New government gets breathing room

A minority government for B.C. will still be interesting, but it did lose some of its intrigue

Christy Clark’s resignation as Liberal leader and MLA last week had much greater repercussions than a one-seat adjustment to the mathematics in the legislature. (NEWS BULLETIN file)

A minority government for B.C. will still be interesting, but it did lose a little bit of its intrigue.

Christy Clark’s resignation as Liberal leader and MLA last week had much greater repercussions than a one-seat adjustment to the mathematics in the legislature. Her departure has obvious impacts – her party, now guided by interim leader Rich Coleman, isn’t exactly election-ready anymore. A couple of weeks ago, British Columbians might have envisioned that a new NDP government hanging on by such a slim majority could conceivably have been toppled by illness, accident, floor-crossing or some other unforeseen circumstance. Now, it seems unlikely the B.C. Liberals would wish to contest another election until they have a new leader in place, or at least some clarity there.

Last week, I spoke with Michelle Stilwell, Parksville-Qualicum MLA and a former cabinet minister under Clark, and asked her about the timing of the ex-premier’s resignation.

“She’s doing what’s best for her and I think in the long run, it’s probably best for the party moving forward, because it’s giving an opportunity for us to have that renewal,” Stilwell said.

Being election-ready, it seems, isn’t so much the priority for the B.C. Liberals. Stilwell said the party needs to focus on being B.C.’s new voice of opposition.

“We have the strongest opposition that any government has seen in British Columbia before…” she said. “I have no doubt that we have a solid, strong, unified team that will provide that opposition.”

Only those in caucus chambers can know if the members are unified. It sounds as if there was dissension, though Stilwell suggests there was no pressure on Clark to leave and all the Liberal MLAs stood alongside their leader and respected her.

There would certainly have been acknowledgement within the party of Clark’s strengths. She was a born campaigner, hard to beat in debates and realistically deserves most of the credit for reviving her party’s fortunes in 2013 and winning a majority mandate. She knew what it took to win an election; her downfall was that she didn’t win the last one by quite enough.

That’s why a Liberal leadership race is now in the offing. It could be expedited because of an urgency to be election-ready, but as mentioned above, there are also indications the party is willing to settle into its opposition seats for at least a little while.

Leonard Krog, B.C. NDP MLA for Nanaimo, told me that based on what he’s heard from the public, any party that forces an election too soon would be punished. The Liberals know it, so they’ll take this opportunity for renewal. The NDP know it, so they won’t call a snap election to try to take advantage of an opposing party in transition.

So while B.C. has a minority government, we might not have one that’s right on the brink anymore. And if that’s not quite so intriguing, well, maybe that’s all right. We’ve seen, from local governments right up to the U.S. presidency, that political intrigue isn’t always in our best interests.

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