The year that is about to end was unlike any other in British Columbia’s political history. A close provincial election ultimately gave us two speeches from the throne, a government agreement encompassing the BC NDP and the BC Green Party, and six people running to become Leader of the Opposition.
In the first few months of his government, Premier John Horgan has had to appease the base, distract opponents and establish priorities.
In some cases, the decisions that the provincial administration took were both straightforward and immensely popular. The ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting that came into place earlier this year was endorsed by 88% of British Columbians in an Insights West poll. The pledge to ban donations from corporations, unions and foreign entities to provincial and municipal politicians and parties was backed by 86% of residents.
Other issues are still pending, such as aligning Family Day in British Columbia with the other Canadian provinces that observe it. Across our province, 71% of residents would like to see this happen.
But that does not mean that every government action has been widely accepted. The early indications of how marijuana will be legally acquired in our province set the threshold at 19 years (something 43% of British Columbians wanted), but appeared to leave the door open to cannabis next to Chablis inside a liquor store – a notion that only 23% of residents expressed a preference for.
Then there is the always problematic matter of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which has divided the province. Women, millennials, Vancouver Islanders and some Lower Mainlanders want to scrap the project. Men, baby boomers and residents of the Okanagan and the north are more likely to want it to go through.
There are two major campaign concerns that have been discussed sparingly and with little policy behind them: housing and child care.
Housing has long been identified as the most important issue for British Columbians, particularly in the Lower Mainland and among those aged 18 to 34. Recent reports of money laundering have caught the attention of international publications. This puts the previous provincial government in an awkward position and gives the current one a chance to enact meaningful legislation.
On child care, the governing party’s endorsement of the extremely popular $10-a-day plan during the campaign helped attract urban generation X voters, but there has not been a major announcement on this yet. We will have to wait until the budget is tabled in February to see how far the government will go.
In spite of all of these challenges, the NDP base is satisfied and some opposition voters are starting to give the ruling party the benefit of the doubt. The approval rating for Horgan is 52%, 14 points higher than the numbers his predecessor posted in the final Insights West survey of the 2017 provincial campaign.
While most of Horgan’s support is moderate, he is nowhere near as polarizing as Christy Clark. British Columbians are just as likely to “strongly approve” of Horgan’s performance (16%) as they are to “strongly disapprove” of it (17%). For Clark, “strong disapproval” was 4.3 times higher than “strong approval” in the final stages of her tenure.
As we look into what 2018 will bring to the political scene, two things will define where the numbers go for the current premier and his government. The first one is whether the key promises made in the campaign can be kept suitably and swiftly. The second one will be the emergence of a full-time sparring partner in the legislative assembly, once the BC Liberals select a full-time leader in February.
Mario Canseco is vice-president of public affairs at Insights West.