Columbia River-Revelstoke residents learned last week that, electorally speaking, they have ended up wearing a new shoe on the same old foot, and will in all likelihood be represented by an opposition MLA in Victoria.
Last week the provincial Greens, which won three seats, and NDP, which won 41 seats, announced a co-operation deal that turned B.C. politics on its head, giving the two parties a razor-thin one seat majority — 44 to 43 — over the BC Liberals. The repercussions of the move, should it work out for the Greens and NDP, will have significant impact here in Columbia River-Revelstoke, as local residents are — despite having elected a Liberal MLA for the first time in 12 years — still on the wrong side of the aisle in the legislature when it comes to power.
Throughout the campaign leading up the May election, new B.C. Liberal Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok time and again pointed to the benefits of having an MLA who was part of the sitting government, and emphasized the work he had done to help local residents through his Liberal connections during the four previous years. At the time the Liberals had run B.C. with successive majorities since 2001, but Columbia River-Revelstoke had been represented by opposition NDP MLA Norm Macdonald since 2005 (and who last year announced he would retire come the 2017 election). When Clovechok won the riding a month ago on his second try (he lost to Macdonald in the 2013 election), by almost 1,500 votes, it seemed Clovechok’s promise of power may have perhaps struck a chord with some residents. That promise, however, now appears upended, with Columbia River-Revelstoke having swapped parties, NDP orange for Liberal red, only to once again wind up in opposition.
As of press time, BC Liberal leader and incumbent Premier Christy Clark was vowing to recall the legislature and test its confidence, even if she doesn’t seem likely to win a confidence vote, a move Clovechok lauded in a statement released to local media in the wake of the Green-NDP deal.
“As the party that won the most seats in this election, the BC Liberals have a responsibility to face the legislature as government — so B.C.’s future can be determined in the people’s house, not behind closed doors,” he said in the statement. “The agreement between the second and third place parties would indicate that NDP orange has become the new Green. No matter the outcome when the legislature meets, I was elected to serve the people of Columbia River-Revelstoke as best I can, and that is exactly what I will continue doing.”
“This deal doesn’t change the fact that the BC Liberals won the election,” Clovechok later told the Echo, elaborating on his statement. “And, as of right now, the NDP and Greens are still not government.”
Clovechok hesitated to speculate too much on the deal, but did say the Greens and NDP make “unusual bedfellows” and added “I think it’s a really precarious arrangement and we’ll have to see.”
Speaking about the Greens holding considerable influence in the legislature with a relatively small number of seats, he said “the British (parliamentary) system is our system and we have to work within it.”
On being an opposition MLA, Clovechok said “when I was working on behalf of constituents for the past four years, I was working not necessarily with Liberal ministers, but with ministers of the Crown. And I’ll be pounding on their doors on a regular basis, whether I’m in opposition or not.”
“This job is about building relationships, and I’ve had success at that,” he added.
Clovechok’s defeated rivals in the May election, on the other hand, were both excited about the deal.
“Provincially, a majority of B.C. voted for change. They didn’t seem to want Christy Clark and the Liberals to govern again,” NDP candidate Gerry Taft told The Echo. “There are a lot of values and policy ideas that are similar between the NDP and Greens, so the deal makes sense. Obviously it results in the thinnest majority possible, so there is a real risk that if somebody gets sick or hurt or otherwise can’t make it to legislature on a given day, then there’s going to be some drama.”
Taft said he thought it unlikely, at least in the short term, that Clark would be able to woo a disaffected NDP or Green MLA to cross the floor to join the Liberals, no matter how juicy a cabinet post she could offer the politician or how enticing an infrastructure project she could promise for that politician’s riding.
“I’m excited to see the NDP govern. In the campaign there was a lot of (from opponents) pushing of fear of an NDP government, based on what the NDP government of the 1990s did or on the (provincial) Alberta NDP, which obviously shouldn’t have much bearing on the BC NDP today, but maybe did,” he said. “Now there’s a chance to see how they (the BC NDP) govern and for people to form opinions based on reality rather than fear.”
Speaking to Columbia River-Revelstoke again being resigned to opposition, Taft said “it’s frustrating because during the election campaign I heard people say they were going to vote for the Liberals because they thought they were going to form government. As it turns out, that kind of strategic voting isn’t foolproof,” going on to add “in some respects it’s a bit disingenuous of Doug Clovechok to promise all kinds of goodies for the riding (during the campaign) based on what turned out to be the false pretense that the Liberals were going to form government.”
“The deal was a wise move. It’s the only way the two parties could have gone. My personal opinion is that most minority governments have not worked well in the past. I am praying this one does work out,” Green Party candidate Samson Boyer told The Echo. “It’s quite interesting how our political system works, in that a few MLAs (the three Green MLAs) now have power over practically the entire house.”
Mr. Boyer said the deal will give the Greens a chance to prove themselves to B.C., and that he trusts Green Party leader Andrew Weaver is making the right choice by choosing to prop up the NDP rather than Liberals.
“Is it a perfect situation? No. But there’s really no such thing. As long as John Horgan and Andrew Weaver can truly work together, I do feel that B.C. has a brighter future,” he said, adding that making a deal with Horgan was the only realistic choice Weaver faced.
On the subject of Columbia River-Revelstoke once again having an opposition MLA, Boyer said it’s unfortunate, since “we’re not going to see many of the advantages of the new government if we have a Liberal MLA who just fights against it. I hope Doug can cross the floor, figuratively, to work with the other parties and not just be a soldier for the Liberal party.”
As of press time, Clark had not yet set a date for when she plans to recall the legislature.