British Columbia·Analysis

B.C. Liberals adjusting principles for a shot at power

The B.C. Liberal party is adjusting some of its core principles in order to create a platform more aligned with Metro Vancouver voters — voters who turned on the party during the provincial election.

Throne speech expected to include major changes to long-standing Liberal policy

Clark stops to smell a flower given to her by a little girl in Campbell River, B.C., during the provincial election campaign. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Six times the B.C. NDP proposed legislation that would have led to the ban of union and corporate political donations in British Columbia.

And six times the B.C. Liberal government stood in the way.

But this Thursday the B.C. Liberals will unveil a new look.

The 2017 speech from the throne will be very different from throne speeches of the past, since the party was first elected in 2001. Many of the ideas the party fought against while in power will now be included as Liberal policy. 

Banning union and corporate donations - check.

Increasing social assistance rates - check.

Transit funding without a Metro Vancouver referendum - check.

And here is the political kicker. 

NDP MLAs will have to vote against all of those changes they've championed for years if they want to form government. That is because the upcoming throne speech will be pegged to a confidence vote expected to end the 16 year Liberal political dynasty. 

"What you are seeing is exactly what you would expect from a government in the situation that we are in where we won the election in having the most seats and the most votes but not having a majority," said Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell.

"I think we are always looking at creating the best British Columbia that we can."  

B.C. Premier Christy Clark arrives June 12, 2017 at the swearing-in ceremony for her new cabinet. (Richard Zussman/CBC News)

It's not just legislative votes the Liberal party has its eye on. It's the next provincial election.

With the B.C. legislature in an unprecedented time of uncertainty, predicting when that next election will be is impossible. 

But the Liberals know that what they did leading up the May 9 election didn't work and this new course is an attempt to lure back voters in Metro Vancouver.

Substantial policy changes

As bits and pieces of the speech from the throne are leaked to the media, the picture emerging is of a Liberal party willing to substantially change.

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan promised to make education a defining issue in the 2017 provincial election. (Denis Dossman/CBC)

This could mean a more direct approach on overcrowded Surrey classrooms, a focus on increasing child care spaces in Metro Vancouver and closing loopholes for evicting renters and for foreign investors parking money in Vancouver real estate. All issues that weren't part of the last Liberal election campaign, but were featured in the platforms of both the Greens and NDP

"For sure, it's about getting votes, but it's about connecting with people," said B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Sam Sullivan. "We have really recognized how we didn't do well in the urban area. We did really well in the Interior, the North, the suburbs, etc, but we were unable to connect with urban voters."

Boosting social assistance

Many of those urban voters were disappointed when February's provincial budget was the ninth in a row to provide no increase to social assistance rates. 

This, despite recognition the province has become one of the country's most expensive places in which to live and the government's claim it was using the province's wealth to help those who needed it most.

It's only now, with the confidence vote looming, that the Liberals will increase those rates by $100 a month at a cost of about $53 million a year.

The same goes for increasing disability rates. The government had battled for years with advocates who were angry rates were left unchanged from 2008 to 2015.

Now, the Liberals are promising to do just that if they stay in power or win the next election.

"We all know that there is a lot of cynicism and skepticism of people in politics. I think this will add to that cynicism," said disability advocate Jane Dyson. "I think that a lot of people's confidence in politicians will be further eroded from what we are seeing now." 

Who to believe 

There are some core principles the Liberals are unwilling to budge on.

Don't expect the throne speech to include a change of direction on the Site C dam or Kinder Morgan. The Liberals will also likely stick by the balanced budget pledge and the Massey Bridge project.

But beyond that, almost anything goes. And that will set up an election where the major parties appear to stand for many of the same things.

Leaving voters to wonder if they believe any of them.