Les Leyne: Emotion-filled start for new NDP government

The B.C. political scene has been wracked with conflicting emotions for 69 long days since the dead-heat election trashed all the traditional expectations of what happens next. You’d think the players would be numb by now. But the ceremony produced a fresh burst of triumph, euphoria and some nostalgia as the first NDP government in 16 years kicked into gear.

The new cabinet will sit down this morning to take formal ownership of all the crises they’ve been watching from the sidelines: raging wildfires, rampant overdose fatalities, a lumber trade war and many others. Tuesday was about bracing for all those challenges. So brilliant First Nations dancers and singers opened the party and started a swirl of sentiments that reverberated through the program.

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“Best crowd we’ve ever had,” the MC said, after the crowd greeted his opening remark with an ebullient roar.

Horgan faltered slightly in the middle of outlining his determination to live up to expectations, when it came to recognizing his family. He said later he got the crying out of the way earlier in the day. The assumption of full responsibility always lands with a thump on elected leaders. Former premier Gordon Campbell’s win in 2001 was a foregone conclusion and the transition was streamlined and efficient. But he, too, choked up the day he was sworn in.

By contrast, this transfer of power was marked by a tense wait for the final count of the closest vote ever, drawn-out negotiations with the Greens and a futile bid by the Liberals to stay in power after the Greens spurned them. No wonder several new ministers were brushing back tears.

The closest parallel was former NDP premier Mike Harcourt’s win in 1991, which, like Horgan’s, ended 16 years of the previous government’s rule. Harcourt was on hand to watch a new generation and, during the legislature open house held to celebrate the occasion, he recalled seeing an 11-year-old girl sit in the premier’s chair in the cabinet room.

There was a burst of laughter midway through the program as Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon remarked that ministers with experience will be counted on for advice. The laughter was led by Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s new public safety minister, because he’s the only one still around from the last NDP government.

There was a remarkable spontaneous standing ovation when Carole James, MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill, was introduced as finance minister and deputy premier. She brought the party back from the brink of extinction after the 77-2 loss in 2001, but was forced out as leader by a caucus revolt in 2010. Horgan noted he has ministers (three) who were not supportive of her at the time, but “that page has been turned. The troubles are long past.”

The new team has representatives on several levels. Five Island MLAs are in cabinet and three are from the capital region, which has gone unrepresented in government for four years. Langford Mayor Stew Young and Juan de Fuca CRD director Mike Hicks were watching, as will be officials from up and down the Island in the days ahead.

Horgan maximized the NDP’s scanty showing in the rest of B.C. — only four MLAs outside the southwest corner of the province — by putting three of them in cabinet.

The 14 other slots were filled from the only other regional pool available — Metro Vancouver, where the NDP made gains at the expense of the B.C. Liberals that got them to where they are today.

It was an inspiring launch to a new government, as was the open house at the legislature that filled the old building with visitors.

But there are three asterisks to the moment. It was only possible by way of three Green MLAs, and their continued support will decide how long this takeover lasts. That will be in the back of every new minister’s mind. If the confidence agreement works, it could change B.C. politics completely. If it doesn’t, there’ll be a different guest list at another Government House event in the mid-term future.

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