Throne speech filled with clever politics

“Throne speech could be the beginning of the end for Liberals,” declared the headline in the Globe and Mail.

“B.C. Liberal government delivered what is likely its last gasp in power Thursday with a throne speech that borrowed heavily on ideas from opponents and pledged ‘humility’ to voters,” read the Vancouver Sun.

“Liberal leadership looking ‘uncertain and unstable,'” was the headline on Les Leyne’s column.

There really is no question about it. It is not the beginning of the end or a likely last gasp. The B.C. Liberals will be pushed into the opposition ranks as soon as the NDP and Green Party can manage.

John Horgan is a premier-in-waiting and, with the slimmest of majorities, he will assume the role of premier as soon as the lieutenant-governor allows him.

As a consequence, the throne speech delivered by the outgoing government has left many shaking their heads. Given the B.C. Liberals are out the door, what was the point of the speech?

It was “plagiarized” from both the NDP and Green Parties platforms. It reads as a “deathbed conversion” to a kinder government. It is too late to placate the voters. Maybe it was an attempt to swing one of the opposition members to the Liberal’s cause?

It was certainly a Throne Speech unlike any Throne Speech the B.C. Liberals have delivered in their 16 years in power.

It included promises to reduce the MSP to zero – after having raised the rates only a few years ago – and to addressing social assistance rates with a $100 per month increase. A new Poverty Reduction Strategy and Single Parent Employment initiative would be put in place to assist the disadvantaged.

It promised 60,000 new childcare spaces and $10 million per year in grants while providing more teachers, more classrooms, and more schools for the K-12 system. It even mentioned the post-secondary system, promising the long-awaited engineering school in Prince George at UNBC and in conjunction with CNC.

It spoke to campaign finance reform with a commitment taken from the Green Party platform to eliminate corporate and union financing, while restricting all financial contributions to a political party to monies raised in British Columbia. It promised a third referendum on electoral reform.

And it addressed the need for clean energy through an increase in the carbon tax to $50 per tonne, with the concomitant pledge to use every new dollar to decrease the PST. Yet, it also contained a promise to reduce the tolls on Lower Mainland bridges to zero as soon as possible, thereby facilitating an increase in vehicular traffic throughout the Lower Mainland.

From a cynical perspective, the throne speech was a plea to allow the B.C. Liberals to stay in power. It appears to be an attempt to say to the opposition “we are giving you everything you asked for so please don’t throw us out.”

Except I doubt very much that was the intent of the document.

Indeed, it is the speech I would have written if I was in their situation. It is politicking at its best.

I do not think Clark or any of her cabinet are under the illusion their government will last more than a week. They will be defeated. The NDP will be taking over the government side of the house.

So what to do on the way out? Well, one possibility would be a “scorched earth policy” where the B.C. Liberals raid the piggy bank and leave nothing behind. Except by convention, governments don’t do this on the way out the door. After all, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of the incoming party and invites them to do the same when they are ousted from power.

If scorched earth is not an option, what is? The speech has pulled from the NDP and Green Party policies and platforms putting them square and center in the public conversation. By taking the opposition’s platform and promising it to the voters, the B.C. Liberals have essentially forced the NDP/Green coalition’s hand. They can’t really back away from any of these pledges.

Paraphrasing, it has left John Horgan saying things such as “we will have to wait to see what the financial books really look like before we can take any action.” In other words, don’t expect us to keep our promises. We might not be able. And that leaves the NDP politically vulnerable.

Horgan’s promises will cost money and will necessitate increases in taxes to both corporations and high-end earners. Increases in taxes means he is going to spend the next year explaining why he can’t do what the B.C. Liberals promised.

By raising expectations, the throne speech has put the NDP on the defensive even before they take power. That, I think, was the whole point.