After a dozen years on the outside looking in, Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy is ready for her party to take the reins of power in Victoria.
“It’s exciting, we’re ready to govern and have lots to do,” Conroy said.
Conroy, who was first elected in 2005, was in the legislature last Thursday and took part in the historic fall of the BC Liberals, when the NDP and Greens joined forces to defeat the government in a vote of non-confidence.
“At first it was quiet in the chamber, which is unusual,” she recalled. “Then we all started clapping and hugging each other. Then the gallery erupted — which is highly unusual, you are supposed to be on your best behaviour up there. But people were so excited.”
And the joy was not just in the legislature, Conroy says. People in her Kootenay West riding — where she won 59 per cent of the vote in the May 9 election — have told her they’re delighted with the change.
“It’s been 16 years and people recognize that life is getting harder, and more expensive, and there’s time for a change in the province,” she said.
“People were really excited. I got lots of hugs, lots of congratulations, lots of questions — what’s going to happen, what’s the next step, what’s happening with cabinet?”
With just four MLAs outside the Lower Mainland, it’s expected Premier John Horgan will have to give his rural representatives greater roles in the new government. The work to choose who gets those plum jobs was underway even before the non-confidence vote was taken. Conroy says she was asked by Horgan and his team what she wanted to do.
“Because I am a rural person, I grew up in rural B.C., and understand rural B.C., I told them I would like to lead a ministry that would make a difference to rural B.C.,” she recalled.
“That would be what we call the ‘dirt’ ministries, a resource ministry. So I said I’d like Energy and Mines, or Highways and Transportation, or Forestry, Lands and Natural Resources, or Agriculture.”
Even if a cabinet post is not in the offing, with cabinet secretary posts, caucus executive positions and even her old job as party whip available, Conroy says she’s ready to work anywhere on the team.
“Its up to John and I will serve how John asks me,” she says.
The transition to power has a steep learning curve, Conroy is finding out, and expectations are already growing.
“I’ve already had people say ‘you have to do this, you have to do that,’ which is fine, that’s what being part of government is about,” she says. “But people also recognize we first have to address the priority areas, and look at the books.”
She says the new government has to have a proper accounting, to see if the province really is in a surplus position, as former premier Christy Clark claimed just before the government was defeated.
”We want to make sure money is there, to drill down in the ministries, and see what has been promised,” she says.
While she may be in power at last — and have a bigger office as a result — Conroy doesn’t see her job representing the Kootenay West riding as being all that different now.
“I don’t think it will change,’ she says. “I still have incredible passion for job. It will allow us to effect change, make life more affordable for people. We need to help create good family-supporting jobs here in our area, not just in one corner of the province.
“For too long it’s been about wealthy people getting ahead, B.C. Liberal policy have made it easier for those people to get ahead. For the rest of us it has been tougher. That’s got to change.”
But a lot has to be done before that happens, including seeing who’s in cabinet, and getting up to speed on government policy and procedures.
“I just want to get started, get to work,” she says. “It’s an exciting process.”