The old adage “the more things change, the more things stay the same” could easily apply to B.C. politics, as many of the issues that dominated the past year will surely do so again in the coming year.
Here, then, is a look back at some big issues that simply are not going away:
- The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Things have been fairly quiet on this front since the Federal Court of Appeal struck it down and the federal government bought the pipeline. However, rest assured: the protests and arrests will ramp up again as the inevitable construction phase hovers into view.
- ICBC. The financial dumpster fire continues to smoulder. A rate hike is coming in April, and the rate structure will be radically altered come September. The NDP government claims most drivers will benefit from the changes but you can be sure that literally hundreds of thousands of drivers will be hit hard in the wallet, ensuring ICBC could be a big election issue come the next campaign.
- Taxes. The speculation housing tax and the employers’ health tax were passed into law in 2018 but will let their presence be known in the coming year. The health tax in particular will hit some businesses – and municipalities – quite hard (expect property taxes to go up as a result). The NDP’s penchant for raising taxes made it unpopular when it formed government in the 1990s, and it will be interesting to see if that holds true this time around.
- The NDP government’s new climate action plan, announced just weeks ago, will begin to take shape in the spring budget. Significant incentives to get people to use electricity – and not oil or natural gas – await. Thousands of people – a number that will increase every year – will be pushed into switching to heat pumps in the home and driving emission-free vehicles on the road.
- The mammoth LNG Canada investment. The facility near Kitimat will begin to take shape, and a project that will spend billions of dollars in this province will start swelling its employment ranks. Over time, this will be the dominant industrial project in the province.
- The mystery surrounding the suspensions of the top two officers at the legislature will likely continue for a while. Investigations overseen by special prosecutors tend to drag on for years, and there is every reason to think that will be the case in this situation.
- Ride hailing will continue to have a non-presence in this province. Even though the NDP government insists the fall remains a target to get this industry up and running, there is no evidence to suggest that time frame is realistic. In fact, it may well be that the regulations will be so prohibitive that they make any ride hailing service uneconomic.
- The NDP government spent the latter half of the past year quietly and successfully negotiating a host of collective agreements with public sector unions, but the most challenging set of talks will begin within weeks: a new contract with B.C.’s teachers, who could find themselves on strike yet again, come June.
- The stability of the NDP-Green alliance may be tested. The loss of the electoral reform referendum has taken the wind out of the Greens’ sails, and while it is unlikely the three Green MLAs will withdraw their support for the NDP government, such a scenario cannot be completely ruled out. Moreover, an NDP loss in the upcoming Nanaimo byelection to the B.C. Liberals (unlikely but entirely possible) could pose a serious threat to any long-term political stability of the alliance.
- B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson kicked off this past year by winning his party’s leadership, but he has yet to really leave his mark on things. The coming year should provide him a number of opportunities to do so, as the government inevitably will make a misstep or two (or more) and create controversy along the way.
One prediction is always safe: the B.C. political scene will be a lively one in 2019, full of unexpected twists and turns. Should be fun!
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca
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