After five years as caucus chair for the BC Liberal Party, Fraser-Nicola MLA has stepped down from that role, but stepped up to take another. She was recently named the new Official Opposition Critic for Regional Economic Development and Small Business, and says that she is excited to be taking on the new role.
“I had indicated that I would not be running for caucus chair this year, but said I was interested in taking on a critic’s role. I’m very honoured by the role [Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson] has put me in as we deal with recovery.”
She will be working with MLAs Jas Johal and Ben Stewart in the role, and says they will make a great team.
“My specific area is regional economic development and small business; areas I’ve always been very interested in in all my work. I think that small business is a key part of the recovery from COVID-19. We’ve had round-tables around the province with small and medium businesses who don’t know how they’ll survive, and we’ve put suggestions in to the government, but had no response.”
She says that Sept. 30, when deferred business taxes are due, is a critical date.
“I’ve heard people say that if [the government] doesn’t forgive these taxes they don’t know what they’ll do. It’s a critical time. A great many people are facing unemployment with CERB coming to an end. We could have a crisis, and government is closing its eyes and ears to concerns and hoping it won’t happen.
“I can’t see how it won’t, and I think this portfolio will be exceedingly important as we try to restart the economy of the province.”
Tegart says she had a number of conversations with Wilkinson, the chief of staff, and others about a new role.
“It’s their job to take a look at where everyone is and what team Andrew wants moving forward. We haven’t had a lot of changes in critics, and when I indicated I wasn’t running for caucus chair I think that opened things up a little. I’ve always been interested in how we support small businesses, particularly in less urban areas. I’m really excited about the role I get to play, hopefully over the next nine months, but it could be the shortest critic’s role in history if [Premier John Horgan] calls an election next week.”
She says there are a number of indicators that Horgan is considering his options, which include calling a snap election (the next scheduled provincial election is not until October 2021). “I’m absolutely standing as a nominee for the Liberals in Fraser-Nicola, and hope to be the Liberal candidate. In the last election [in 2017] if you were the incumbent and were interested in running and hit the right criteria, then you would be the incumbent nominee.
“But you don’t necessarily get it ‘just because’. You have to work for it.”
Tegart says that if the election is next October, that gives a lot of leeway and time to get funds and a team in place.
“If it comes next week we need to be ready. The Liberals in Fraser-Nicola have done a lot of work already. We have a very strong executive, a campaign manager, we’re putting a team together. We’re ready to go when [the NDP is] ready to go.”
She says she’s pleased that the NDP have named their candidate in the riding, Aaron Sumexheltza, whose appointment by the B.C. NDP caused all 13 members of the riding association to resign in protest last weekend.
“I try to stay out of their local politics, but if that’s a team then they’re in trouble,” she notes. “No matter who our candidate is, we work hard, and hope people will judge us on the work we’ve done. We have projects on the go and lots more to come.”
Tegart feels that the NDP has, in the past, taken Fraser-Nicola for granted.
“They thought they had it wrapped up, and we worked really hard to get the support of people in the riding. We’ll continue to do that. Fraser-Nicola has been seen as a swing riding since 2013 for sure. The numbers have always been tight, and last election the boundaries were changed [Princeton was removed from the riding, while Hope was added], so you never take anything for granted. You work like you’re running from behind, give people a good strong choice, and hope you’ve done enough. In order to serve the people of Fraser-Nicola you need to show them you’ll do the work.”
Whenever an election is called, Tegart says she is ready to hit the ground, whatever that looks like.
“Running an election during COVID-19 is not like running an election at another time, so we’ll wait and see what the guidelines are from Dr. Bonnie Henry. We don’t believe this is the time to call an election, but [the NDP] seems to want to go forward, so we’ll see what the Premier does.
“I hope everyone is staying safe as we prepare for perhaps a second wave of COVID-19 late in fall and during the winter. I know 2020 has been a long year, and I hope that if people need help they reach out.”