BALDREY: Problems piling up as provincial NDP get mid-term blues

The NDP government is now in its third year of power and the items on the negative side of its political ledger are threatening to overtake the positives.

It is, perhaps, inevitable that a government begins to accumulate political baggage as it gets closer to the end of its mandate than the beginning of it. While it is clear the honeymoon phase ended some time ago, the NDP may be about to experience a case of the mid-term blues.

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Trouble signs abound.

Let’s start with the first real scandal to hit the government: the bolt-from-the-blue resignation of a cabinet minister who now finds herself the focus of an RCMP investigation.

That would be Jinny Sims, who was forced out of her citizens’ services portfolio late Friday afternoon after it was revealed to Premier John Horgan that a special prosecutor had been appointed to oversee the investigation.

While Sims did not hold a major cabinet portfolio, it is never good for a government when the words “cabinet resignation” and “RCMP investigation” can be used in the same sentence. A cabinet resignation is also a sobering reminder to the rest of the NDP caucus that bad things can come out of nowhere in politics.

Then there is the ongoing dumpster fire at ICBC, which now threatens to start burning holes in the NDP’s popularity.

The new auto insurance rate structure is suddenly hitting young drivers – or more accurately, their parents – with skyrocketing insurance premiums. Tales of young drivers being told they have to pay more than $5,000 a year to get around in their vehicles are popping up all over the place.

Exacerbating this controversy is that it is just beginning. Every month sees thousands of people renew their insurance, and we are just one month into the new system.

Young people who need to drive to work or school because they do not have transit alternatives may be looking at adding $500 a month for car insurance to the $1,000 they pay for rent. Again, many parents will have to help pick up the tab and you can be sure they will be none too happy with the NDP.

The worsening crisis in the forest industry is threatening to wreak economic havoc on many small communities all over the province. Horgan’s recent speech at the Union of B.C. Municipalities has been criticized for being tone deaf because he made a number of jokes in front of an audience that contained many municipal politicians from those struggling communities.

As I have written in this space before, there is no easy fix to the forestry crisis. Overt government intervention may only make the ongoing softwood dispute with U.S. lumber interests even worse.

Finance Minister Carole James’ budget forecasts the collection of almost $1.2 billion in forestry revenues this year and it is now difficult to see if she makes that target. She has already ordered significant belt tightening across the board in order to save $300 million from a budget that is contracting because the economy is slowing down.

If economic growth seriously declines – a possibility, but not necessarily likely – that could have a negative impact on the government’s Triple A credit rating. The NDP plans to increase the provincial debt by more than $15 billion from last year through the next two years because of a massive capital infrastructure plan, and bond agencies will only be OK with that if there is enough economic growth to support that kind of outlay.

Finally, the NDP’s apparent endorsement of a plan to replace the Massey Tunnel with eight tunnels that will take a decade to complete will no doubt enrage thousands of commuters who live in critically important elector ridings in the southern suburbs, and who were no doubt expecting a much quicker replacement project.

All of this should provide rich fodder for the B.C. Liberals to use on a daily basis during the fall legislature session, which began this week and is set to last five weeks.

Yes, the negatives are quickly piling up. It will be quite the challenge for the NDP to manage them all as the next election – to be held two years this month – draws ever closer.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca  

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