Throne Speech: what was that all about?


From May 9th to June 28th, BC politics had some of the wildest, uncertain times – even by BC standards.  I wrote about my experience with the Green negotiations and the throne speech in the Vancouver Sun (August 19th print edition).

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FILE PHOTO Premier Christy Clark arrives with her Chief-of-Staff Mike McDonald before a provincial cabinet swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, June 12, 2017. CHAD HIPOLITO / THE CANADIAN PRESS

On June 22, Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon delivered the final Throne Speech of the Christy Clark B.C. Liberal government. It was the exclamation mark on a turbulent six week period of intra-party negotiations, internal caucus discussions and a genuine attempt to gain the confidence of the House and the confidence of the people of B.C. in the event the parties were sent to the polls for a makeup summer election.

Throughout the period following the May 9 election, I was at the heart of discussions. At Premier Clark’s direction, I worked with our negotiating team and staff to identify common ground and innovative solutions. Despite productive and vigorous discussions, less than one hour before our planned final session, the B.C. Greens pulled the plug and never entertained a formal proposal.

With Green becoming Orange, the B.C. Liberals regrouped. At first, the prevailing sentiment was that time in the ‘penalty box’ wasn’t a bad thing. But as time wore on, and the implications of what the NDP-Green pact would do to parliamentary traditions, let alone the economy, the approach changed to ‘putting six attackers on the ice.’

Coming out of the negotiations, we recognized that our proposal contained elements that voters would strongly support and they could all be accomplished within a balanced budget and provide tax relief.

In the background was the unpredictability of B.C. Green party leader Andrew Weaver. Today, we now know he is prepared to prop up the Horgan NDP government at any cost. In June, we believed we needed to test the strength of the NDP-Green pact, which was predicated on the false promise of the NDP attracting a Liberal to serve as Speaker.

Throughout early and mid-June, Weaver privately expressed his misgivings about his course of action. Some observers suggested that we fold our tent and take defeat with “dignity.” Hogwash. Our responsibility was to find a way to govern, especially given that we hold the most seats. You don’t quit before the whistle is blown.

As June progressed, the B.C. Liberal Caucus met several times to consider Throne Speech content. The full caucus discussed ideas and every member was invited to submit ideas — and most did with many of the ideas incorporated.

The Throne Speech reaffirmed the core values that unify B.C. Liberals: Fiscal responsibility, economic growth and job creation, a fair labour relations climate and bridging urban and rural B.C.

Where the Throne Speech diverged from the May election platform was around four key areas where voters felt we had under-delivered.

Child care and early childhood education, a fairer society, communities and transit, and the environment.

There were many other proposals, notably, campaign finance reform.

The government issued a blunt mea culpa. Passing political finance reform on the floor of the Legislature in June should have been a no-brainer for the Greens.

Instead, the NDP, which collected eight of the top nine largest donations in 2017, duped the Greens to continue the current fundraising rules until further notice.

On a $50-billion provincial budget, the Throne Speech commitments would have amounted to about a 1.5% increase in spending — well within a balanced budget framework, especially following a massive $2.8 billion surplus that gave us more room to move.

The Throne Speech provided the most inclusive agenda that any government has ever brought forward without losing key distinctions between the B.C. Liberals and the NDP on our core values.

B.C. voters seemed to agree. In late June, Mainstreet Research found the B.C. Liberals with an 11-point lead on the eve of the confidence vote, including support for Throne Speech initiatives. While polling can certainly be unreliable, this pollster found that the B.C. Liberals had received a “throne speech bump”.

Without a doubt, some B.C. Liberal partisans were disoriented, not to mention the media. As one adviser told me, in order to grow, you must “alienate the base” — or at least make it uncomfortable.

We’ll never know if the political calculus would have worked, but what was clear to us was that we needed to demonstrate that we were capable of listening and responding.

Alas, the Greens rejected the Throne Speech and the Lieutenant-governor passed on a summer election. We essentially ‘hit the post’ as the buzzer sounded. One month later, Christy Clark retired from the arena, sparking a process of renewal within the B.C. Liberal Party.  The Throne Speech will fade away into the mists of political history.

My regret is not that we brought forward that Throne Speech, it’s that we didn’t do it sooner.

Now, the leadership aspirants have a clean slate to put forward their own vision for the province in entirely new circumstances. Whatever course they chart for the province, they should be no less bold.

Mike McDonald directed Christy Clark’s 2013 election victory and served as chief of staff in the final two months of her government. He was part of the B.C. Liberal negotiating team with the B.C. Green party. 



Opportunity knocks for BC Liberal leadership candidates

BC Liberals aren’t in the habit of electing leaders very often – only twice in the last 24 years.  I was fortunate to have directed the campaigns in both cases – Gordon Campbell in 1993 and Christy Clark in 2011.

Those races were very different.  Gordon Campbell was the outsider who joined the party on the eve of announcing his candidacy.  While the party was the official opposition, its organization was threadbare having gone from zero to 17 seats in a populist brushfire in the 1991 election.  Campbell’s leadership campaign, and subsequent efforts over seventeen plus years as leader, built the guts and machinery of the modern day BC Liberal Party.  The 2011 campaign featured three serious senior cabinet contenders – George Abbott, Kevin Falcon, and Michael de Jong – and Christy Clark, who ran from the outside in the aftermath of the government’s handling of the HST.  However, Christy was no stranger to the Party.  She had served as MLA for nine years until 2005, including Deputy Premier, and was one of BC’s most recognizable names.  Unlike Campbell who spent eight long years winning his way into government, Clark went straight to the premier’s chair.  She brought a fresh look and focused agenda, enabling the party to win an improbable election in 2013.

This time will be different yet again.  The party is in a stronger position organizationally than 1993 and even stronger than 2011, though not in government.   The next leader has a better opportunity than Campbell had to take power in the subsequent election and does not have as challenging an internal dynamic as Clark had in 2011.  Nevertheless, the final furlong is always the hardest and the next leader will be under huge pressure to deliver victory in a party that has grown accustomed to winning.


The contenders are assembling at the gates for the BC Liberal leadership race

Vaughn Palmer wrote recently on potential leadership candidates with the headline shouting “BC Liberals slag own potential leaders”.  Of course, these are unnamed sources who hide behind the curtain.  It certainly doesn’t reflect my own view.

As someone who has worked in the engine room of politics, I try to follow Ronald Reagan’s famous maxim that “thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow [BC Liberal]”.  Leadership aspirants are contemplating making huge personal sacrifices to put themselves on the line.  Running in a leadership contest is a politically naked process – it’s all about you.  You can’t hide behind someone else.

What I see is a field of potential candidates that all offer something unique.  There is no question that each candidate has to overcome perceived weaknesses, but that’s why you have a leadership race.  The leadership race is a trial by fire where the most organized, most eloquent, most driven, most motivating and compelling candidates rise to the fore.

Another of my political maxims, based on years of scientific research, is that “You can’t win if you don’t run”.  Politics is full of surprises.  Joe Clark in 1976.  Bob Skelly in 1984.  Stephane Dion in 2006.  Andrew Scheer was hardly a front-runner for the CPC leadership when it started and Maxime Bernier was certainly not seen as a main contender.  Let’s not forget Jeremy Corbyn in the UK (twice) and Donald Trump.  Then there’s John Horgan – when no one wanted the job – and now he’s Premier.

When I look at the field of potential candidates that people are chatting to me about, they all have an interesting story.  Winning means taking it to a higher level than where they are today, but they all have something to build from.  My hope is that we have a race where individual candidates make great strides in reaching their potential, and in doing so, make a significant contribution to building the party going forward.

All leadership candidates will have to demonstrate they can lead and win at the highest level.    It’s not whether one is a liberal or conservative; rural, suburban, or urban; or male or female.  The best candidate will be the one who can sell his or her vision to the membership.  Rather than slag them, or rule them out on some superficial basis, I say “thank you” for considering running and encourage them all to step bravely forward to articulate their vision for British Columbia.