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Another rollercoaster

After two wild years, BC politics won’t take any rests in 2019
Tommy Alven /

Around this time last year, I tried to prophesize about the upcoming year.

“We don’t produce many legitimate constitutional dilemmas in Canada, much less British Columbia, so 2017 was a year for the history books. And while it might not top 2017, the year ahead is shaping up to be interesting.”

At the risk of plagiarizing myself…the year ahead is again shaping up to be interesting.

The Mother of All Byelections

Governments rarely find themselves in the position of needing to win a byelection, but here we are. There’s a lot riding on Nanaimo, and even though it’s been rock-solid safe for the NDP, byelections are a tough slog for any government – much less one getting blamed for rising property taxes just as polls open.

As Jordan Bateman noted yesterday, you can talk yourself into any of B.C.’s three major parties winning this. If the NDP or even Greens win, not a lot changes in Victoria. But if the BC Liberals pull off the upset, the NDP’s razor-thin majority in the legislature becomes a tie.

In certain (but not all) votes, a tie would be broken by the Speaker – and funny you should mention the Speaker…

L’Affaire Plecas

Despite protests that he has done everything “perfectly,” Speaker Darryl Plecas remains at the centre of the most bewildering set of circumstances in recent Canadian political history.

Last month, Plecas promised the legislative management committee he’d reveal details of the RCMP investigation into Craig James and Gary Lenz, the two suspended officials of the legislature. And if British Columbians don’t “vomit” (his words) at what is revealed, he’d resign.

That committee meets next on January 21.

If the people of British Columbia fail to collectively vomit, he almost certainly won’t resign. But even the most charitable interpretation of events doesn’t create confidence, and it will get harder and harder for NDP house leader Mike Farnworth to defend him.

Between Plecas, the razor-thin minority government coalition, the opposition caucus he left to become Speaker, the months-long not-an-investigation carried out by his assistant Alan Mullen – and the small matter of $180,000 in extra budget Plecas said he didn’t want, only to say it was “ridiculous” he didn’t have access to mere days later, there’s a lot to keep track of.

It’s enough moving pieces for Shakespeare – without even considering all those steadily bubbling rumours of a recall campaign.

LNG – Like, No Good?

Last year, the NDP government touted LNG Canada’s decision to move forward with the largest private sector investment in Canadian history – and full credit to them.

The problem is that not everyone on the governing side seems to want it.

Yes, Green leader Andrew Weaver famously “huffed and puffed” on LNG, but ultimately went along with it. Now with elements of one First Nation defying a court order, NDP cabinet minister Doug Donaldson visited and professed support for the Unist’ot’en camp, which served to anger both supporters and opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

One gets the impression the NDP government wants to have its cake (see, we’re not anti-development) and eat it too (see, we’re super activisty and progressive).

More simply – and thus more probably – a substantial chunk of the NDP’s internal coalition never wanted LNG, and won’t be able to hold their tongues forever.

Matters of Confidence

This February, MLAs return to Victoria for a new legislative session – and interestingly, both mandatory confidence votes (they’re introduced in February; the votes usually happen in March) in the Throne Speech and Budget.

There has been much fevered speculation about an early election – and if it happens, one of these two votes is probably what triggers it.

That said, as has been pointed out before: newly-elected MLAs have to serve six years – a full term and a half – to qualify for a pension. For the class of 2013, that means surviving a few months past February.

Burnaby Blues

To put it kindly, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh hasn’t had much luck gaining any traction.

He’s gambled everything on winning a byelection in Burnaby South. But for their part, the governing Liberals seem content to let Singh twist in the wind, having called byelections elsewhere, but not Burnaby.

For Singh, it’s a gamble in every sense of the word. Polls aren’t encouraging, either nationally, or in Burnaby. If he loses, it’s hard to see him carrying on as leader.

It came from over the Rockies

On May 31, B.C.’s only neighbouring province – and only fellow NDP government – goes to the polls. It’s still (very) early days, but it’s difficult to see any result other than a decisive Conservative win.

Oddly enough, B.C.’s NDP government might be quietly rooting for Jason Kenney. Why?

Aside from the fact she and John Horgan don’t seem to like each other much, Rachel Notley has been an awkward enemy for the BC NDP. Even in the face of mutual lawsuits, and when she threatened to literally shut off the taps to B.C., it’s been difficult to paint the steadfastly progressive and charismatic Notley as a villain.

Jason Kenney not only offers a more palatable foil, but he’s probably more willing to direct his ire at Ottawa.

Oh right, there’s also a federal election

You know it’s a big year when a federal election looms least. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals appear to be dipping in the polls at the worst possible time, but as usual: it’s complicated.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has chipped away at the Liberals on a handful of files, most notably the carbon tax – but as Jagmeet Singh continues to struggle (see above), it’s difficult to see disaffected NDP voters turning to the Conservatives. Stephen Harper benefited from strong NDP leaders in Thomas Mulcair and (especially) Jack Layton creating a plausible alternative on the left; under Singh, the NDP are shedding support and MPs.

Because we can’t ever have enough excitement here, B.C. will be one of the key battlegrounds, where several seats will be in play, and it’s entirely probable that four different parties will win at least one seat here.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca