The B.C. legislature’s fall session kicks off Monday, but all eyes are expected to be on the B.C. NDP leadership race and who will become premier before the end of the year.
The NDP government enters the fall session coasting on its good news announcement with the federal government that parents will see hundreds in daycare savings starting this December, an attempt to fulfil its $10-a-day child care promise.
Health Minister Adrian Dix on Thursday unveiled a health care human resources strategy that will increase doctor training seats and give more powers to pharmacists to renew prescriptions for some ailments.
It followed criticism from local governments that Dix showed up to the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in September with no solutions on how to address the health care staffing crisis which has closed small town emergency rooms, left ambulances unstaffed and left a million British Columbians without a family doctor.
NDP house leader Mike Farnworth said the government expects to introduce 17 to 20 bills this fall and will focus on improving health care services and access to affordable housing, as well as addressing the rising cost of living.
One of the bills still on the order paper from the spring session is the Coastal Ferry Amendment Act. It would give more control to cabinet appointees on the board of the B.C. Ferry Authority, which oversees the ferry service. Critics say that would open the door to political interference.
Many have speculated the government had a hand in the firing of B.C. Ferries CEO Mark Collins, which came just three weeks after former NDP cabinet minister Joy MacPhail was appointed chairwoman of the board.
Hamish Telford, political scientist at the University of Fraser Valley, doesn’t expect any “transformative” measures by the government as Premier John Horgan prepares to hand over the reins to his successor.
That puts the NDP “at risk of looking like a tired, stagnant government sort of dragging its feet, waiting for the new leader to take off,” Telford said.
Horgan, who has consistently enjoyed high popularity ratings, will leave the premier’s office 5 1/2 years after the NDP formed government in May 2017 through a power-sharing agreement with the B.C. Greens. He will remain MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca until the next election, set for October 2024.
Horgan, 63, announced his retirement in June, citing ongoing fatigue following a bout with throat cancer. The ensuing leadership race started as an apparent coronation for front-runner David Eby, former attorney general and housing minister, but was shaken up by the challenge of climate activist Anjali Appadurai.
Her campaign has been dogged by allegations of fraudulent membership sign-ups — emails have suggested Green party members quit and joined the NDP to vote for Appadurai — and improper political interference from environmental group Dogwood B.C. Both allegations are being investigated by the party and Elections B.C.
Leadership candidates must submit their application and the first $15,000 instalment of the $40,000 entry fee on Oct. 4. Voting for the new leader starts Nov. 13 with results announced on Dec. 3.
“Yes, there’s a leadership race underway and, yes, we will have a new leader,” Farnworth said. “But that does not detract from the ongoing work of government and the priorities that we’ve outlined and need to deal with.”
B.C. Liberal house leader Todd Stone said he hopes the government comes to the fall session with “a clear and focused agenda that addresses the challenges British Columbians are facing.”
He remains skeptical.
“We’ve had a government that’s been floundering around for the past three months since John Horgan announced his retirement,” he said.
Stone said the “on again, off again leadership race” has distracted government ministers from acting on the rising cost of living, health care crisis and the problem of prolific offenders who make people feel unsafe in their communities.
As gas prices hit new highs in Metro Vancouver and Victoria this past week, Green party leader Sonia Furstenau called on the government to work with Ottawa to introduce a windfall profits tax on oil and gas, which would be paid back to British Columbians through a rebate. This would ensure oil and gas companies, which receive government subsidies, aren’t gouging people at the pump while reaping the profits, she said.
Elenore Sturko will be sworn in on Monday as the newest member of the legislative assembly following her Sept. 10 byelection win for the B.C. Liberals in the Surrey South riding.
The idea of a legislature cat is also purring along.
Speaker Raj Chouhan is considering the idea of having a resident kitten roam the halls of the legislature, a pitch made by Rob Shaw, a CHEK News political correspondent, after the Alberta legislature welcomed its own feline friend.
The final decision is up to Chouhan, Farnworth said, since the litter box will be in his office.
Stone said while he’s a dog person, he’s in favour of the idea.
“Heck, if a kitten in the legislature can help improve the decorum in that place and, you know, kind of soften the edges a little bit when we all get a little bit worked up, I’m all in favour of that.”