It was back in the 1970s that then president of the USA Ronald Reagan said: “Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”
A few days ago, I was reminded of the quote as I watched three politicians engage in open debate ostensibly designed to help voters in BC select a new premier and government on October 24th. The politicians vying for the job were BC Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson, BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau, and BC NDP leader John Horgan who retains his title of premier while waiting for the electorate to make a decision on the 24th.
Horgan has been an MLA since 2005, Wilkinson since 2013 and Furstenau a 2017 rookie and new party leader this past month. The NDP and the Greens have been convenient bedfellows since Furstenau’s predecessor Andrew Weaver signed a post-2017 election non-aggression pact with Horgan and the NDP.
In that agreement, the Greens promised to keep the NDP alive on close legislative votes if the Lieutenant Governor accepted the argument that, with the guaranteed support of the Greens, the NDP had a better chance of providing stable government than the Liberals who emerged from the election with a tissue-thin one-seat majority and no expectation it could survive even routine votes.
The Lieutenant Governor agreed; the new government would be NDP with Horgan as premier. The usually tumultuous legislature became an oasis of goodwill – or so it appeared.
The province was not without scandal, but the elected “residents” under the Belleville Street dome were exceptionally well behaved – to the extent of unanimously agreeing to lock general elections into a firm four-year cycle. No more elections would be called at the whim of party or leader for political one-upmanship.
It was unanimously agreed that the next general election would be on a fixed day in October 2021. It wasn’t written in stone, but it was firmly recorded as provincial law, which is as good as stone. Or should be.
Stumbling over the New Year’s threshold into 2020 – a wonderful number when applied to vision testing – we did not fare well viewing political decisions through the mist, make that fog, that so often clouds them.
We had hardly recovered from New Year’s festivities when in February, the first whispers began to reach us that a new and dangerous pestilence was threatening mankind in faraway places. A month later, the plague had leapt from the Far East to central Europe and from there back across the Atlantic to North America. And we all became familiar with its name – COVID-19.
To its credit, our legislature debated with urgency what should be done and, again with rare unanimity, agreed to establish a $50 billion-plus fund to meet grievous economic emergencies in March.
Andrew Weaver quit as leader of the Green Party and vanished from the front line with a puff of smoke and little explanation. With the ‘Weaver of Green dreams’ gone, the never robust party trembled but rallied, called for a leadership vote and elected Furstenau.
Before she could get her Cowichan office stationary changed, the premier ignored the existing statute and called for the vote a year earlier than legislated. A few days later, he announced relief payments of $1,000 for every BC family with moderate income; and $625 for singles.
In the debate a few days ago, Horgan insisted the election announcement and the cash awards were not politically connected: “I think we did it right. We got the right balance, and once the money started to go out the door … I felt it time to ask British Columbians where they wanted to go and who they wanted to lead them.”
Furstenau’s response: “We are not against you using it (funds from the $50 billion relief fund unanimously approved by the legislature) … we are against you using it as a campaign promise.”
That’s when I remembered what Ronald Reagan said in 1970.