BALDREY: B.C. NDP are the big winners of spring legislative session

The spring legislative session ended in acrimony and fury, but its conclusion bore little relation to the events of the past four months in the legislature.

The NDP government was able to accomplish most of its legislative agenda, the Green Party showed it can play a role from time to time in shaping public policy, and the B.C. Liberals made it clear they have a ways to go before exorcising the lingering trauma from their 2017 election loss.

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The antics of Speaker Darryl Plecas during the last two days of the session were simply a reminder that he is a divisive, partisan figure who wants to disrupt the normal course of events at the legislature.

He stands accused of workplace bullying and seems intent on investigating the legislature’s security staff, a move that may result in those staff members joining the B.C. Government and Services Employees’ Union, which would be a first for the place.

But while Plecas and his staff have become a circus sideshow (although non-partisan legislature employees are quite upset at his actions), they haven’t stopped the NDP from checking off a lot of boxes from their lengthy list of campaign promises.

This past session saw the NDP enact significant changes to labour laws, the Agricultural Land Reserve and how forest tenures are managed. As well, it dealt with unfair ticket sales, B.C. ferry routes and fares and called a public inquiry into money laundering.

More than 30 bills passed into law. A modest number perhaps, but also reflective of one of the lessons the NDP learned from its experience in government in the 1990s, when the party unleashed a torrent of legislation that often meant doing too many things too quickly, with often bad results.

Later this summer the NDP will mark its second anniversary in power, and this past session shows the party is enjoying sailing through some rather calm waters.

As for the Green Party, the session provided more evidence its three members have absolutely no intention of pulling their support from the NDP government during any confidence vote, thus paving the way for the NDP to run the full mandate until the fall of 2021, the latest time the next election must be held.

While occasionally hypercritical of the NDP’s performance on some issues (the LNG industry, labour legislation and ridesharing are three examples) the Greens can still be counted on to vote with the government at the right time, thus turning a technical minority government into a de facto majority.

The Greens also managed to get one of their bills passed into law, a major accomplishment. In addition, they allowed the B.C. Liberals to amend some NDP legislation, so the third party in the House is indeed having some impact.

But alas, the B.C. Liberals are still finding their way in the political wilderness and some members of their caucus still seem to have trouble realizing they are no longer in government.

It is as if they think this is all a bad dream and one day they will wake up and find themselves on the other side of the House. The close seat count leads to the misconception that they are so close to holding power, when in fact they are miles away from it.

The caucus was also embarrassed by the actions of two of its members, who attended an anti-abortion rally on the legislature’s front lawn (MLA Rich Coleman actually spoke at it) and forced party leader Andrew Wilkinson to publicly clarify the party’s pro-choice position. Not a sign of internal discipline by any means.

Still, the B.C. Liberals did land the occasional blow on the NDP: it pressured the government into conducting a probe (watered-down, but still) into gas prices, embarrassed a cabinet minister (Citizen Services Minister Jinny Sims) on a regular basis over her email problems, and exposed major problems with the NDP’s caribou protection plan and its poor relationship with the forest industry. 

Nevertheless, despite those modest B.C. Liberal successes, the session was a winner for the NDP. Hands down.

Now if they can all just find a way to get the Speaker under control.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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