Technician tests equipment for opening of the B.C. legislature, which begins with the NDP government’s inaugural throne speech Friday. (Legislative Assembly of B.C./Twitter)

NDP government sets new course for B.C.

First change of government in 16 years begins

The last time there was a change of government in the B.C. legislature, the 9/11 terrorist attack was four months in the future, computers sat on desks, Jean Chretien was in his eighth year as prime minister, and the B.C. NDP had fallen from a decade of majority government to two seats in East Vancouver.

Now Premier John Horgan begins his first legislature term without a majority, depending on the support of three B.C. Green Party MLAs who have a list of demands for the new NDP government to deliver.

The legislature that opens with a speech from the throne Friday is a delicate balance for the NDP, whose “confidence and supply agreement” with the Greens has forced them to consult in detail on Finance Minister Carole James’ budget and all major legislation.

The agreement required the legislature to be recalled within 30 days of the defeat of the B.C. Liberals and prevents the NDP from calling an election for the next four years, unless the party loses a vote of confidence. The legislature session is also needed to prevent the $40-billion-a-year provincial government operation from running out of money later this month.

B.C. Liberal interim leader Rich Coleman said Thursday his team is ready to go in their opposition critic roles, including likely leadership candidates Todd Stone from Kamloops, Mike Bernier from Dawson Creek and Andrew Wilkinson from Vancouver. The B.C. Liberals have more than 30,000 members who will select a new leader in February, Coleman said.

The resignation of former premier Christy Clark from the Kelowna West seat gives the NDP-Greens one more vote, 44 to 42, but a by-election must be called by next February in a seat likely to be won by former B.C. Liberal MLA Ben Stewart.

The Green-NDP agreement requires a series of legislative changes to be introduced in the weeks to come. They include:

• Elections Act changes to ban corporate and union donations to political parties and limit personal contributions. The B.C. Liberal government supported that in its last-minute throne speech before being defeated in July, and intended to extend it to local government elections as well.

• A framework for a province-wide referendum on proportional representation, to be held in the fall of 2018. Both the NDP and Greens are to campaign for the adoption of proportional representation, using a yet-to-be determined formula that gives parties seats to reflect their share of the popular vote.

• An overhaul of the Lobbyists Registration Act to increase penalties and extend the prohibition period for former senior public office holders to lobby the B.C. government on behalf of special interests.

• Moving the date of the next B.C. election from May 2021 to the fall, potentially giving the NDP-Green minority government an extra six months in power before going back to voters.

The agreement also requires spring and fall sessions of the legislature every year. The session beginning Sept. 8 is expected to continue until Nov. 30.