In a year of dramatic personal and professional challenge, newly-elected Interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond had seven days to assign critic portfolios and has 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 Bond, elected interim Liberal leader by her 27 caucus colleagues on Nov. 23. “People work hard to deal with the issues at hand.”
With 13 fewer Liberal MLAs and a handful of longer-serving members unseated in the Oct. 24 election, Bond had to move at lightspeed to assess the new mix of personalities and capacities, and match them with the best-fitting critic portfolios.
“We may have a smaller number in caucus than we expected, but I'm very impressed with the skill sets,” said Bond, whose bench shrank to 28 members. “We will be using those skills in the legislature.”
Critic files were announced Nov. 30.
“Just as ministers will be getting up to speed, our critics will be preparing,” said Bond. “We intend to be vigorous in the legislature, to work hard, and ministers will be expected to know their files.”
Cabinet posts are something Bond knows well.
Besides serving as deputy premier, the six-term MLA for Prince George-Valemount has held major cabinet positions under successive Liberal governments, including Justice, Attorney General, Health, Jobs, 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 entering provincial politics. But interim opposition leader breaks new ground.
A couple days after the election, former BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson announced he would step down as soon as a new leader was chosen. A month later, he changed his mind, relaying his resignation via social media.
“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 opposition leader two days later.
“Bond is exactly the type of person and personality who can successfully lead the B.C. Liberals through their existential crisis in the run-up to the leadership contest,” wrote former Liberal strategist and now-political pundit Martyn Brown in an opinion piece for The Georgia Straight on Nov. 21.
Bond was a highly respected and supportive team player who spoke her mind and had a deep grasp of her portfolio issues, Brown wrote.
“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 and efficient 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 sent to members has elicited thousands of responses so far, and an independent analysis of the campaign will follow. Then the party needs 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.
A key priority for government will be passing COVID-19 relief legislation including Horgan's campaign promise of a one-time maximum $1,000 grant for eligible families or $500 for eligible individuals.
The COVID-19 health crisis and related economic recovery concerns, and the opioid crisis are top of the opposition's agenda, said Bond.
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 who are struggling in the pandemic, such as small business owners 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.