Premier John Horgan reconvened the legislature for his final session Monday, in what New Democrats were hoping would be a six-week retirement tour filled with glowing tributes, but is shaping up to be more like a public drubbing over his government’s inaction on several crises.
The province is badly drifting while the premier waits for his replacement to be chosen in a Dec. 3 party leadership vote.
The family doctor shortage is worsening. Hospital ER closures are increasing, especially in rural communities. Overdose fatalities are rising unabated. Public safety on urban streets is deteriorating, with random attacks. And the price of everything from gasoline to groceries has skyrocketed, undercutting the core promise of improving affordability that has underlined Horgan’s tenure.
Who’s in charge to tackle these complex problems?
It’s a question sure to be asked frequently by the opposition Liberal and Green parties during the session. Does Horgan still have control of things as he heads out the door? Can he (or should he) make dramatic changes to try and get a handle on these problems in the days before his retirement?
The answer represents a political conundrum for New Democrats. They either start pulling emergency manoeuvres now, and bind the hands of the next premier with policies that person might not support, or they stand in place as a lame-duck government and take punches for the next two months while the province sinks deeper into crises.
Opposition parties smell blood in the water.
“I’m probably not going to spend a lot of time on the premier frankly,” BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon said in an interview.
“It’s just the nature of the business. The day he announced he was leaving, is the day his power starts to evaporate. And you can tell right now that it’s a government that is drifting while they await their coronation of David Eby.”
Eby is the presumed premier-in-waiting and the front-runner in the leadership race. He had to resign his post as attorney general to run, so he’ll spend the next two months of the session twiddling his thumbs in the government backbench while everyone speculates on what he’s planning.
Meanwhile, he’ll become target No. 1 for the opposition.
“I will focus on the fact that most of the major challenging issues we’re dealing with are files David Eby has had control over,” said Falcon.
“I will be reminding the public that after five years of NDP housing policy, B.C. has the highest housing prices in North America. After five years of the NDP government, we have the highest fuel prices in North America. After five years of David Eby as the minister responsible for crime, we have worse crime in virtually every community across British Columbia.”
BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau said she still hopes to use the session to hold government ministers to account, despite the outgoing premier.
“Regardless of this being in the middle of a leadership race, what’s needed is for them to recognize that people need to see action and outcomes,” she said. “There are still 20-plus ministers, and they all have important portfolios, and I would hope we are going to see a lot of solutions put forward. It’s the burden of being government.”
The NDP insists it has plenty of work to do, and that this fall session was not just a pretence for the Horgan government to get its official portrait taken in the chamber before he departs.
In fact, NDP government house leader Mike Farnworth said there’s as many as 20 bills coming – which would be remarkable, given there were only 14 in last fall’s session.
“We’ll have a full agenda,” said Farnworth.
“There’s a leadership race on, but at the same time these are all policies and legislative items we’ve said are a priority.”
It seems hard to imagine 20 blockbuster pieces of legislation by a government about to shift leaders and directions. More likely, we’re in for two months of innocuous housekeeping bills and legislation so minor it will barely be noticed.
All of this sets up a session which will be deeply uncomfortable for the government. The province in general appears in for a rough ride until the next premier takes the reins.
Rob Shaw has spent more than 14 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.