John Horgan is flanked by two prominent MLAs at swearing-in ceremony in May. Selina Robinson (left) is a likely pick for the new minister for mental health and addictions, and former B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jinny Sims (right) is a contender for education minister. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Heat on John Horgan to deliver on his promises

ANALYSIS: Bridge tolls, ferries among low-hanging fruit

After weeks of frustration at the slow change of government in B.C., premier-designate John Horgan has little time to spare in starting to deliver on his long list of campaign promises.

Even before appointing a cabinet and being officially sworn in, Horgan faces two big challenges: hiring and retaining senior staff to work with a fragile minority, and showing immediate results on the sweeping changes he has spent a decade demanding.

Horgan’s own stated priorities include visiting Ottawa and Washington D.C. to make the case for a new lumber trade deal with the U.S., but this is mainly public relations. It’s a federal matter, everything that can be done is being done, and Donald Trump’s U.S. is targeting B.C.’s existing log export restrictions.

B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark had her own suggestion for Horgan at Canada Day events in Kelowna. “It’s a good idea to expand child care, but we will have the ability to amend any bills they bring forward,” Clark said.

Legislation of any kind isn’t likely to begin until after Labour Day, but some of Horgan’s promises need only money. In the near term that’s not difficult, with a surplus estimated at $2.8 billion turned over by outgoing B.C. Liberal finance minister Mike de Jong.

Horgan will take pleasure in presiding over the demise of tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges. Spending the B.C. Liberal “fantasy fund” set up for natural gas export revenues will make it sweeter, and put off budget impact for at least a year.

BC Ferries offer another pleasant task that doesn’t weigh heavily on the budget. The NDP promised to cut fares by 15 per cent on minor routes, and reinstate free travel for seniors from Monday to Thursday, popular moves that leave the money-making major routes undisturbed.

Two of Horgan’s promises have self-imposed deadlines. The first is a mandatory fall sitting of the legislature, which is now dictated by events after the long wait for an election result. The surplus makes it relatively easy to impose a budget update with boosts to housing and education spending, leaving the heavy lifting of increasing taxes on high-income earners and business for a full budget next February.

The other self-imposed deadline is for a referendum on electoral reform, a key demand of B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver in exchange for his support on “supply and confidence” votes.

The referendum is to be held with next year’s municipal elections, which have a turnout around a third of eligible voters. That is set for November 2018, and Horgan’s main challenge will be to have his government survive that long.