At the end of another brief legislature session following the October election, Black Press legislature reporter Tom Fletcher spoke with interim B.C. Liberal leader Shirley Bond Dec. 16 about the year gone by and the one to come.
TF: How long do you expect to have the job of interim leader?
SB: Obviously I have made a commitment to our caucus and to the party that I don’t intend to seek the permanent leadership, and I won’t be supporting a particular campaign. The party will lay out a series of steps that will ultimately lead to a leadership campaign, I would assume not too late next year.
TF: You come from federal Conservative country in Prince George, how’s B.C.’s traditional free-enterprise coalition looking to you for next year?
SB: We’re going to take some time to look back and see what happened during this campaign. And part of that is looking at what are the important values that people who support free enterprise in B.C., what are they looking for in that party? Part of that is a dialogue with members, with candidates who were not successful, with British Columbians broadly to talk about, what does our party need to look like going forward, most importantly to figure out how we resonate better with urban voters.
The group of candidates that we did elect, obviously a smaller number than we had hoped for, are working incredibly well together. They’re encouraging one another, they’re stepping up to their critic roles. British Columbia’s going to get to know them a lot better in the next year.
TF: Former finance minister Colin Hansen was the last prominent B.C. Liberal to propose that the name should be changed, and I understand that the British Columbia Party name may be available now. What do you think about that?
SB: As we’ve started our engagement with members and British Columbians, I can assure you that many of them have raised the issue of the name change. I’m not going to pre-suppose what might eventually be the outcome of that discussion. We need to make sure that we’re having the discussion that at times will be difficult, it will likely be uncomfortable, but it’s all part of listening, learning what’s necessary for us to return to the government side of the benches.
We’ve heard from some people that a name change is important. We’ve heard from others that it’s not as important. I’m sure as we have leadership candidates emerge, those are the kinds of questions they’re going to be grappling with as well.
TF: The first round of BC’s $1,000 COVID relief payments opened April 1, and it was only to people who were approved for CERB, the federal program, so it was a test of actual loss from the pandemic. Now the second round is for almost everybody. Is there a case to be made to change that, and failing that vote against it?
SB: What we’ve supported is that British Columbians get the kind of direct support that they need. We came back to the legislature in a non-partisan way [in March] to provide a unanimous yes in a very short period of time, to approve a $5 billion package of supports for British Columbia’s individuals and businesses. We obviously have questions about $1.5 billion of that.
[The $1.5 billion includes business and tourism aid approved in March, with major program changes announced Dec. 21. Two days after this interview, Bond joined 28 B.C. Liberal MLAs and two B.C. Greens in a unanimous vote to borrow another $2 billion.]
— Tom Fletcher (@tomfletcherbc) December 21, 2020
SB: We actually want to make sure that British Columbians who need help, get it. And we’re not going to stand in the way of making sure that when there are families who require support to feed their families or to help them as they’ve dealt with job loss. I think that most British Columbians would expect that politicians can set aside a partisan approach and make sure that help is forthcoming.
The premier made a promise that all British Columbians would get support. We’re certainly finding out now that that is highly unlikely to happen, and I think he should be asked to explain how you make up a promise during a campaign, and then you don’t seem to have the program in place to deliver it in an effective way.
TF: With the federal debt and deficit growing so fast, the permanent increase in health care costs, how does B.C.’s financial picture look to you for 2021 and beyond that?
SB: Our first priority is to make sure that vulnerable British Columbians have the support they need during these unprecedented times. I think we also need to recognize that sectors like tourism, hospitality, they have been decimated by COVID, and frankly they are still hanging on by a thread while they wait for this government to figure out how to get financial assistance flowing out the door.
Over the longer term, what we expect this government to do is make sure there is a credible economic recovery plan in place. And I have every confidence in our critics. A number of them will be raising important issues about the lack of a credible economic recovery plan.
We do need to begin to address the issue of debt, how we are going to restore confidence in our province, so investors find us an important priority in terms of investment, job creation. All of those things matter. So we will continue to focus on the health care side of the agenda, but at the same time be asking those important questions about the economic crisis that British Columbia potentially faces.
TF: Most people won’t think much about delaying the budget to the end of April, what are the concerns there?
SB: We need to know what B.C.’s fiscal state is. I guess our greater concern is the uncertainty that creates for non-profits, for programs, for school districts. There is a requirement to table a budget in British Columbia, and what we’ve seen now is a government that said, not only do we need one month of extension, we need two months.
This is not a new government. This is a premier who said that his calling of a risky pandemic election would not stop the work of government, and what we’ve found out is that’s not actually accurate. We’ve seen bureaucratic programs that are difficult for small businesses to apply for. We’ve seen cuts to persons with disabilities and their supports. There has been a delay in important programs.
TF: What’s your number one wish for 2021?
SB: My number one wish is that we find ourselves in a place where the pandemic has moderated and that we have a thorough roll-out of vaccine in the province. My wish is that people have the opportunity to be together again.
The heart-wrenching scenes of families separated from their loved ones in long-term care, the challenges families are facing with frail elderly parents in the Christmas season. Although it was not directly COVID-related, I lost my husband this past year, and had an inability to be with him during the most difficult days of his life. I want to make sure that other families do not find themselves in those circumstances in 2021.