Top 10 provincial political news stories of 2017 in B.C.

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      This was the most dramatic year in provincial politics since the election of the first NDP government led by Dave Barrett in 1972. That led to the creation of ICBC, the Agricultural Land Reserve, the B.C. Ambulance Service, and long-lasting improvements in social-welfare and human-rights legislation.

      It remains to be seen how far-reaching the changes will be under B.C.'s newest premier, John Horgan, but he's already left a big mark on the province with some of his early decisions.

      Below, you can read my list of the top 10 provincial political stories of 2017 in B.C.

      1. B.C. election

      It was the closest election in B.C.'s modern history, with just 1,566 votes separating the B.C. Liberals from the NDP by the time all of the ballots were counted.

      The B.C. Liberals won 43 seats, just one shy of a majority, and the NDP took 41 constituencies, including many in Metro Vancouver's outer suburbs.

      The Greens ended up holding the balance of power with three seats. Had the B.C. Liberals taken one more seat, Christy Clark would still be premier today.

      These were the signatures that changed the future of B.C. politics.

      2. Agreement between the B.C. Green and NDP caucuses

      The confidence and supply agreement reached between the Green and NDP caucuses was a critical element in Lieut.-Gov. Judith Guichon's decision to ask John Horgan to form a government and become premier.

      Guichon rejected a request from Clark to remain premier so that the B.C. Liberal government would fall in a nonconfidence vote in the legislature.

      The agreement ensures that Green MLAs will be consulted and there will be "no surprises".

      Both caucuses committed to work in good faith to campaign in support of an agreed-upon form of proportional representation and to introduce sweeping campaign-finance reforms banning corporate and union donations.

      They also pledged to reform the rules around lobbying and refer the Site C dam to the B.C. Utilities Commission for an independent review.

      Green MLAs have agreed to support the NDP minority government on budget and confidence bills but are free to vote with their conscience on all other matters. This agreement created the possibility of a long-lasting NDP government.

      Attorney General David Eby introduced the most far-reaching bill of the fall session, which banned big money from B.C. politics.

      3. Campaign finance reform finally comes to B.C.

      On November 22, Bill 3 passed third reading, which will change the nature of provincial politics for years to come. 

      Otherwise known as the Election Amendment Act, 2017, it bans corporate and union political contributions and ensures that fundraisers at private residences could not charge any individual more than $100 to attend.

      Maximum fees of $350 are now imposed to attend political party leadership conventions, new rules have been introduced around anyone who wants to give money to a political party in their will, and political contributions cannot exceed $250 at individual party fundraisers.

      Total annual donations per person have been capped at $1,200 per year. The Wild West era of B.C.'s uncapped political contributions is over.

      The bill provides a "transitional annual allowance for political parties" over five years to help them adjust to the new rules.

      To obtain this subsidy, parties must have received at least two percent of the provincial votes or five percent in the constituencies in which they fielded candidates. This means that any new parties won't be eligible and the money will only go to the NDP, B.C. Liberals, and Greens before the next election.

      That provision drew criticism from some, including Georgia Straight contributor Martyn Brown, who wrote a lengthy article explaining the implications of all the changes.

      The Site C dam will be the third large hydroelectric power plant along the Peace River in northeastern B.C.

      4. NDP government decides to complete Site C dam

      In a decision that upset some NDP voters, Premier John Horgan announced that B.C. Hydro will complete construction of the Site C dam along the Peace River in northeastern B.C.

      Horgan said that the dam is now expected to cost $10.7 billion. When a former premier, Gordon Campbell, first started talking about developing the Site C dam in 2009, the estimated cost was between $5 billion and $6.6 billion.

      Horgan defended the decision as being in the best interests of all British Columbians, even though domestic demand for electricity in B.C. has been flat for more than a decade.

      A B.C. Utilities Commission review concluded that $2.1 billion had already been spent on the dam. There were conflicting numbers over the total reclamation costs, with the premier saying it would be $1.8 billion whereas a report by Deloitte suggested it might be $1.1 billion.

      The premier claimed that cancelling the dam would inevitably lead to an immediate 12 percent hike in electricity rates or a sharp increase in provincial debt-servicing costs, preventing the government from building schools, hospitals, and paying for childcare.

      Critics of the dam questioned the truth of this statement. They've made the case that the Site C dam leaves B.C. Hydro ratepayers extremely vulnerable if renewable-energy prices continue falling sharply in the years to come. 

      They also say it has set back reconciliation efforts with First Nations who oppose the flooding of traditional territories for electricity that could be generated through other means.

      In her final speech to the legislature, Christy Clark defended her government's decision to build the Site C dam.

      5. Christy Clark resigns as leader of the B.C. Liberal party

      It came as a shock to many when Christy Clark suddenly announced in late July that she would step down as party leader on August 4 and resign her Westside Kelowna seat in the legislature.

      This gave the NDP minority government a little more breathing room as the B.C. Liberal seat count was reduced to 42. It also set off a B.C. Liberal leadership contest, which will conclude with the election of a new leader in the first week of February.

      John Horgan is surrounded by some of the MLAs who benefited from the NDP promise to ban bridge tolls.

      6. NDP promises to eliminate bridge tolls

      This was the big bang that turned the tide for the NDP on the first official day of campaigning.

      On April 9, the B.C. Liberals announced a $500 cap on annual road tolls for motorists using the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges. This same ceiling was also going to be applied to the new Pattullo and Massey crossing bridges.

      Later that day, Horgan announced that an NDP government would eliminate tolls on the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges.

      These two bridges generated $184 million in toll revenue in 2015-16 and also needed to be heavily subsidized by TransLink and the B.C. government to meet debt-servicing costs.

      The NDP promise played a significant role in the party capturing seats in Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge, Maple Ridge-Mission, Surrey-Fleetwood, Surrey-Panorama, Surrey-Guildford, and Delta North.

      And when the NDP government declared that it was going to complete the Site C dam, B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver pointed out that the promise to scrap bridge tolls cost just as much as would have been spent cancelling that megaproject.

      So in effect, this election pledge on April 9 set the stage for two of the biggest political stories of the year: the NDP winning the election and then proceeding with a controversial project that alienated some of its own supporters.

      Earlier this year, then finance minister Mike de Jong introduced the B.C. Liberals' fifth consecutive balanced budget.

      7. B.C. has balanced budget for fifth straight year

      The B.C. Liberals put a premium on never running deficits during the Christy Clark era and they kept this promise with their fifth straight balanced budget in February.

      The premier and the finance minister, Mike de Jong, also promised to cut medical-services premiums by 50 percent in 2018 for those with household incomes below $120,000.

      An additional $740 million was being put into education and $4.2 billion into health over the next three years, setting the stage for the B.C. Liberals to win the election by marketing themselves as prudent fiscal managers.

      But the ruling party likely didn't anticipate how much it had been hurt by rapidly rising housing prices, which put homeownership out of reach for many millennial voters.

      The NDP also shrewdly played the corruption card in the period leading up to the election campaign, highlighting how the lack of campaign-finance reform was creating an unlevel playing field that benefited large donors to the B.C. Liberal party.

      In the end, the NDP's strategy worked—barely. But had the B.C. Liberals retained control of the government by winning one more seat, the party's fiscal record would have been cited as the reason for this success.

      Tim Irvin/Raincoast Conservation

      8. B.C. government bans almost all grizzly bear hunting

      For nearly two decades, conservationists have fought to end B.C.'s grizzly bear hunt after it was reinstated by former premier Gordon Campbell.

      Even Miley Cyrus joined the campaign. But the B.C. Liberals remained adamant: they weren't going to stop this annual slaughter, no matter how much international pressure was applied.

      Shortly after taking office, the NDP government kept its promise to eliminate the "trophy hunting" of grizzlies, but that still left loopholes for people to shoot these bears and send photos of the corpses over social media.

      Following more consultation, Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman announced a near complete ban on hunting grizzlies this month.

      The only exceptions would be for First Nations people who wanted to kill these animals for food, social, or ceremonial purposes or because they had obtained this right through a treaty.

      The announcement was welcomed by environmentalists.

      “We can bearly believe it! This is tremendous news,” Joe Foy, campaigns director with the Wilderness Committee, said in a news release.

      Darryl Plecas infuriated interim B.C. Liberal Leader Rich Coleman by donning the house speaker's cap and gown.

      9. Darryl Plecas volunteers to become speaker

      On September 8, the B.C. Liberal caucus was further reduced to 41 members when the MLA for Abbotsford South, Darryl Plecas, defied interim leader Rich Coleman and put his name forward to become speaker of the legislature. 

      The NDP caucus jumped at the chance of making Plecas the speaker because it offered the prospect of a more stable minority government.

      As speaker, Plecas's MLA salary of $105,881.83 is supplemented with another $52,940.92 per year. The former criminology professor can only cast votes to break ties.

      Linda Higgins worked alongside NDP MLA Nicholas Simons before he went into provincial politics, but she vehemently denied she was an NDP plant.

      10. #IamLinda

      All that Sunshine Coast resident Linda Higgins wanted to do was talk to Christy Clark as the premier was campaigning at a North Vancouver grocery store in late April.

      But the premier brushed her off in full view of the TV cameras. Later, her closest supporters described Higgins as an NDP plant.

      That caused a wave of negative media coverage from the press gallery and other journalists, who leapt to the woman's defence.

      All these stories took the B.C. Liberals off their campaign message for a few days and the result was fatal for the ruling party.

      It also likely played a role in the defeat of the B.C. Liberal MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale, Naomi Yamamoto, which gave the GreeNDP alliance the balance of power in the legislature.