B.C.’s grand experiment playing out at legislature
Sharing power and priorities, two parties try quickly to work out their differences
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.