Written for Daily Hive by Mo Amir, host and producer of the podcast This is VANCOLOUR, based in Vancouver.
The BC Liberals have it tough.
Any time a BC Liberal MLA stands up in the Legislative Assembly or grandstands in media scrums with fiery criticism of the BC NDP government, they are often met with the response, “You had 16 years.”
It is true that the BC Liberals held majority governments from 2001 to 2017. It is also true that many of the province’s biggest policy challenges — ICBC’s financial health, money laundering, housing affordability, homelessness — worsened under the BC Liberals, particularly under Premier Christy Clark’s leadership.
The BC Liberals even dragged their heels on the ride-hailing file, which undercut the sincerity of their intense, two-and-a-half-year demand for the province to allow Uber, Lyft, and others to begin operations.
However, as the BC NDP finish their third year in leading a minority government with a provincial election less than eighteen months away, the “You had 16 years” rebuttal to the BC Liberals may be decreasingly effective.
BC Attorney General @Dave_Eby dishes it hard to the @BCLiberalCaucus as we discuss the expiration date on criticizing previous governments.
A barnburner #bcpoli episode!🔥
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— Mo Amir ॐ This is VANCOLOUR (@vancolour) November 19, 2019
Still, BC Attorney General David Eby offers neither clemency nor cessation in criticizing the BC Liberals’ previous record of governance.
“When you have people sitting across from you that were literally the architects of the housing crisis, the money laundering crisis, the ICBC crisis, and then they stand up and ask you questions about these issues, I think it’s okay to say, ‘You know, that’s really funny because you commissioned a report and then you ripped the pages out of it and pretended you never got it.’ So I feel okay about that,” said Eby.
His argument is underlined by so many key figures attached to those aforementioned crises who still hold office in the BC Liberal Caucus: Todd Stone, Shirley Bond, Mike de Jong, Mary Polak, Teresa Wat, and perhaps most infamously, Rich Coleman.
Whether it was his name prominently featured in Dr. Peter German’s Dirty Money report, his speech at an anti-abortion protest at the steps of the BC Legislature, his comparison of Agricultural Land Commission reforms to the Holocaust, or his alleged silence on a fellow MLA’s eight-hour detention in Shanghai, Coleman has not served the BC Liberal brand well over the past few years. His decision to not seek reelection must be a sigh of relief for many BC Liberals hoping for renewal that will distance the party from past scandals and innuendo alike.
Coleman’s decision helps but it may not revive the BC Liberals’ reputation on its own. The other familiar voices in the BC Liberal Caucus may, inadvertently, continue to give license for the BC NDP government to deflect any policy criticisms on housing, poverty reduction, ICBC and other matters by just blaming the BC Liberals. After all, according to Eby, the previous BC Liberal government was more than game to invoke NDP scandals that were about two decades old at the time.
“I was sitting in opposition listening to Christy Clark lecture me about what had happened in the 1990s and Mike de Jong talk about political scandals that had happened in 1994. It’s just evergreen.”
In the context of the Cullen Commission, the ICBC “dumpster fire” (Eby’s words), and the repeated gaffes of the BC Liberal Caucus, the BC Liberals have many ghosts of controversies past that will be attacked heading into the next election. So long as housing affordability, the management of ICBC, anti-money laundering enforcement, and homelessness reduction can be proven to have improved, even just slightly, the BC NDP’s communications strategy of pointing the finger back at the BC Liberals as the cause of these woes may actually be effective.
“Frankly, I remember how terrible things were under the BC Liberals, and I feel that in my heart, and that is something that I know to be true.”
Eby, to his credit, acknowledges that the BC NDP’s accountability to the province is “immediate upon taking over government” and that his party will have to answer for their policy decisions whenever the next election may be.
“People definitely lose enthusiasm for long speeches about how the previous government ran things.”
Short of a near-complete makeover of their Caucus leadership, however, the BC Liberals may still be haunted by their previous record of governance. And, that’s good news for David Eby and the BC NDP.
Have a listen to the full This is VANCOLOUR podcast with BC Attorney General David Eby: