Journalist and Vancouver Sun political columnist Vaughn Palmer was the keynote speaker at CanaData West, held on Oct. 11 at the Terminal City Club in Vancouver. Vaughn tackled the 'topsy-turvy' political landscape of British Columbia after the B.C. Liberals were ousted in an exceedingly close election, resulting in a new NDP-Green alliance in power in Victoria.
Palmer began by explaining how and why the B.C. Liberals were defeated after almost two decades in power.
The Liberals had the best job creation record and growth rate in the country and yet they lost, Palmer said, and then spent a "desperate" few weeks clinging to power before they were replaced by the NDP-Green alliance.
Palmer said they lost "mostly due to smugness and arrogance," and made statements about innovation and new ideas before acting on none of them.
Recently, he said, the New Democrats gave back bus passes to the disabled. He pointed out the Liberals took those bus passes away, knew it was a problem and lived with it for 18 months. It will cost $7 million to give those bus passes back, "so you get an idea of what they left on the table."
The election was incredibly close, he said, one of the closest in B.C. history. And now we have a new government, one with two parties allied together. NDP finance minister Carole James is on the road touting the economic health of the province, "but I think she'll face some pretty big questions," Palmer said.
Chief amongst those questions will be taxation, he said. Some of the biggest ticket promises in their platform, he said, have not been fulfilled, such as Medicare premiums.
"Either they'll have to scale back on promises, or raise taxes," Palmer said.
Another issue is tolls, as the provincial government promised to get rid of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges. They have not explained how they'll pay for it, he said, and since the tolls are gone, these bridges are now supported by taxpayers.
Between $40-50 billion in projects have also been cancelled, either by their own hand like the Massey Tunnel, or through economic factors like the various LNG projects that will not go forward. Site C is also in a state of suspended animation.
Governments are chasing green and high technology jobs, and higher taxes mean corporations like Amazon have less of an incentive to bring their business or second headquarters to B.C. Washington State is next door and has no state income tax, as well as cheaper electricity rates and other factors.
"We can't compete with a brownfield site in Washington State with cheap electricity," Palmer said.
Companies pit municipalities against each other, and we can't compete at that level either, he added.
Palmer said the key to the deal for the NDP and Green agreement is that the Greens want to have the electoral process changed. The bottom line for the Greens is a referendum on electoral reform on November 2018. The NDP have added a wrinkle, Palmer said, which is that if the electoral system is approved, it won't come into effect in 2021. Which means, Palmer said, it will only take effect after the next election unless the partnership survives past that point.
"The agreement is solid, but as we go forward it'll get tested again and again," Palmer said.
The test of whether this government will survive is in November of this year, when the cabinet sits down to decide the fate of Site C. $2 billion has already been spent, and there is still work being done.
"Site C is a pretty big deal and it's still going flat out. The decision the government faces is that to cancel it means you're in for a billion dollars of paying out workers, who you're laying off right before Christmas," Palmer said.
"You also have to spend money remediating the site, write off what you've spent, and you have nothing to show for it," he added.
Given the union and construction background of John Horgan, Palmer said, his instinct is he will decide to go on with it, but it will a hard sell as most of the opposition to the project is within the Green contingent of voters.
"We're not looking at four years" for the government given all this conflict, Palmer concluded.