Focus returns to governing even as Christy Clark still needs to find a seat
Premier Christy Clark of British Columbia may not have won her own seat earlier this month, but she’s wasting no time turning her attention to governing.
In the usual post-election gathering of the newly elected caucus, retiring MLAs and defeated candidates yesterday, Clark revealed that less than two weeks after stunning the province with the BC Liberals’ solid election win, her mind is already back on governing.
She told her MLAs to expect a rare summer session of the legislature (the last one was in 2001, when newly-elected Premier Gordon Campbell held one) in order to deal with urgent business.
She also made it clear she expects to be seated in the chamber as leader of the government when the session begins.
Given that that summer sitting is expected to begin by late July, and that the final results of this month’s general election won’t be certified by Elections BC and given to the Lieutenant-Governor to close out the writ until the beginning of next month, that leaves a tight (but manageable) window for one of the Liberal MLAs in a safe seat to step down and allow Clark to call a by-election she can expect to win.
While she didn’t reveal her Cabinet choices yesterday, Clark did make her agenda clear.
February’s budget — which wasn’t passed, despite the previous Liberal majority, because Clark wanted the legislature shut down tout de suite to stop her bleeding in Question Period over BC Rail, paying for Basi & Virk’s defence, the Pacific Coast Trust, and Ethnicgate — will be reintroduced and turned into law this time.
That was essentially a “no more money for you” budget, and “no, no way” is expected to be on Clark’s lips a lot over the next couple of years.
She may have campaigned on the glories of money trains flowing into the provincial treasury with the largesse of natural gas royalties, but there’s a lot of work, and more than a few agreements, still pending before gas starts to flow to market.
Clark will also (hush, it’s a secret) be trying to bring one of the two pipelines proposed for oil exports (Northern Gateway and Trans-Mountain II) to fruition, under her five-point plan to “say yes.” What she really wants is for Enbridge to sign up to those conditions and feed David Black’s publicized project to put a refinery into Kitimat, where Northern Gateway was to terminate, since that would be BC’s best shot at jobs from oil traversing the province to Pacific ports. Kinder Morgan has given indications that when Trans-Mountain II becomes a formal project for approval Clark’s conditions will be a part of the filing — at least, those parts that the company can honour.
Jobs will be foremost in Clark’s mind over the next few months. She’s staked a lot on her “Jobs Plan” reversing BC’s slide into mild recession. So far the numbers have been on the margin, where Clark could claim the plan was working. Now she’s actually got to show results, if only because without it her budget will have holes shot through it.
On the expense side of the ledger, two issues are front and centre: the teachers, and BC Hydro.
The current contract with the BC Teachers’ Federation runs out on 30 June. Clark definitely does not want to start the new academic year in September with any disruption to schools. On the other hand, she definitely does not want to hand the teachers a wad of money to go quietly into a new contract.
Before the election, Clark had been musing about a ten year agreement to bring labour peace to the province’s education system. The BCTF had been musing about how Clark’s goose was cooked, and how much they’d get from her replacement. Given that the Presidency of the BCTF turned over last year, this will also be a reputation making or breaking negotiation from the union’s point of view.
Unstated with a late July into August session of the Legislature is how easy it would be to slam legislation similar to Ontario’s done last summer to take away labour action before it starts. That’ll add weight to the government’s negotiating position.
BC Hydro will be a trickier case. Its finances are in a mess, a mess mostly created originally by prior Liberal government action forcing Hydro to underwrite ineffective Independent Power Production (IPP) contracts. Many of these, in turn, are beneficiaries of funds flowing via the Pacific Coast Trust from the broader public sector. Hydro was left holding the bag on losses in the schemes.
Coupled with the cost overruns and delays in BC’s smart metering program, and the failure to invest in more base load power since 1968, and BC Hydro has blown its fiscal brains out buying in 20 per cent of its load from out of province even while it is saddled with power it can’t use from IPPs and has to sell at a discount when it can.
For years the Liberals have pushed BC Hydro’s situation off for another year. BC Utility Commission findings and Hydro’s own auditors have made it clear, though, that the day of reckoning is at hand — right when Clark will not want penny one flowing from the Treasury to fix the crown corporation.
Restive First Nations who have spent decades in treaty negotiations (and control rights of way for resource development) will be an on-going issue, but one that will probably bubble up this summer as well. BC Ferries can probably be pushed off, again, now that the election’s out of the way (and the Liberals did so poorly on the Islands).
So expect more than a pro forma budget passing and close of the legislature: this will really be the advanced fall session, and may sit as late as through October. The work Clark didn’t do last fall (when the session was cancelled) is coming home to roost.
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