Politics

Vaughn Palmer: NDP in glee as United and Conservative MLAs hack at each other

Opinion: The centre-right infighting boosts NDP odds of being re-elected

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VICTORIA — While press gallery members were sequestered in the budget lockup recently, Opposition leader Kevin Falcon used his starting spot in question period to plead for unvaccinated health-care workers.

B.C. was on the verge of becoming the last province in Canada and the only jurisdiction in North America to exclude unvaccinated health-care workers “from their own health care system,” Falcon observed.

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Would the New Democrats lift their “nonsensical and divisive” ban and “rehire the health care workers they fired?”

He put the question to Premier David Eby, but Health Minister Adrian Dix answered.

“The vaccine mandate referred to by the leader of the Opposition is one that the opposition, by the way, the B.C. United opposition, called for and applauded when it was introduced,” he reminded the house.

It arose from an order by the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, “who is a world-leading scientist and an extraordinary officer.”

Also one who, at mid-pandemic, said that health-care professionals who don’t recognize the efficacy of vaccines ought to consider a different line of work.

“The purpose of that provincial health order was to protect the most vulnerable British Columbians during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dix continued.

“We continue to act to protect patients in British Columbia from COVID-19. There are people living, in hospital right now with COVID-19, in the hundreds in British Columbia.”

So much for policy.

Dix then delivered a strong dose of politics.

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“Just because the leader of the Opposition wants to overturn a public health act, which was introduced under a B.C. Liberal government, because of some sort of race to the bottom amongst opposition parties, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to continue to respect the provincial health officer and her orders.”

The “race to the bottom” was a reference to how B.C. Conservative leader John Rustad has also been calling on the government to reinstate unvaccinated workers — “health care heroes,” as he calls them.

But Falcon, in a gesture of one-upmanship, claims he staked out that position before Rustad.

“I just want to remind this House that I was the first leader to call for the return of thousands of unvaccinated health care workers back on June 22, 2022, nearly two years ago.”

The B.C. United leader and the health minister went at it a second time.

Falcon, after claiming that B.C. was losing unvaccinated health care workers to Alberta and the U.S., asked when will the New Democrats “bring back these health-care workers and help our health-care system today?”

Dix: “The facts are the facts: 99 per cent-plus health care workers in British Columbia got vaccinated, because getting vaccinated was good for them and good for patients.”

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He took a second partisan shot, echoing the first: “When our provincial health officer makes a decision around vaccines, we don’t start by applauding it and then turning around afterwards because the Conservative Pparty is advocating and making a different approach.”

Rustad has been pushing this issue hard since he became leader a year ago. It has created appearances on this and other issues that the two-member Conservative caucus is setting the agenda for the 26 B.C. United MLAs.

You might call it a case of “tail wags dog.”

Except, according to the opinion polls, while the B.C. Conservatives are behind in the seat count, they are well ahead in voter preference.

So which party is the tail and which the dog?

The rivalry has generated an increasingly toxic relationship between the two centre right parties on the floor of the legislature.

In question period on Thursday, Conservative house leader Bruce Banman was using his slot to berate the New Democrats over the gaps in the health care system that contributed to the tragic death of Sophia, a 23-year-old Nanaimo woman.

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Then, suddenly, he swung round and pointed an accusing finger at his former colleagues in B.C. United.

“As we have heard in this house,” said Banman, evidently quoting the New Democrats, “the leader of the Opposition was the one that made the cuts to B.C.’s health-care system that got B.C.’s health-care system to this point.”

The accusation brought an explosion of indignation from the B.C. United members, who sit on the same side of the house as the Conservatives, separated only by a sort-of political DMZ made up of the two Green MLAs.

The main purpose of question period is holding the government to account. But here were the Conservatives and B.C. United doing the deed to each other.

The New Democrats took in all of this with undisguised glee, rightly concluding that they could take the rest of the day off so long as the Opposition parties were hacking away at each other.

The dynamic in the house these days provides the government with an insurance policy of sorts, should the NDP’s long-standing lead in the opinion polls begin to falter as the fall election campaign heats up.

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The New Democrats could still win big against a pair of Opposition parties that are more effective at needling each other than they are at keeping the government on the defensive.

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