Key players emerge in the Ledge

The end of the legislature session allows us to take stock of our MLAs, our political parties and the political scene in general. Who emerged as key players? Which issues resonated with the public? The B.C. Liberals continued to exude confidence – even cockiness – throughout the session, as its MLAs still ride high in the saddle after having their unexpected new lease on political life granted by voters last year.

Premier Christy Clark has gone from being derided as “premier photoop,” for insisting on being front and centre in everything her government was doing, to being a hands-off leader willing to delegate all kinds of responsibilities to those around her.

She is also very clearly the leader of her party and caucus, and continues to be their star performer in the legislature (although she has continued her disdain for the place, usually only attending the session two days a week).

It also became even more clear in this past session that the “quarterback” of the B.C. Liberals is Finance Minister Mike de Jong. As the government house leader he controlled the legislature’s proceedings and acted as a calming presence for his side when things got a little raucous.

Of the veterans on the government side, Energy Minister Bill Bennett has gone from being banished from Gordon Campbell’s government to being a major force under Clark.

And it is evident that Jobs Minister Shirley Bond, Environment Minister Mary Polak and LNG Minister Rich Coleman are key lieutenants to the premier.

Of the newcomers, Transportation Minister Todd Stone stood out as perhaps the ablest performer in the house, as he time and again swatted away NDP attacks on his reductions to some B.C. Ferry route sailings or on his plans for transit and transportation in Metro Vancouver.

After a bit of a shaky start, Attorney-General Suzanne Anton seemed to steady herself and emerged stronger at the end of the session than at the beginning. And Technology Minister Andrew Wilkinson displayed a demonstrable ability to really get under the skin of NDP MLAs, thus pretty well ensuring he may get a higher-profile portfolio sooner than later.

On the NDP side, things weren’t quite as rosy. The caucus is slowly coming out of its near coma-like state that enveloped it for so long after the party’s devastating election loss, and some veteran MLAs often looked like they would have liked to have been anywhere other than the legislature.

The party’s leadership problem was a major distraction for most of the session and helped suck the energy out of the caucus. The inevitable choice of John Horgan as leader came too late in the session to have much of an impact on things.

The caucus didn’t garner much media coverage during the session, which isn’t that unusual in the first year of a government’s mandate. The NDP rarely broke new ground on many issues and often offered predictably negative responses to anything the government did.

Question period, the prime vehicle to get public attention, often consisted of NDP MLAs asking questions about issues or stories that were weeks old or had already received widespread attention. And so QP, so vital a tool to an opposition party, often became a non-event.

There was the odd exception, of course. Most notable was the NDP’s focus on the “claw back” of child support payments to women on disability assistance. The party made credible arguments about the unfairness of the government’s policy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some positive changes occur as a result.

Two pieces of legislation stood out: one to allow a transit referendum in Metro Vancouver and the other to divide the Agriculture Land Reserve into two zones, with one of them having more potential for development of farmland.

The NDP chose the ALR bill as the hill to die on, and the session ended in acrimony and bitterness (for some) as the bill inevitably passed into law.

It was a fitting issue on which to end the session, since the ALR legislation neatly framed a crucial difference between the two parties, as the changes it allows will likely be more popular in the Interior and the North, two areas the NDP is increasingly having trouble connecting with.

And so the legislature now sits quiet until October, when the politicians return and the shouting begins anew. I can’t wait! Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC

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