VICTORIA – The new session of the legislature, called by Premier Clark last week, will be one the shortest on record.
It will have nothing to do with legislative approval of the course the government plans to chart for the province during the coming year. The budget, which will be introduced by Finance Minister Elizabeth Cull a week after the session opens, will not dictate government spending during the current fiscal year.
This session will be a grandstanding prelude to the election that is likely to be called within a few weeks. It will be the starting short for an election campaign that promises to be ferocious.
For the NDP, the session will be an opportunity to draw the lines between it and the opposition parties. Clark put it this way:
"I’m really looking forward to this. This gives the government a chance to show the really dramatic differences between our party and our government and the two opposition parties.
"We’ll be talking about jobs first and foremost. We’ll be talking about protecting health care and education and the best way to do that, and we’ll also talk about crime and safety and I think it’s a good opportunity to see the dramatic differences between us and the opposition."
The opposition parties, however, have a different agenda. They will be ruthlessly attacking the government on all fronts. They will mercilessly lay into the NDP during daily question period with issues ranging from the bingo scandal to the B.C. Hydro affair, to government spending.
Under normal circumstances, the opposition can shine during question period, but circumstances are anything but normal.
The Liberals have yet to effectively embarrass the government and put it on the run with razor-sharp questions, something the NDP had developed into a fine art during its years in opposition.
And both the Liberals and the Reform Party are at a disadvantage because of the ruthless spending cuts of what are perceived to be their soul mates in Ontario and Alberta. Mike Harris and Ralph Klein will be the NDP’s biggest allies in the upcoming battle for the hearts and minds of British Columbians.
Some time ago, when the NDP was just beginning to recover from its slump in the polls, I warned Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell that the light he saw at the end of the tunnel might be an oncoming NDP train. And that’s exactly what it was.
The latest MarkTrend poll placed the NDP in front with 38 per cent of decided voters, followed by the Liberals with 32 per cent and the Reformers with 22 per cent.
That’s quite a recovery from the 22-per-cent support the NDP had been relegated to only a few months ago, and a whopping drop for Campbell’s Liberals who used to enjoy absolute majority support.
It appears that Clark has managed to largely defuse any potential bomb that might have exploded in his face during the campaign.
He ordered the long-overdue public inquiry into the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society scandal, and he derailed attempts to link his government to the B.C. Hydro affair by firing the Crown corporation’s chief and appointing Brian Smith, a former Socred cabinet minister as his successor.
As for the NDP’s propensity to spend money, the public seems to be more swayed by the government’s record, than the opposition’s attempts to discredit it.
It isn’t over until the weight-challenged person sings, but the NDP’s remarkable rise in the public’s esteem should give the opposition parties some concern.