Les Leyne: Suburbs have clout in NDP 2.0, but there’s a big gap

To paraphrase Lincoln, the second-term NDP majority has the potential to be a government of the burbs, for the burbs and by the burbs.

The mighty new NDP caucus was officially constituted ­Tuesday in an online ceremony, and all the might in the majority government comes from the burbs. Premier John Horgan’s government is 16 MLAs bigger than it was before the October election. Most of that growth is in the suburbs, exurbs and any other kind of ’urb on the south coast of B.C.

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It will take a while for people to get used to phrases like “Fraser Valley NDP MLA.” But there are five of them now, so like they say in the B.C. Liberal caucus — get used to it. Some of the pickups include ridings that haven’t voted NDP in generations.

Same with the Okanagan, “the cradle of free enterprise” in former premier Christy Clark eye-rolling phrase. Any Liberals or elderly Social Crediters wanting to do make the solemn ­pilgrimage to former premier W.A.C. Bennett’s home turf will have to skirt Boundary-Similkameen and Vernon-Monashee, because the NDP now hold them as well.

The NDP also banished the last Liberal MLA from Vancouver Island: Michelle Stilwell, Parksville-Qualicum. Now they just have to share the rock with the two Green MLAs, who will be opponents, not minority partners.

There is only one downside to this happy new NDP house in which their members fill the entire government side and spill over to the opposite side. It’s the continuing shortage of representation in TROBC — the rest of B.C. They governed the last three years with just four MLAs north of Hope.

Now they have five, six if you count Powell River-Sunshine Coast. That’s skimpy representation in the 24 resource-based ridings outside the south coast that make up the vast majority of B.C.’s land mass.

There’s always been a divide between the south coast’s wants and the world beyond Hope. Now it’s an established fact of political life.

On election night, Horgan delivered the obligatory promise to govern for all of B.C. So Tuesday’s online ceremony was good practice, because some of that is going to involve some distance learning when it comes to staying in touch.

Apart from that, the caucus is impressively balanced. Even after cheating their own gender equity rules to get Nathan ­Cullen the nomination in Stikine, the NDP marked the first majority-women governing caucus in Canadian history, 29-28. It’s also the highest number of what the party categorized as IBPOC — “Indigenous, Black and People of Colour.”

As well there’s a fresh injection of youth, with a batch of under-40s replacing more middle-aged retirees.

The election writs have all been returned, which triggered their first paydays on their $111,024.19 base salaries, retroactive to voting day Oct. 24.

Horgan’s government will come into much sharper focus on Thursday, when he announces his new cabinet. There are seven vacancies due to retirement, which gives him a lot of room to juggle as he sees fit.

On the topic of vacancies, former cabinet minister Shirley Bond made her debut earlier in the day as interim B.C. Liberal Leader, following Andrew Wilkinson’s resignation.

Bond, who lost her husband of 41 years just six months ago, takes over a caucus that’s 13 members smaller than it was before the election, has only five new members and is facing a long hard road back to relevance.

She talked about continuing the balancing act of cooperating and joining in the unity of purpose to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, while maintaining the work of criticizing the government and holding it to account.

There’s a theory that that tricky position contributed to their loss, since there was little differentiation between them and the government.

On top of that, Bond said they’ll be asking “tough uncomfortable questions” while rebuilding the party following Wilkinson’s lackluster 30 months in the job.

Will she be a 21st century Grace McCarthy, the woman who rebuilt the Socreds and set the table for former premier Bill Bennett’s 11 years in office?

It depends on her and her team, but even more on how Horgan fares now that he has a firm new grasp on those crucial burbs, and complete control of the legislature.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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