Horgan’s big election opportunity: change B.C.’s political culture

Leave the parliamentarians to argue about whether B.C.’s lieutenant-governor appropriately granted John Horgan governance. It was a judgment call, somewhat defiant of precedent, about which time will tell. Let’s get on with the show.

In hindsight, the BC Liberal Party does seem lucky Judith Guichon didn’t grant its wistful wish for an election. Parties rarely thrive when twisted into a political pretzel to balance economic and social history with economic and social snap policy. If anything, it owes Guichon thanks it survives as a large opposition cohort and owes itself a swift reboot to now serve coherently in the role.

For Horgan’s BC NDP, though, 16 years as the legislature weaklings doubtlessly spur impulses to salve ideological frustrations and appease supportive constituencies. Here, though, is his true opportunity. In a province of political polarity, inglorious and inflamed rivalry, the new premier has landed in the ideal circumstance to do something about it.

He could just trade one monolith for his monolith. But the Star Trek fan would be wise to see his mission to go where no one has gone before: to change the political culture.

He could start by producing insightful real-time public data on government operation. Trust in politics recedes when information is restrained. B.C. has one of the weakest regimes of record-keeping and record-releasing, as his own party could attest in opposition.

Horgan could, if he wishes, be the first opposition leader in assuming power to meaningfully reform the information culture and its trivialized law. He said the right things in campaigning. Let’s hear his tune now.

Beyond that, though, there is much he can address to demonstrate a difference from the expected character straight out of Central Casting.

He is going to grant the BC Green Party official party status in return for its support. Fair enough. Now let’s see how he will treat the Liberals. Will he be a bad winner? Will there be Liberals in his first 10, 20 and 100 order-in-council hirings? Will he avoid petulant mass firings and ethically review earlier provincial appointments?

For the public: will he spend the next year – a year in which the public does not want an election – ridding the day-to-day government operations of the day-by-day campaign rhetoric? Will he turn question period into answer period? He will deliver much of his policy through cabinet orders to avoid the tenuous legislature, so how will he lift the veil of the closed-door meetings to help us understand how his inner circle framed its initiatives?

If he gets that far, is he able to take on the even more difficult part: telling his party that it has a few of its own challenges?

Power from the election result came with a distorted NDP lens on B.C.: the resource-dependent Interior and the north are significantly under-represented. The city-centric qualities of the NDP government are also its faults.

His softening of policy on resource questions may disquiet his urban team, but it will mean much to investor confidence and mitigate severe consequences in large parts of the province. As his counterpart in Alberta quickly discovered, the transformation of resource-dependent economies is a slow process. This is acutely so in rural British Columbia, where no matter what you wish, you cannot diversify the job base in an election cycle and cannot be so cruel as to destroy its way of life.

Thus the urgency on environmental issues placed by his urban caucus members and Green allies will need to be tempered by a leader for the entire province, not just the geography that bestowed the title.

Premier Horgan’s fractured inherited legislature is best fixed for the public in the long run by ministering immediate cultural healing, not by further rattling its bones. Setting that non-rancorous tone from the start – truly reaching across, suffocating the nonsensical theatrics – would be a better legacy than almost any policy plank he might pursue. That would indeed make politics work for people, surely a message he heard clearly in recent months.

Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development.