By Fran Yanor / Legislative Reporter
In a year of dramatic personal and professional challenges, newly-elected Interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond had seven days to assign critic portfolios and will have seven more to prepare with her reconfigured opposition caucus for a shortened, but sure-to-be intense, winter legislative session.
“In the legislature, it’s a place of emotion and passion,” said Prince George-Valemount MLA Bond, elected Interim Liberal leader by her 27 caucus colleagues on Nov. 23. “People work hard to deal with the issues at hand and I have every confidence in the people in our caucus.”
With 13 fewer MLAs on the bench and a handful of longer-serving members unseated in the Oct. 24 election, Bond had to quickly orient herself to the new configuration of personalities and capacities and match them with the best-fitting critic portfolios.
“Just as ministers will be getting up to speed, our critics will be preparing themselves as well,” said Bond. “We intend to be vigorous in the legislature, to work hard, and ministers will be expected to know their files.”
A six-term MLA, Bond has held a range of major cabinet positions under successive Liberal governments, including Minister of Justice, Attorney General, Health, Jobs & Tourism, Labour, Education, Transportation and Infrastructure. Prior to the election, she was opposition finance critic and chair of the all-party legislative Public Accounts Committee.
“I’ve been engaged in public service for much of my life,” said Bond, who served on the local school board prior to her current 19-year career in provincial politics. But interim opposition leader is a new one.
A couple days after the election, former BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson announced he would step down as soon as a new leader could be chosen. A month later, he decided he wouldn’t wait for a new leader and would step aside immediately.
“He did what he believed was in the best interest of the party, and that was to step aside,” said Bond, who became B.C.’s official opposition leader two days later.
“Opposition leader Bond and I have worked together for 15 years, as adversaries admittedly,” said Premier John Horgan. “But we share a lot of commonalities. I have great respect for her and I like to think that it’s mutual.”
BC Greens Leader Sonia Furstenau has worked on files with Bond and other opposition members, a practice she hopes will continue under Bond’s leadership.
“Her experience and her political capacity is immense,” said Furstenau. “She has a big job on her hands.”
Priority one is becoming an effective opposition, said Bond. Second, is to work constructively with the party as they outline a process that will lead to a new permanent leader.
“We are at a transition point,” Bond said. “The party needs to be renewed.”
Liberals need to engage with supporters, members, and British Columbians at large, she said.
“We need to first look back and ask what happened,” said Bond. “We need to be in listening mode.”
A survey has already been sent to members, with thousands of responses so far, and an independent analysis will assess the strengths and weaknesses of the campaign. Then the party and caucus will need to look forward, asking people what matters most to them, said Bond.
“This is going to be transparent, it’s going to be thorough, and at times, there are going to be some uncomfortable questions and discussions,” Bond said.
“But that’s absolutely essential if we’re going to renew and rebuild the party.”
As far as her own candidacy goes, Bond is unequivocal.
“I have no aspirations or intention to consider permanent leadership.”
Meanwhile, there’s the job at hand. The winter legislative session begins Dec. 7.
“We may have a smaller number in caucus than we expected, but I’m very impressed with the skill sets,” said Bond, whose caucus shrank from 41 to 28 members. “We will be using those skills in the legislature.”
Top of the agenda are three major issues, said Bond, citing the COVID-19 health crisis, related economic recovery concerns, and the opioid crisis.
Rather than being overwhelmed by the tasks ahead, Bond seems energized, with a hint of bittersweet. Bill, her best friend and husband of 41 years, passed away in June. Bond deeply misses her mate and always will, she said, but the struggles of others have given her perspective.
“We are surrounded by people who are facing difficult circumstances at the moment, some much more difficult than mine,” she said. “That helps me put my own loss in context and also gives me motivation and drive.”
Legislators need to support families and individuals going through difficult times in the pandemic, such as small business owners are at risk of losing businesses, said Bond.
“I need to do my part to help provide that support, raise those issues, fight on their behalf,” she said.
Fran Yanor / Local Journalism Initiative / [email protected]