Credit to Author: Gord Kurenoff| Date: Sat, 30 Nov 2019 03:16:44 +0000
VICTORIA — Premier John Horgan ended the fall session of the B.C. legislature on a high this week, after a downbeat beginning and bumps along the way.
The house had convened Oct. 7 just after Horgan accepted the resignation of cabinet minister Jinny Sims, who is under investigation by the RCMP for unspecified reasons.
At about the same time, Finance Minister Carole James directed ministries to find $300 million in savings in discretionary funds as a hedge against the slowing economy.
Plus there were continuing troubles with the forest sector, ICBC and on the labour relations front.
As New Democrats entered the past week, they were still considering whether to extend the session to legislate a cooling-off period in the transit dispute in Metro Vancouver.
They were spared that decision when the protracted dispute was settled early Wednesday morning, just as a threatened three-day strike was scheduled to commence.
Apart from the understandable relief on that score, there were other reasons for Horgan’s upbeat mood when he met with reporters after the house adjourned at mid-day Thursday.
The session ended with successful passage of the government’s fall agenda, most notably the enabling legislation for the NDP commitment to incorporate the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“It is, of course, a very historic day,” the premier began, “because British Columbians made history today by passing into law the UN Declaration.”
Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin had underscored the historic nature of the day in giving royal assent to legislation.
The usual protocol is for the viceregal representative to assent to legislation with little more than a nod and a perfunctory word or two.
But on Thursday Austin paused to single out Bill 41, the enabling legislation for the UN declaration.
“It is an enormous privilege on this historic day to grant royal assent to Bill 41, thereby enshrining the human rights of Indigenous people in law,” said Austin.
She then spoke a few words in the language of the Lekwungen-speaking Songhees and Esquimalt peoples, on whose traditional territory the legislature is located.
“It touches me deeply to think of the work that you have done all together, your unanimous support for this work, which gives me hope for true and lasting reconciliation, gives me hope for a better world.”
Horgan also noted how after the passage of Bill 41, he had been invited to Ottawa to address a special meeting of the Assembly of First Nations.
“British Columbia is leading the way,” said Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the assembly, in hailing approval of the bill. “It is now time for Canada to work with us on federal legislation on the UN Declaration as a priority.”
Horgan will address the assembly and be honoured by delegates in Ottawa next Tuesday.
On Monday the premier will be in Toronto for a meeting with the other Canadian premiers, their first gathering since the divisive federal election campaign.
Horgan was asked if he were feeling left out as one of the few premiers who has not been accorded a hands-on visit with either Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or deputy PM Chrystia Freeland.
Not at all, laughed Horgan. He’d spoken by phone with both the PM and the deputy. He was comfortable with his relationship with both.
“I don’t feel overlooked,” he told reporters. “I have more confidence in my ability and my relationship than that. I don’t need someone to come and hold my hand and get a picture taken.”
Besides, he has not been pandering to the mood of Western alienation: “I fully intend to do my level best to make a positive contribution to national unity.”
Nor is B.C. the near one-party state of some other provinces, the premier observed.
“You look at the electoral map in B.C. — it is as diverse as the House of Commons,” said Horgan. “A little bit of blue, a little bit of red, a healthy dose of orange and a garnish of Green.”
The actual federal MP count in B.C. doesn’t precisely reflect the proportions described by Horgan: 17 Conservatives, 11 Liberals, 11 New Democrats, two Greens and one Independent.
Still his basic point is correct — that in general terms, B.C. mirrors the balance of power at the national level.
“I don’t think that’s a liability, I think that’s an asset,” he argued. “I will continue to work with anyone who comes and wants to make positive progress for the people of B.C.”
The premier’s confidence in his relationship with the Trudeau government will be put to the test in the weeks and months ahead.
The NDP government has a pressing list of items on which it wants a helping hand from Ottawa, as Rob Shaw reported in The Vancouver Sun on Monday.
The immediate wishlist includes cash for child care, housing and the fight against money laundering. Other concerns include increasing the flow of refined gasoline to the coast through the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and a fear that the promised federal Pharmacare program will be a front for off-loading costs on to the province.
Looking ahead to the new year, Horgan faces other troubles, not least those that didn’t end with the session, such as the forest crisis and ICBC.
The premier’s upbeat mood Thursday was real enough. But with the scheduled provincial election date now less than two years away, so are the challenges ahead.
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