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OPINION: Horgan got his big mandate. Now what?

Premier John Horgan is unveiling a new cabinet this week as the BC NDP government tackles a tough list of challenges.
Horgan was re-elected as B.C. Premier in Oct. 2020. Photo: Province of British Columbia/Flickr

Premier John Horgan is unveiling a new cabinet this week as the BC NDP government tackles a tough list of challenges.

Things have been in suspended animation since the election call in September. Now that election results have been finalized – a two-week process – it is full-speed ahead for a government that has a strong four-year mandate.

We are now in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the seriousness of it is making solving those challenges daunting. Our economy could crater if our case numbers keep soaring and our hospitalizations keep climbing.

The prospect of a vaccine being developed sooner than expected is certainly good news, but we are still many months away from manufacturing and distributing enough of a vaccine to have much impact.

Getting the $1000 cheques in the mail

In the meantime, the new government has to find a way to accomplish its most important campaign promise, the payment of $1,000 to families and $500 to single residents.

Horgan said last week he could not guarantee the money would arrive before Christmas, but the legislature will resume sitting Dec. 7 and the chief legislative priority will be getting the money out the door quickly.

The house will sit for only two weeks, so it will not take up much of the government’s time.

Instead, the pandemic will continue to shape everything the government does. “It’s COVID, COVID, COVID, all the time,” is how one cabinet minister described the government agenda to me.

Aside from the ongoing public health battle against the virus, the most pressing problems facing the NDP right now are economic.

One economic sector in particular will continue to suffer. That would be the tourism industry, which is a major component of the provincial economy.

The industry injected more than $100 billion into the provincial economy in 2019, but those days seem distant now. The industry says it needs more than $600 million from the government, but so far has to make do with a task force studying the problem.

Will a fresh mandate cause the NDP government to reconsider its position? We shall see.

There will be continued pressure to extend any pandemic relief program, even though such measures are expensive (if you think otherwise, check out the federal government’s massive deficit right now).

Issues past the pandemic

Then there is the thorny issue of the future of the mammoth Site C dam project. Its future remains unclear as costs mount and serious questions about geological safety remain unanswered.

The list of challenges goes on and on (solving the opioid crisis, reducing homelessness, reducing high unemployment levels to name just a few) but that is what government is there for.

It is unquestionably going to be a tough four years for the NDP government. But I am sure Horgan is feeling far better about the position he is in today than he was in the early fall. He has a larger caucus and the political Opposition is in tatters.

He and his team begin the job of rebuilding the provincial economy this week. Good luck to them.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.