On June 22, the BC Legislature reconvened and Premier Christy Clark tabled a curious Throne Speech which bore little resemblance to the platform her BC Liberal party ran on just weeks before.
In fact, it borrowed much from the platforms of both the BC NDP and BC Green Party the Premier had derided on the campaign trail.
Despite this cynical play, today Clark faces a confidence vote she’s expected to lose; and a lot of what was announced in the Throne speech may soon be realized under a new minority government, led by the BC NDP.
The BC NDP and BC Green Party announced their formal partnership in the end of May. Following the non-confidence vote in Clark’s BC Liberal government, it is expected that the Lt. Governor will give the BC NDP and Greens a chance to showcase their agreement in action.
The “supply and confidence” agreement between the two parties means that after 16 years of right-wing government, British Columbia may now be on the cusp of major progressive reforms. Here’s some of what to watch for should the NDP form government
1. Indigenous Rights
The historic agreement between the NDP and Greens begins with Indigenous rights and a commitment to “support the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) calls-to-action and the Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court decision.”
The ongoing impacts of colonialism continue to be felt by Indigenous populations throughout British Columbia. To date, BC has failed to deliver on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action to make the teaching of residential schools a mandatory part of the secondary school curriculum. A recent report by BC’s Representative for Children and Youth highlights that Indigenous youth in BC are 15 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be removed from their families and placed in provincial care. On both, the prospective new government should be expected to act.
Resource management and environmental concerns are at the forefront of Indigenous justice concerns in BC as well. The right to self-determination and the principle of free prior and informed consent are outlined in UNDRIP, and the land title rights recognized through the Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court decision, would have sweeping applications across the province.
The commitments from the BC NDP and the BC Greens to centre Indigenous rights within their legislative agenda would be transformative for BC if realized, and would require comprehensive work across government ministries given all of the policy areas implicated. Notably, this is one area in which the BC Liberal Throne Speech did not borrow from the BC NDP and BC Green campaign platforms.
2. Campaign Finance Reform
Within the first sitting of the Legislature, the new government will introduce a bill to ban all corporate, union, and non-resident contributions to BC political parties or campaigns, as well as impose strict restrictions on lobbying and limits on individual, BC-resident contributions.
This position promises to be popular. An Insights West poll from March 2016 found that roughly half of British Columbians believed corporations were the most influential group when it comes to policy, and an Angus Reid Institute poll from March 2017 found that 76% of British Columbians agreed that the BC Liberal Party was “only interested in helping its donors and big business.”
The more than $116.2 million the BC Liberals have raised since 2005, much of it corporate money, is more than double the roughly $50.2 million the province’s other major parties have collectively taken in. More troublingly, around $55 million of the BC Liberals’ donations came from just 177 donors, arguably giving them considerable influence over the party.
Campaign finance reform would dramatically change the landscape of BC politics.
3. Proportional Representation
The BC NDP and Greens have committed to holding a referendum in the fall of 2018 on whether BC should adopt a Proportional Representation (PR) voting system. If approved, PR would be used in the following provincial election.
Both NDP leader John Horgan and Green leader Andrew Weaver have pledged to actively campaign for the ‘yes to PR’ vote. A change to the voting system could also transform the BC political landscape. In the 2013 BC provincial election, for example, just 24% of eligible voters elected the BC Liberals to a majority government. The BC Greens won only a single seat in that election, despite receiving more than 8% of the popular vote. A PR system would make these distorted outcomes unlikely. Moreover, PR systems have also been known to bolster the representation of women and members of underrepresented communities within government, as well as encourage collaboration between parties by increasing the likelihood of minority and/or coalition governments.
4. Energy and the Environment
Though the BC Liberals did convene the province’s Climate Leadership Team, they did not accept in full a single one of the 32 recommendations the committee put forward, including the highest profile recommendation: an increase to the provincial carbon tax. In fact, several members of the team publicly denounced the Liberals’ plans in harsh terms.
By contrast, the NDP-Green agreement commits to accepting and enacting the recommendations of the Climate Leadership Team, as well as instituting a $5-per-tonne-per-year increase to the provincial carbon tax, beginning April 1, 2018. The agreement also pledges to “immediately employ every tool available” to stop the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and to refer the Site C Dam project to the BC Utilities Commission for an viability assessment.
The impacts of climate change in BC are far reaching, and Environment Canada has reported that Canada is on track to overshoot our national greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments by as much as 30%.
It has been widely reported that the Metro Vancouver’s housing market is one of the least affordable in the world. Ensuring the full spectrum of housing options - from addressing homelessness to protecting renters and landlords, to enabling entry to first time buyers into the real estate market - is one of the key challenges facing the new government. While much attention has been paid to Vancouver, concerns about housing exist throughout British Columbia. The housing markets of Victoria, the Fraser Valley, and Kelowna are all also well beyond the affordable range, while the number of deaths of homeless British Columbians has hit a record high.
The NDP-Green agreement commits to working vigorously against rising housings costs and predatory speculative buying. During the campaign, the NDP committed to taxing housing speculation and creating 11,400 new affordable housing units each year for a decade. The Greens pledged a $750 million/year housing subsidy and a 30% foreign buyer’s tax.
6. $15/hour Minimum Wage
Following the footsteps of the Alberta NDP government which passed $15/hour minimum wage legislation in September 2016, a new progressive government in BC is set to establish an independent Fair Wages Commission to develop a roadmap to a $15/hour minimum wage, as well as conduct regular reviews of the wage level.
Raising the minimum wage is one of the key elements of poverty reduction proposed by anti-poverty activists and organizations. BC remains the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan, something both the NDP and Greens committed to rectifying.
A raise to the minimum wage will help many British Columbian struggling to get by immediately. The majority of people living in poverty in BC are employed and, contrary to the stereotype, are not part-time students. According to the CCPA-BC, 82 per cent of British Columbians earning less than $15/hour are 20 or older, 58% work full time , 60% are women, and the majority work for large corporations (100+ employees).
The BC NDP and Greens will invest in childcare and early childhood education, focusing on quality, affordability, and accessibility. Childcare is an extremely salient issue in the province. Studies suggest investments in childcare and early childhood education have significant economic benefit. But the benefits go far beyond that and include women’s equality and employment, poverty reduction, family-work balance, social integration and equal opportunity, and improved child development and well-being.
During the campaign, the NDP promised $1.5 billion per year over the next decade to ensure $10 per day childcare for all families in BC. The Greens committed to free childcare for children under age three, as well as extending the public education system to include public preschool for children older than three.
Window for major progressive reforms is open
Given what is at stake, many Canadians, beyond those in BC, will be watching what happens next. Electoral reform failed federally, and now rises again in the westernmost province. National energy policy may come butting up against provincial environmental commitments and Indigenous rights. And, if BC, Ontario, and Alberta each instituted a $15/hour minimum wage, it would mean that nearly 23 million Canadians live in provinces with this needed wage floor – more than 63% of the country’s entire population.
On the eve of her government’s June 22 throne speech, Clark made strong new commitments in many policy areas, including childcare, housing, social assistance, and campaign finance. Though offered as an earnest mea culpa, the speech was in fact a damning admission – even her party knows these policies and reforms are popular with British Columbians.
Should the agreement between the BC Greens and the BC NDP lead to a minority government in BC, the coming months could mean real, substantive progressive change for the province.
Chuka Ejeckam is a Public Policy Intern at the Broadbent Institute. He is currently studying political science and philosophy at the University of British Columbia.