Good ship Horgan plying B.C. political waters at a dead slow pace

John Horgan has set sail on a trip. Naturally, he wants to be the skipper of The Love Boat, not Gilligan’s Island, so the seaborne message is clear: don’t rock the ship; tack but don’t sink.

Even in 2017, though, the blunt instrument of a minimum-wage hike remains a sharp knife in the political file, a dog whistle to those who believe it answers poverty, a catcall to those who argue it distracts from better solutions and harms more than helps.

Thus the provincial government announced a gradual, truly gradual, rise in hourly basic income by 2021 to $15 from $10.85 (it moves to $11.35 next mid-month). 

In that incremental approach we might be seeing the early signs of Horgan’s new tone, far from the seething bowl of bile his opponents sketched. At least for now, he’s aiming to be a bit boring.

True, his government aims to tackle some of the taller files in shorter order, but it is going to take time to wrestle them to the ground. This is more like the flag football phase.

Witness: Site C does not stop. It is reviewed.

Trans Mountain does not die. It gets additional court attention.

ICBC is shamed for political and fiscal negligence. Fixes aren’t even hinted at.

Labour-market data to develop a jobs plan? Soon, info will be gathered.

Political financing reform: on the radar, stacked up in traffic, not landing any time predictably.

A long-promised, presumably thought-through mental health and addictions ministry is announced with fanfare. The new minister fans out indefinitely to study how it takes shape.

Its boldest no-ambiguity move has been to end the grizzly bear hunt – but again, only after this season’s catch.

In any other era, this would be an acceptable no-disruption manoeuvre for an administration that had long not administered. But this was a government that promised change – not gradual, but swift.

Who knew the NDP could be this dull?

Agreed: it’s a month. Fair enough: the new government wants to step into the issues without stepping into the shoo. It is ticking boxes on the to-do list without having to do, writing mandate letters for ministers that are more like mañana letters.

But while Justin Trudeau’s mandate letters might have tried to build Rome in a day, John Horgan’s seem to ponder where Rome might be situated and what committee might build it following lengthy review.

Only vaguely do they stir the cabinet into froth. Ministers appear daily to say they will soon get to work.

For a government that pretends to be stable, it is handling the files like bone china in a field of landmines, making commitment after commitment with only a slight shift from the shiftiness of a hustings pledge – on housing, for instance, or on child care or transit or education.

All of this suggests to supporters momentum and to critics they cannot credibly complain of a sky falling. But it’s almost as if the NDP realizes that its own policies acted upon would indeed send the markets into vertigo and would be their undoing.

Rather than take one step back before two steps forward, it is prepared to take two steps back before taking one step forward.

Of course, this approach is bound to eventually find a past-due date, when voters want to see what the government is made of and not just what it intends to make.

At the very least it needs in its budget this fall to attach clear tactics to the general strategy and dollars to the design. Dates, places, things to be delivered, showing us what it’s made of, not just its dependence on the law of attraction.

In waiting even that long, though, the government loses a political advantage that comes with a leaderless opposition. When it gets real, so will its opposition be – and its base might wonder why it took so long to move from vision to action, why it chose caution in a context that offered a bolder opportunity, and whether there is a true difference.

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