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Canada’s political anomaly: an NDP government riding high in the polls

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Midway through what is shaping up to be a four-year term, British Columbia Premier John Horgan represents a rare bird in this country: leader of a centre-left provincial government riding high in the polls. Indeed, Mr. Horgan heads the only New Democratic Party government in the country. The prospects […]


Gary Mason

Midway through what is shaping up to be a four-year term, British Columbia Premier John Horgan represents a rare bird in this country: leader of a centre-left provincial government riding high in the polls.

Indeed, Mr. Horgan heads the only New Democratic Party government in the country. The prospects of there being another any time soon reside somewhere between slim and none. In the past couple of years, voters across the country have turned their backs on administrations self-identifying as progressive.

If polls hold, the federal Liberal government will be the next to be rejected by the electorate.

Mr. Horgan’s achievement, then, would have to be viewed as unlikely. His party didn’t even win the most seats in the May, 2017, provincial election – the Liberals did. But the NDP Leader came to an agreement with the three-seat Green Party and a new minority government was born, one many political observers thought would be lucky to survive a calendar year.

When the history of this government is written, an early decision on a hugely controversial issue will be viewed as pivotal: the NDP’s support for the Site C dam. Environmentalists and First Nations in the area fiercely opposed it. (Some in the NDP caucus were against it, too). Beyond that, the NDP’s governing partner, the Greens, also stood steadfastly against it. But the cost to taxpayers of terminating the undertaking was going to be $4-billion.

The NDP decided to go forward, surprising many, especially in the resource and business community. It showed that these New Democrats, unlike earlier iterations, weren’t afraid of angering their base in the name of the greater good.

“I think to stop the project would have been the end of the government because the public would not have come to terms with $4-billion being lit on fire,” Mr. Horgan told me in an interview in his office this week.

The NDP would offer up another surprise, months later, when it announced a $40-billion LNG project – a development many in the party also opposed. But again, it showed that this NDP government was more practical than ideological. After all, $40-billion buys a lot of things that could make voters happy. And there wasn’t a government in the country that wouldn’t have jumped at the same opportunity.

British Columbia Premier John Horgan heads the only New Democratic Party government in the country.

The NDP’s action list since taking office is impressive. Mr. Horgan and his cabinet have tackled some of the most intractable problems facing the province, ones ignored by the previous Liberal administrations: the mess at the Insurance Corp. of B.C., a runaway housing market, money laundering, shutting down big money in politics, ending the grizzly-bear hunt. Health Minister Adrian Dix, a former party leader, has been a machine, addressing a plethora of vexing issues that have been percolating for years. That list includes everything from addressing deficiencies in the PharmaCare program to increasing the rate of measles immunizations. The government has tabled two balanced budgets and oversees the hottest economy in the country with the lowest rate of unemployment.

There have been some disappointments. The province still doesn’t have a ride-hailing service such as Uber or Lyft. The NDP’s promise of $10-a-day daycare remains a dream. Mr. Horgan has been all over the map on the sky-high gas prices in Metro Vancouver and possible remedies at his disposal. The government still has no plan to replace or upgrade critical infrastructure and transportation routes like the Massey Tunnel, the site of the worst congestion in B.C.

A new poll released this week shows Mr. Horgan’s personal popularity numbers remain high: 51 per cent of those polled approved of the job he’s doing, compared with just 34 per cent for Liberal Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson. Meantime, if an election were held now, 39 per cent indicated they’d vote NDP, compared with 30 per cent for the Liberals.

So, on most fronts, the news couldn’t get much better for the NDP. But Mr. Horgan is not naive. He knows how quickly the tide of public opinion can turn. While he’s been on the job just shy of two years, he’s now one of the most senior first ministers in the country. That’s how significant the change rate in governments has been in the interim.

That turnover includes his frenemy Rachel Notley in Alberta, who carried the NDP banner in Canada until Mr. Horgan showed up. Now, he has to deal with Ms. Notley’s ideological opposite in Jason Kenney. And others like him across the country, including Ontario’s Doug Ford, who couldn’t be more different than the B.C. Premier in style and substance.

Mr. Horgan will see them all this summer at a scheduled first ministers conference being held in Saskatoon in early July.

“It should be quite the barbecue,” Mr. Horgan said.

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