Political parties get together to play let’s make a deal

The negotiating teams of the B.C. Greens, Liberals and NDP held their first face-to-face meetings in Victoria last week, as part of delicate talks that could decide who will have the votes in the legislature necessary to form the next government.

On one side of the room: A group of Greens, inexperienced but riding high after winning an unprecedented three ridings on May 9 and potentially holding the balance of power in a new legislature, depending on which party they choose to support.

On the other: Veteran political operatives from either the NDP or the Liberals, with eyes on cutting the best deal they can to woo the crucial Green votes to their side.

All sides are keeping their cards close to their chests, and senior officials from each party were reluctant to provide details of initial talks for fear of offending their partners in the early stages.

Liberal Premier Christy Clark has said her party is in “listening mode” with the Greens, checking to see where the parties can co-operate.

NDP Leader John Horgan has said there’s plenty that could unite his party with the Greens on issues of environmental protection, health care, education and matters of ethics.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver has said he wants official party status, a ban on corporate and union donations and a move toward proportional representation — to start. The rest of his demands, he said, will be discussed in private at the negotiating table.

Here’s a look at the players at the table hashing out what could be one of the defining deals of B.C.’s political history.

Team Liberal

Brad Bennett — The chairman of the B.C. Liberal “transition team,” Bennett is an adviser to party leader Christy Clark and a key voice who she consults before making major decisions. The grandson of legendary premier W.A.C. Bennett and son of former premier Bill Bennett, he brings a lengthy political pedigree to the table. He’s chairman of B.C. Hydro, but is on leave from that job to handle election matters.

Carole Taylor — The premier’s ambassador to B.C.’s business community, Taylor has been serving as a special adviser on a $1 a year salary for more than a year. She brings experience as B.C.’s finance minister from 2005 to 2008, and from a business career that’s forged deep ties with the province’s corporate leaders. Taylor is known for eschewing partisanship and personal attacks, calling that “nonsense” and “not my style.” She’s not a longtime friend or confidant of Clark’s. She was brought in as an outsider to give the premier practical policy advice.

Mike de Jong — B.C.’s current minister of finance, de Jong is the keeper of the numbers on the $50-billion provincial budget. His knowledge of how much programs cost, and whether negotiated promises can be accommodated by the Liberal treasury, will prove key during the talks. He’s also Liberal house leader, with a keen grasp on how to draft bills within the arcane rules of the legislature. A seven-term MLA, his tenure dates back to a time when the Liberals were in opposition, giving him a grasp of the challenges faced by opposition MLAs.

Mike Bernier — B.C.’s current minister of education, Bernier’s presence on the negotiating team is more difficult to define. He appears to have a strong personal relationship with Weaver, making him one of the more favourable Liberals in the books of the Green leader. The two used to sit beside each other in the legislature, before Bernier was appointed to cabinet, and struck up a friendly rapport. Bernier’s inclusion is intended to boost Weaver’s confidence in the Liberal negotiating team.

Team NDP

Bob Dewar — The NDP’s campaign director and Horgan’s chief of staff, Dewar is the party’s most important staffer. He’s credited with crafting and executing one of the strongest NDP election campaigns in 20 years, helping the party to pick up eight seats as part of a rush of support in Metro Vancouver. Dewar is not a longtime friend of Horgan, and only arrived last fall from Manitoba, but the 64-year-old has quickly become the leader’s most listened-to and trusted adviser.

Carole James — Horgan’s top lieutenant and a veteran of the NDP, the former party leader is one of the most widely respected MLAs on either side of the house. She co-chaired the party’s platform committee, giving her deep knowledge of the issues that might come up for negotiation with the Greens.

John Horgan — Being part of the bargaining team means Horgan will get direct face time with Weaver as talks progress. The two have had an acrimonious past, with many less-than-positive things said about each other in public and in private. Horgan’s inclusion signals not only how seriously he takes the talks, but is also an attempt to turn the page and establish a new working relationship with Weaver — essential if they intend to partner in governing.

Marie Della Mattia — A special adviser to Horgan during the campaign, Della Mattia has since become his deputy chief of staff. She helped Horgan craft his message, his speaking skills and his public persona during the election, and, like Dewar, she has his ear and his trust on important matters.

Team Green

Andrew Weaver — There’s no doubt who’s in charge in the B.C. Greens, and that’s Weaver. He appointed himself chief negotiator, and he intends to stickhandle the talks from start to finish. Though his experience pales in comparison to some of the veterans on the other teams, he showed keen political instincts during his first term as MLA and has a history of bargaining as a negotiator for faculty at the University of Victoria, where he was a climate science professor. When it comes to who the Greens choose to support, Weaver’s word will be final.

Liz Lilly — The party’s platform director and Weaver’s chief of staff, Lilly knows all the details of the Green Party’s positions on virtually every issue. A veteran civil servant, she spent 30 years as a policy adviser and economist, starting as a junior economist in the British government of Margaret Thatcher. She served 25 years inside the B.C. government, under Social Credit, NDP and Liberal administrations, giving her an air of bipartisanship.

Norman Spector — Spector has decades of experience in federal and provincial governments, and Weaver has said it’s that experience in actually running a government that makes his advice so crucial to the upstart Greens, who have never held such power. Spector was deputy minister to B.C. premier Bill Bennett in the 1980s, chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney from 1990 to 1992, and Canada’s ambassador to Israel.

Sonia Furstenau — Furstenau is a former director with the Cowichan Valley Regional District. She led a grassroots fight against a contaminated soil dumping facility in Shawnigan Lake. She’s now deputy leader of the party, and Weaver’s political backup.