Tightrope - The Orca


Rob Shaw 2

Rob Shaw: Monday’s Throne Speech won’t be the “mission accomplished” the NDP planned on – and must instead strike a delicate balance.

B.C.’s New Democrat government will on Monday present its first real throne speech since winning reelection with a majority six months ago. But it won’t look anything like Premier John Horgan had hoped it would when he took the province to the polls for a snap vote in October.

The NDP had been banking on 2021 as the year of recovery from COVID-19, with a budget that looked forward to rebuilding the economy and getting its agenda back on track after the pandemic sideswiped virtually everything in early 2020.

That was the plan with the snap fall election – strike when the NDP’s opponents were at their weakest, when COVID numbers were comparatively low, when the public was distracted, and take full advantage of the fear, anxiety, and worry among voters to secure another four-year term, with a political reset when things improved in the spring.

But since October, things have instead dramatically worsened.

December’s emergency session of the legislature, with its bare-bones faux throne speech, accomplished virtually nothing.

B.C. is now in the midst of a crushing third wave of cases, and a surge in variants. The province has gone from being one of the best-performing in its pandemic case counts, to one of Canada’s most worrying. It has been forced to reinstate a ban indoor dining, and is facing heavy pressure from the public to move to a full stay-at-home lockdown like Ontario (which Dr. Bonnie Henry has described as one month ahead of B.C. in its trajectory).

All of which puts the Horgan government in a bind for Tuesday’s speech from the throne.

Whatever had been the original hope for the NDP’s 2021 agenda is vanishing before its eyes.

An ambitious vision for economic recovery and a policy agenda that finally starts to discuss things beyond COVID-19 this year?

A frustrated, nervous, and increasingly-agitated electorate does not want to hear that story Tuesday.

It won’t appreciate a government that tries to pretend COVID is behind us.

And it does not want to see its politicians dedicate energy to a recovery plan when B.C. needs its full attention focused now on fighting off its worst moment in the entire pandemic.

Senior New Democrats have no doubt spent the weekend drafting and redrafting the speech to find just the right tone.

It will have to be a speech that acknowledges the widespread fear and fatigue facing British Columbians, while trying to spark just enough motivation to get us all over the finish line of (approximately) July 1, when health officials predict everyone will have had the chance for at least their first vaccination.

It’s doubly frustrating for the Horgan administration because, in a best case scenario, the worst of the pandemic could actually be behind us by August.

If B.C. can curb its case count, if Ottawa procures enough vaccines, if the virus doesn’t continue to mutate to vaccine-resistant variants, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll find ourselves in a position to start talking about things not related to COVID-19 this fall.

Government should be ready for that potential – but not if that appears to be at the expense of our current day-to-day fight with the third wave.

Talk about a no-win scenario.

The NDP’s best bet might be to split 2021 into two separate years – a Tuesday throne speech that is a rally cry to fight the virus, complete with financial aid for those most vulnerable; then an entirely new throne speech and budget update in September built upon the economic recovery plan Horgan had been promising when he ran for re-election.

It’s not the most elegant scenario. But it’s the best of a series of bad options currently facing the Horgan government.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.