Adrian Dix should avoid an easy choice for speaker and get his MLAs to appreciate the arts
With the B.C. Liberals disintegrating, it's time to cast eyes on the next B.C. NDP government.
There are several areas of concern, but I'll focus on just two: the arts and the choice of speaker of the legislature.
When it comes to the arts, the NDP caucus and the leader, Adrian Dix, rely too often on Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert to do the heavy lifting.
Most other NDP MLAs with the very notable exception of Powell River–Sunshine Coast representative Nicholas Simons have not demonstrated a great deal of interest or passion for this topic.
The biggest threat to arts and culture in this province is if Chandra Herbert or Simons don't get this responsibility in cabinet. That's because there has been no indication that any other NDP MLAs are up to the job.
Dix can alleviate any concerns about his MLAs being Philistines by ensuring that more of them start showing up at cultural events around the Lower Mainland. By doing this, these MLAs will start seeing with their own eyes how arts and culture stimulate the economy, boost employment, and enrich our society.
If Dix appoints a minister who's familiar with the Vancouver arts community, he can avoid political headaches. Cultural workers don't need another Kevin Krueger, who accused the arts community of threatening him like a needle-waving junkie.
Kwan is a poor choice for speaker
The other matter concerns the next speaker of the legislature. The NDP caucus will be tempted to choose Jenny Kwan, who represents Vancouver-Mount Pleasant.
On the surface, it's easy to justify. She would be the first speaker of Chinese descent, which would be welcomed in the Chinese-language media. She is also the senior NDP MLA in caucus with 16 years in the legislature. In addition, Kwan is familiar with the house rules.
Conveniently for Dix, choosing Kwan as speaker would also mean that she wouldn't have to sit in caucus with former leader Carole James and all of her supporters, including NDP house leader John Horgan. They probably still haven't forgiven Kwan for her role in James losing the NDP leadership.
And if former Vancouver councillor George Chow wins the NDP nomination in Vancouver-Langara and gets elected to the legislature, Dix might be tempted to give him a junior cabinet post. Then he could make a big deal about having a cabinet minister and a speaker whose first language is Cantonese.
(Forget about Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking Vancouver-Fraserview NDP candidate Gabriel Yiu making cabinet after the 2013 election. He's too close to Kwan to make the grade with the Dix machine.)
The downside of Kwan becoming speaker is that the poorest neighbourhood in the province, the Downtown Eastside, would not have an advocate in the legislature or in the government caucus.
This is not the time to silence Kwan's voice with her peers. Gentrification of the Downtown Eastside is accelerating, thousands of tenants face the loss of single-room-occupancy hotel rooms in the coming years, and the poorest residents are ending up in shelters or on the streets.
There are alternatives to Kwan
When Dix starts looking for a speaker, there are lots of other MLAs with sufficient experience for the job. Vancouver-Hastings MLA Shane Simpson is one of the most fair-minded members of the legislature. He is a stickler for process, which is essential in a house speaker.
The caucus has already elected Simpson as chair, which demonstrates he has their respect.
Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming would be another good choice. He's intelligent and doesn't come across as partisan as some of his colleagues.
They're not the only ones. Norm Macdonald, Bruce Ralston, or Leonard Krog would all be capable speakers.
If Kwan ends up being offered the job, let's hope for the sake of her constituents that she turns it down. These days, perhaps more than ever before, they need an MLA in the governing caucus.