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A year to remember

Interim (and outgoing) BC Liberal leader Shirley Bond looks back not just at 2021, but serving as Leader of the Opposition.
Interim BC Liberal Leader Shirley Bond – pre-pandemic, obviously.

Of BC’s three major party leaders, only Shirley Bond knows she won’t be in the same job next year.

She’s been the public face of the BC Liberals for so long, it’s easy to forget she’s the party’s interim leader – in all likelihood, the longest-tenured interim leader of any major party in BC history. In February, she will step down in favour of whoever wins its ongoing leadership contest.

“I see my job as having been preparatory to get the opposition ready,” says Bond.

“So that when the new leader is elected and takes over the role immediately, I think the leader will be well supported by a skilled set of critics, an opposition that knows how to focus, how to hold the government to account.”

The year of Bond’s tenure (she took over late in 2020) won’t go down as many British Columbians’ all-time favourites. 2021 was a trying time for most, including the leader of the opposition.

“Starting with wildfires and already in the middle of a pandemic, we have wildfires, we have a heat dome, we have flooding and landslides,” lists Bond.

“And I think for me, what really I found devastating was the heat dome in particular,” pointing to nearly 600 lives lost.

“That should drive all of us to want to do a better job and to be better prepared next time to learn lessons.”

One of those lessons, says Bond, is the value of government working together with the entire legislature. This happened with COVID-19, but not in BC’s other ongoing public health crisis, the overdose epidemic - despite repeated entreaties, offers, and pleas.

"I think that's the part that I find most discouraging. I have no idea why the government does not understand that it would be not only an asset in terms of bringing good ideas to the table, but I think British Columbians would respond really positively to it,” says Bond.

“And yet there's this absolute intransigence about working together.”

Regardless of who becomes the party's next leader, it’s hard to argue they won’t inherit a party and caucus in significantly better shape – and one that has done a progressively better job not only raising issues, but keeping them in the public’s focus. From the heat dome response, to supports after floods and fires, to autism supports and Freedom of Information, the BC Liberals had much more success moving the needle on issues in 2021.

“I am proud of the fact that our critics have responded extremely well,” says Bond, “you sit and watch them in the legislature, or when they're conducting a stakeholder meeting or they're taking on an issue.”

“I think one of the things we've done is tried to be more focused, tried to reframe what it means to be in opposition,” says Bond, adding that can only start when an party in opposition accepts that’s where it is, and what the role entails.

First elected in 2001, and having served in a variety of roles in government, the respect Bond is shown in the legislature is evident – and not just from her own side. Bond points to the tributes she received from all three sides as a highlight of her tenure as interim leader.

“I almost felt like I was leaving the legislature forever, very surprised to have my own team and the other two parties in the house stand up and recognize the efforts that have been made.”

“It was deep for personal and touching for me.”

That said, there was one particular highlight in that highlight: BC Liberal house leader Peter Milobar’s impression of her.

“It was pretty darn on,” says Bond laughing, “I must admit when I looked back at it, it was really good.”

Knowing she’ll be handing off the mantle in a matter of weeks, Bond is ready to look back.

“It's been very personally stretching for me. I think it's also been validating that you can take a different approach and be successful.”

“I'll miss those daily morning calls,” says Bond. “I'm not sure my team will!”

Maclean Kay is Editor in Chief of The Orca