VANCOUVER — A former Liberal cabinet minister in British Columbia says he’s been mulling over his poverty reduction plan that was rejected by the party he once sought to lead.
George Abbott said the Liberals suddenly came up with their own plan in a throne speech last week but only as a strategic political move to win votes.
The throne speech came after the New Democrats and the Green party developed a plan to topple the Liberal party, which was defeated in a non-confidence vote in the legislature on Thursday after 16 years in power.
“I don’t think the Liberals made it any easier for themselves with the machinations around the throne speech,” Abbott said Friday. “If the aim was strategically to win the confidence of the Greens or perhaps random NDP members, it was entirely unsuccessful.”
Premier Christy Clark promised policies to reduce poverty including $1 billion alone in spending on child care spaces, drawing criticism that the action was more in line with traditional NDP principles following years of cuts. Many of the throne speech promises from the Liberal minority government came from the election platforms the NDP and Greens campaigned on in May.
Abbott, who held three cabinet posts as health, education and aboriginal relations minister, left politics before the 2013 election after placing third in a Liberal leadership contest won by Clark two years earlier.
He said the poverty reduction plan he proposed during the leadership campaign faced resistance in the Liberal party “for reasons I still really don’t understand.”
“I have always thought it made a lot of sense to have some focus on that objective but I wouldn’t have done it because strategically it was the clever thing to do, it was the right thing go do,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a way to make democracy perform as it should.”
Promising more social spending during the left-leaning throne speech only meant the Liberals “closed off some of the daylight” between themselves and the NDP, said Abbott, who is no longer a member of the Liberal party.
“Strategically, they may think that sets them up well for a near-term election but if there’s not a near-term election, if we’re looking at six months, a year, two years, it is going to be difficult for Ms. Clark, should she retain the leadership, to run again on what they offered up in the throne speech.”
Officials with the Liberal party could not be reached for comment but on Thursday, Clark defended the Liberal throne speech, saying the party reacted to what voters expressed in the election campaign.
“When we go into political combat we all acknowledge that sometimes we spend so much time fighting with one another in here that it’s hard to listen to what British Columbians want. And the throne speech is an answer to that,” she said in the legislature.
“It’s an answer to what voters told us on May 9. It’s an acknowledgment, a sincere acknowledgment, that we didn’t get it right. It is an expression of renewed priorities based on what voters told us.”
Abbott said now, the Liberal party is likely clinging to its resource development policies to create some distance between itself and the New Democrats, who are poised to take office.
Clark has been a heavy promoter of the Trans Mountain pipeline, liquefied natural gas and the Site C hydroelectric project on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia.
Premier-designate John Horgan has promised to fight expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline with every means available, driving a wedge between himself and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.
Hamish Telford, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley, said the Liberals’ throne speech promises were a failed policy gambit.
Telford said he predicts some grumbling on the social-policy shift among the Liberal party, which includes some conservative-leaning members previously with the now-defunct Social Credit party.
“I think (Clark) heard from the more liberal side, ‘Look, we were too stingy and that’s why we lost the election.’ Now she’s going to hear from the conservative side, saying: ‘We tried to outdo the NDP and failed and now we’re in a place where we’re not comfortable.’ “
— Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.
Camille Bains, The Canadian Press
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