a lovely parting gift if you will, that Christy Clark and her team want to leave voters with is that the NDP and Greens are more interested in power than policy. By introducing bills on Tuesday that would have given the Green Party official party status in the legislature and put severe restrictions on political donations, the Liberals have taken a huge step toward that goal. It does look a little screwy when the opposition parties defeat the very bills they plan to introduce once they assume the reins of power.
Only last week, reports Vaughn Palmer in the Vancouver Sun, Green leader Andrew Weaver said he would support Liberal legislation that reflects his party’s platform. “Only (the government) controls the timing of the confidence vote,” he (Weaver) continued. “We have always argued for good policy … It would be weirder if we voted against everything we thought we stood for.”
But in a flip-flop that would impress even Donald Trump, this week the Greens did just that. So let me get this straight: Christy Clark “sees the light” (or listens to the voters, she says) and introduces a jaw-dropping series of priorities in the Throne Speech (affordable, she says, because the BC economy is in much better shape that she thought only a few weeks ago), and she’s corrupt/cynical or any other c-word that one might imagine, and Weaver is bursting with integrity by saying one thing last week and doing the opposite this week. What’s a voter to think?
And that is exactly that seed of doubt that the Liberal strategists want to sow.
I am quite certain that whichever party is perceived by the public to have forced an unwanted early election is going to pay a huge price. And one tiny screw-up by an NDP-Green government could lead to exactly that. With a razor-thin margin of error that will allow the “not a coalition” government to stay in power, one measly slip-up or miscalculation by either party’s braintrust, and BC will be back in the voting booths in the blink of an eye. And if only a small handful of voters think the slip-up was a sign of incompetence, all the Liberals would have to do to ensure a win is turf Clark and put in a new, if only interim, leader. Make no mistake—it was the loathing of Clark, more than anything else, that put her party on the verge of being in opposition. An Anybody But Clark leader could quite easily be enough to win back votes.
If the general public has the most to lose with the current uncertainty (a lot of local government business has been put on hold, first because of the election and second because “we don’t know who to talk to”), Andrew Weaver and his Green Party just might be running a close second. Whatever political capital they built with a very public and very shrewd working agreement with Horgan’s New Democrats could easily be wiped out if they are seen to be playing silly bugger with the system like, for instance, defeating a bill that they themselves could just as easily have introduced.
If I was a strategist for the NDP-Greens this week, I would probably have recommended they support the legislation introduced on Monday. After all, the Liberals can only dodge an actual confidence vote for another day or two. Letting those two bills proceed past a first reading would have been a way to say to the public that they don’t care where good legislation comes from, as long as it is good legislation. But now they have given the Liberals a tiny moral victory, one that could come back to haunt them.