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Bond, BC Liberals shifting gears on a long road back

Interim BC Liberal Leader Shirley Bond on the job she didn’t seek, whether cooperating with the government was a mistake, and the issues she thinks will define 2021.
Interim BC Liberal Leader Shirley Bond – pre-pandemic, obviously.

Of BC’s three major party leaders, interim BC Liberal leader Shirley Bond is unique.

For starters, she’s the only one who didn’t seek the job. And when next year ends, she’s the only one who expects to hand off the mantle to someone else. Perhaps ironically, of the three leaders, she (still) has the most experience in government.

There’s no getting around the reason why there’s an interim leader: the provincial election was a bitter pill to swallow. But while some see the joint pandemic response as having played a role in such a decisive result, Bond doesn’t see cooperating with the government as something to regret.

“When the premier asked all parties in the legislature to cooperate, I think we did the right thing. So we put the health and wellness of our province first and that matters,” Bond told The Orca in our year-end interview.

Instead of regret, Bond says the caucus and party should focus on where it lost ground.

“We obviously didn't resonate with enough British Columbians, particularly in urban BC. So we have to learn some lessons about that,” said Bond.

“The party and all of us, as a part of it, need to look back a little bit and ask: what happened? What can we do differently? What can we do a better?”

“The bottom line for us is that until we can find a way to resonate and have meaningful connections with urban voters, we're going to spend some time on the opposition benches.”

The bad news is that time on the opposition benches will almost certainly be another four years. The good news is it’s plenty of time to learn and adapt – and, as Bond points out, do the job of being an effective Official Opposition.

“In the meantime, our job is to hold Premier Horgan and the government to account. I think you've seen us doing a pretty good job of that in the first days in the Legislature.”

After just a few days back, Bond readily lists a number of issues, files, and questions to raise with the government:

“British Columbians expect the opposition to ask some hard questions: supports for persons with disabilities, a report from the Children and Youth Representative about children and youth with special needs, the Seniors’ Advocate asking for ongoing and additional supports for vulnerable seniors, long-term care, rapid testing – those are legitimate and valid questions.”

If 2020 showed anything, it’s that anything can happen – this time last year, there was much speculation the government might conceivably fall into deficit. That said, Bond thinks 2021 will at least start out looking very similar to 2020.

“I don't see seismic shift in what we're going to pay attention to.”

“Obviously, COVID will remain dominant. As I get briefings every day, we start with COVID, the middle is COVID, and pretty much the entire thing is COVID.”

But as (hopefully) the curve bends back down, and more British Columbians are vaccinated, focus will begin to shift.

“I think the emerging issue will be around jobs, the economy, small business in British Columbia, and how do we help support them? Think about who's been decimated, restaurants and the hospitality industry and tourism.”

“We're going to have to start focusing some effort there. I think there's room for us to ask hard questions of the government.”

Finally, I asked Bond the same question I asked Sonia Furstenau the day before – was there anyone on the other side of the house she’d single out for good work, or that she had a particularly warm relationship with?

Bond was effusive:

“I have a great deal of respect for [Health Minister] Adrian Dix. There are very few people that can get up during estimates and answer questions without waiting for assistance from staff. He knows his files inside and out.”

Bond also praised Dix for publicly acknowledging her advocacy on the University Hospital project in Prince George.

“I really respect that about him, he's not afraid to admit and give credit where credit is due. That means a lot to me.”

Bond also had kind words about former Finance Minister Carole James – but finished by saying she wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to hold Dix (or James’ successor) to account.

If the BC Liberals are going to have a better 2021 than 2020, that’s step number one.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca