It was an odd sight, even discombobulating at first – BC New Democratic Party MLAs filling desks to the right of the Speaker's chair in the provincial legislature, the long-time governing Liberals to the left.
Equally as incongruous was the sight of the gentleman in the Speaker's robes for this historic session of Parliament – a Liberal.
If it was a scene that took a few minutes for many to digest, NDP Premier John Horgan and his troops looked immediately at home on the government benches. How long they will wear the broad smiles and cocky grins that were evident on Friday as Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon read the Speech from the Throne remains to be seen.
There wasn't much new in the government's road map for the future. It was mostly a recitation of the laundry list of promises the NDP formulated during 16 years in Opposition, pledges that the party campaigned on this spring: campaign-finance reform; increases in education funding; measures to mitigate Metro Vancouver's housing affordability problem; forging a new relationship with Indigenous peoples; a commitment to electoral reform.
On it went. Throughout it all, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and his two MLAs – the NDP's partners in this government – often nodded approvingly. The Liberals remained stoned-faced , seemingly still coming to grips with the party's stunning reversal of fortune.
These are halcyon times for Mr. Horgan and his party. The opening months of this new government should mostly be fun, barring some unforeseen crisis. The life of an Opposition MLA can often be tedious and discouraging. Controlling the levers of power is what it's all about; the NDP now do. The measures the government plans to introduce in the coming months should mostly be popular ones. They inherit an enviable ledger sheet, too.
On Monday, when the New Democrats introduce an interim budget, we will see how they plan to spend more than $2-billion in money not forecast or budgeted for that flowed into the treasury over the last few months of the former government's tenure. What a delightful problem with which the NDP now has to grapple.
It must bring the Liberals to tears.
The governing agreement that the NDP has with Mr. Weaver's Greens looks solid and it's difficult imagining the government going out of its way to test its durability – at least in the short term. The two parties have far more in common than on which they disagree. Liberal insiders still believe the partnership is vulnerable, but that seems more wishful thinking than anything.
As well, the NDP-Green alliance has governing certainty it didn't have a month ago. Where it looked for a time as if the New Democrats would have to use one of their own to put in the Speaker's chair, someone who would routinely have to cast a vote to break a 43-43 tie in the legislature, that eventuality is no longer imminent now that Liberal MLA Darryl Plecas stunned everyone by taking the job. The government, with the help of the Greens, will have a 44-41, three-seat cushion, at least until a by-election is held to fill former Liberal leader Christy Clark's Kelowna seat. That doesn't have to take place for six months.
Mr. Plecas, whose protestations over Ms. Clark's leadership precipitated her resignation, was admonished by interim Liberal leader Rich Coleman for "betraying" his party. The Liberals know what this now means – they could be in Opposition for four long years.
The NDP's Speaker ploy changes the political calculus in the province dramatically.
Much of how the NDP is perceived will rest with Mr. Horgan. This is his government; his popularity with the public will either boost his party's fortunes or erode them immeasurably. While it's early days, the new Premier has generally exceeded expectations.
His low-key, limelight-averting style has been a welcome respite from the incessant campaigning and self-promotion of the previous occupant of his office. We will see whether Mr. Horgan maintains his modest, unassuming ways after a few months of enjoying his new chauffeured lifestyle. He has also done an admirable job of keeping his legendary Irish temper under wraps. Being Premier, with all the potential trouble the job entails, may test his newfound equanimity.
A new era in B.C. politics officially got under way this week. How the NDP handles the responsibility it has been given and long sought, will be fascinating to see.