Facing what she hopes will be her sixth-straight climb to a seat in the B.C. legislature, Shirley Bond declared her candidacy on Saturday as the province prepares for an imminent snap election call.
This one will be much different for the 63-year-old incumbent Prince George-Mount Robson MLA.
For the first time since she joined the Liberal party to enter provincial politics in 2001, Bond will be trying to defeat a sitting government as a member of the official opposition and she’ll be doing it without her most trusted advisor and most dedicated supporter - her husband Bill – who died of a stroke in June.
“I have never campaigned for anything without Bill by my side, so I’m under no illusions that for me personally this will be new, doing this without my best friend and life partner alongside me,” said Bond. “But I do know in my heart Bill also loved where we live and he would want strong and consistent leadership, someone who’s got a proven track record, so I’ve given it a lot of thought.
“Most people know I work very hard on behalf of my community and my constituents and I think they deserve that, and I hope I can gain their confidence one more time as we face a snap election. It’s going to be very difficult without Bill by my side but I have a great team and I’m going to do my best and hopefully the people of Prince George-Valemount will continue to have confidence in me.
“I have a real heartfelt desire to serve the community I love and that’s probably more important to me now, having lost Bill. He would want me to continue to serve my community to the best of my ability. He was alongside me at virtually every event that I attended and he passionately loved the community as well.”
Bond brings 16 years of experience as a cabinet minister under two premiers – Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark – and her portfolio runs the gamut, with ministerial stints in health services, education, advanced education, justice, transportation, infrastructure and public safety. In 2011 she became the first female attorney general in B.C. history after carrying the role as deputy premier for nearly six years, from 2004-2009.
“I feel very honoured to have served British Columbians in cabinet and having said that I now also have some opposition experience and that was a new and interesting transition for me, moving to the opposition bench,” said Bond.
“What I hope people recognize is I absolutely love where we live and my concern has always been that for region to get the benefit and support of the provincial government you need a really strong voice. You need people who will stand up and take issues to Victoria, not bring Victoria’s message home,” she said.
“We have a part of the province that is rich in natural resources, it’s rich in people resources and we deserve to be heard and we deserve to receive our equal and fair share and it takes a strong and passionate voice. That’s been my goal for my years of public service and I think I can still offer to do that on behalf of Prince George-Valemount residents.”
Since the NDP and Green Party formed a coalition to defeat the Liberal minority government weeks after the 2017 election, Bond has been part of the shadow cabinet as finance co-critic. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Bond says the parties have largely put aside their political differences during the pandemic to find solutions to the most significant challenge any government has had to face since the Second World War.
“The parties stood up to deal with the pandemic and there has been a lot of cross-party work to make sure our number 1 priority has been dealing with the health care crisis, but we also have to think about the economic health of the province,” Bond said. “We recognize there was a need to provide immediate and longer-term supports for families and small businesses and others in our province, leading to a historic deficit. What we also need to see is a plan for how we’re going to restore confidence and make sure people want to invest and grow their companies and hire people in British Columbia.
“In my time as finance (critic), that’s what I’ve been spending my time on, making sure we’re holding the government to account for the spending of billions of taxpayer dollars.”
Bond denounced the NDP’s pandemic stimulus package announced Thursday, which includes $1.5 billion in spending and $660 million in tax relief for businesses.
“Here we are with businesses hanging on by a thread and what we get is a thinly-veiled campaign document,” she said. “There are some programs that will likely provide benefit, but there are no details about how to apply and how it’s going to be effective. One of the things we asked for was a specific rural B.C. economic strategy and we’ve yet to hear anything about those kinds of things.”
Premier John Horgan’s NDP government still has one full year left in its mandate to govern the province ahead of the Oct. 16, 2021 fixed election date. To have the vote this year requires Horgan to break the coalition with the Greens which made him premier in June 2017. If an election is called, Bond says the timing of it in the midst of a pandemic is terrible, when people are being urged to avoid gatherings to try to limit the spread of the virus. She said it will make campaigning difficult for all candidates and many voters will have to mail in ballots, which will delay the outcome of the vote.
“We have fixed election dates and that is the law in British Columbia, and despite the law and an agreement he’s made with the Green Party to become premier, that can all be set aside just to go to an election in the hopes of gaining a majority government,” Bond said.
“That is enormously disappointing for me but I’ll have my running shoes on, ready to go with my team.”
If the writ is dropped, Bond said a campaign will preoccupy key politicians for the next 28-35 days, taking them away from what should be their priorities – the pandemic health crisis and the economy.
Before she won her first election as MLA in 2001, Bond served three terms as a Prince George school trustee. As a former health minister Bond helped pave the way for Prince George getting its own cancer clinic in 2012 and she will continue to push for healthcare improvements for the north central Interior region.
“Health care in northern B.C and ensuring we have cardiac care and the kind of facilities we deserve at University Hospital of Northern B.C. is absolutely a priority for me and it has been even when we were in government,” she said. “There needs to be significant investment in our hospital. We need a surgical tower and we also need to look at cardiac care. I still see far too many families and individuals dealing with having to send their loved ones somewhere else to deal with some cardiac procedure that they can deal with at home.”
On Sunday, the NDP government and B.C. treasury board approved a concept plan to build the new surgical tower which will include a cardiac care unit at a cost of $600-700 million.