B.C.’s grand ex­per­i­ment play­ing out at leg­is­la­ture

Shar­ing power and pri­or­i­ties, two par­ties try quickly to work out their dif­fer­ences

Times Colonist - - Front Page - AMY SMART

When B.C. Green Party Leader An­drew Weaver slammed Pre­mier John Hor­gan for host­ing a $525-per-ticket fundraiser, it came as no sur­prise to the gov­ern­ing party.

It was the kind of thing that comes up at meet­ings of an NDP-Green con­sul­ta­tion com­mit­tee, Cowichan Val­ley Green MLA So­nia Furste­nau said.

“We would ex­plain: ‘Hey, we’re go­ing to come out and ex­press our dis­plea­sure at this fundrais­ing prac­tice,’ ” she said.

“That would be some­thing at the table — what kind of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is go­ing to hap­pen that you need to know about to help en­sure it is this, ‘good faith and no sur­prises’ ” re­la­tion­ship.

Rep­re­sent­ing the Greens on the com­mit­tee are Furste­nau, MLA Adam Olsen and chief of staff Liz Lilly, while the New Demo­crat rep­re­sen­ta­tives are Fi­nance Min­is­ter Ca­role James, En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Ge­orge Hey­man and chief of staff Ge­off Meggs.

The com­mit­tee, which meets about once ev­ery two weeks, was cre­ated as part of the pow­er­shar­ing agree­ment signed be­tween the NDP and Green Party in June.

The un­prece­dented deal is some­thing of an ex­per­i­ment in Cana­dian pol­i­tics. While it out­lined shared pri­or­i­ties in June, in­clud­ing com­mit­ments to the re­la­tion­ship of “good faith and no sur­prises” — ex­actly what it means in prac­tice con­tin­ues to re­veal it­self. And with the first full week of leg­isla­tive ac­tiv­ity un­der the new gov­ern­ment’s belt, it is hap­pen­ing at a faster pace.

The first big clue came Mon­day, in an up­dated bud­get with Green fin­ger­prints on it.

Ab­sent were the $400 renters’ re­bate and $10-a-day child care promised in the New Democrats’ elec­tion plat­form, which Green Party Leader An­drew Weaver said he was thrilled to see.

Lib­eral fi­nance critic Shirley Bond said it showed the gov­ern­ment placed its al­liance ahead of its cam­paign com­mit­ments.

“We be­lieve cam­paigns and prom­ises do matter. When vot­ers go to the polls they are cast­ing bal­lots in good faith, be­liev­ing that their gov­ern­ment will keep those prom­ises. It’s dis­ap­point­ing to see the NDP break­ing im­por­tant prom­ises they made to B.C. fam­i­lies in or­der to keep their coali­tion alive,” Bond said in an email.

Weaver told re­porters cam­paign prom­ises are in­con­se­quen­tial, now that the NDP-Green pact is in place. But on Wed­nes­day, Hor­gan said com­pro­mise doesn’t mean Weaver has a veto on gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions.

“There will be is­sues the Greens and New Demo­crat gov­ern­ment will dis­agree on. There is noth­ing in the sup­ply agree­ment that speaks specif­i­cally to the renters re­bate or to child care, ex­cept that we both agreed we need uni­ver­sal child care in Bri­tish Columbia. So we’re work­ing with the Greens and ex­tend­ing our con­sul­ta­tion back to the stake­hold­ers,” Hor­gan said.

Struc­turally, dis­cus­sions and ne­go­ti­a­tions hap­pen at mul­ti­ple lev­els. In ad­di­tion to the com­mit­tee, there’s a sec­re­tar­iat headed by ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Donna Sand­ford. Furste­nau likened the sec­re­tar­iat to a mar­riage coun­sel­lor.

“Donna is there to en­sure that com­mu­ni­ca­tion and the re­la­tion­ship re­mains a healthy one. So when we head up against chal­lenges or road blocks, Donna can be there to help nav­i­gate through that,” Furste­nau said.

Asked for the sec­re­tar­iat’s bud­get, the Min­istry of Fi­nance said it would be re­leased in public ac­counts next year.

There are also leader-to-leader meet­ings, staff-to-staff meet­ings and more.

While the al­liance seems to be work­ing well enough, the plot will con­tinue to thicken as new pro­posed leg­is­la­tion comes in.

On Wed­nes­day, Lib­eral MLA An­drew Wilkin­son re-in­tro­duced a bill to ban union and cor­po­rate do­na­tions — one of the top pri­or­i­ties iden­ti­fied by the Greens dur­ing the cam­paign and a core com­mit­ment in its pact with the NDP.

The New Democrats, which promised cam­paign fi­nanc­ing re­form in the elec­tion, have said they’ll in­tro­duce their own sim­i­lar bill soon. In the mean­time, the party is host­ing sev­eral high­priced fundrais­ers.

In a state­ment, Weaver said he’s happy all par­ties agree on the need for cam­paign fi­nance re­form, but said he’s look­ing for­ward to the NDP bill next week, which was de­signed through con­sul­ta­tion with the Greens.

“I am also en­cour­aged by our good-faith con­sul­ta­tions with the gov­ern­ment and by the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s state­ment … that the leg­is­la­tion re­sult­ing from our con­sul­ta­tions will be tabled next week,” Weaver said.

Mem­bers of the NDP and Green Party con­sul­ta­tion com­mit­tee meet in the Oak Room at the B.C. leg­is­la­ture. From left: Saanich North and the Is­lands MLA Adam Olsen of the B.C. Green Party, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Ca­role James, the pre­mier’s chief of staff Ge­off Meggs, sec­re­tar­iat ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Donna Sand­ford, Green Party’s chief of staff Liz Lilly, En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Ge­orge Hey­man and Cowichan Val­ley MLA So­nia Furste­nau of the Green Party.

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