This will undoubtedly be one of the most difficult campaigns for Shirley Bond.
The veteran B.C. politician is seeking her sixth consecutive term as MLA for the riding of Prince George-Valemount. It will be her first campaign without husband Bill by her side. He died of a stroke earlier this year.
“it was certainly a difficult decision from a personal perspective,” Bond said on deciding to run again. “I can honestly say I haven’t campaigned for anything without him, he’s always been by my side. That was difficult, but easy from the perspective that we are in the middle of a pandemic, we have an opioid crisis, the economy is going to be a challenge, we’re going to face deficits in the future, I think we’re going to need someone with experience in Victoria.”
And, experience she has. After serving as trustee on the School District 57 board, she entered provincial politics in 2001 and has been the MLA ever since, holding a multitude of cabinet positions during that time and, mostly recently, sitting in Opposition.
“We need someone with a proven track record that can take the issues that matter to northern B.C. and take them to Victoria,” he said. “It is really hard to get our concerns heard in Victoria. I’ve always believed that our job to take the issues to Victoria not have Victoria send issues the other way.”
Not surprisingly, Bond is highly critical of Premier John Horgan’s decision to call an election in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and with the minority NDP government likely secure for another year, thanks to the Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Green Party.
“The only reason John Horgan is premier of British Columbia is because he signed that agreement,” said Bond. “Now he’s ripped that up and thrown it away.”
Bond said Horgan has taken advantage of how well Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry has managed the pandemic and decided to call an election. She said it’s important to note that Henry is non-partisan.
“We all support the work that Bonnie Henry has done,” she said. “… I think British Columbians feel that it’s been pretty well managed and that’s why he’s triggered an election. I think he should be up front about that … To suggest there were disruptions significant enough that we should be going to the polls in the middle of a pandemic simply isn’t credible.”
She said the Liberals supported $5 billion package to help British Columbians during the pandemic and, had they been in power, the measures taken to combat the pandemic would likely have been similar.
“(Bonnie Henry) is a non-partisan public servant so whoever would have been in government, she would have been the face of managing COVID,” she said. “We would be supportive of what our provincial health officer said, which is exactly what John Horgan and (Health Minister) Adrian Dix have done … and we would do that too.”
Earlier this year Bond Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson named Bond as finance critic and his first big campaign announcement was to nix the provincial sales tax for a year meaning Bond, the finance-minister-in-waiting will start with an estimated $6.9 billion hole in her budget. So, how will she manage that?
“The whole point of (eliminating the PST for a year) is to kick-start the economy,” Bond said. “It’s means small businesses that were at risk of closing have immediate support. It’s about making sure the economy is generating that revenue that they may have lost.”
The criticism of the plan is that it primarily benefits those have the ability to spend even during the pandemic. Bond says, however, it also helps those are struggling.
“It’s actually helps the working poor as well,” she said. “When you think about spending patterns, when their spending it’s a greater portion of their income that they’re spending. They’re going to feel that benefit.”
One of the other benefits, she said, is that it is immediate help.
“When you think about it from the forest sector perspective and the investment they need to make, removing the PST for a year can make an enormous difference for them as they re-invest in their own companies, their own workforce.”
It will, however, mean more provincial borrowing to fill the gap.
“Undoubtedly, there is going to be a bigger deficit as a result of that announcement,” she said. “We recognize that. But you also can sit on your hands and hope the economy is somehow going to get better. It won’t without initiatives like this that are designed to kick-start the economy.”
She said the NDP government is ignoring the revenue side of government and, instead is focussed on spending.
“(The NDP plan) is all about programs to provide support,” she said. “There is zero attention to the revenue side … We need to support small businesses. They are the heart of the economy and they are struggling to hang on right now. We need to look as a sustainable and a responsible way to develop natural resources in our province … That has been completely missing from the NDP agenda. You can’t just spend, you have to generate revenue.”
British Columbians go to the polls October 24. She will be challenged by NDP candidate Laura Parent and Green Party candidate Mackenzie Kerr.