Last year was a mixed one for Penticton MLA Dan Ashton, who maintained his seat in Victoria and even got a promotion within the B.C. Liberals, while his party was unable to maintain government.
After working in various roles in government in his first term, including as secretary to the minister of finance most recently and previously as parlementary secretery to the minister of energy and mines and core review, Ashton was included in interim party leader Rich Coleman’s shadow cabinet in August.
Named Indigenous relations critic, Ashton sits across the aisle from B.C.’s Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser.
On that file, Ashton already had a contentious issue to consider with Site C — the majority of First Nations impacted by the project, recently re-approved by the NDP, have come to an agreement with the B.C. government for the project to go forward, and Ashton’s own party is in favour of the project.
But on the other hand, two of the Treaty 8 First Nations whose lands will be flooded by the dam have also come out swinging against it, and they are backed by both the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations.
“How I reconcile it is because there was a lot of agreements in place with the bands in the area,” Ashton said in a year-end interview with the Western News.
“Premier (John) Horgan made the right decision for all British Columbians. Some in his party think that — and some outside of his party — think he made the wrong decision, but the premier made the right decision for this province.”
Ashton said those First Nations that have signed agreements with the B.C. government will be seeing a windfall from the project.
“To those that feel that the wrong decision was made, in my opinion the right decision was made for the majority of British Columbians.”
More generally, Ashton said he was finding his groove in his critic seat, adding he has a good working relationship with Fraser.
One thing he said the B.C. government will need to take an active role in with First Nations in the province is engagement, particularly with the NDP adopting the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“I had asked the premier about UNDRIP and what it’s going to mean to the citizens of British Columbia, and he had said to me it’s not a veto,” Ashton said. “It means that we have to sit down, we have to work through this, and that’s very important and that has to happen.”
The Penticton MLA maintained his seat for a second term in the B.C. Legislature in the May 2017 election, and even took it with more than 50 per cent of the votes in the riding, a feat he couldn’t manage in his first election in 2013, when he faced up against now-member of Parliament Richard Cannings.
“Personally, I would prefer to be in government, because I think I can deliver better being in government. It’s a bit different, now; you don’t have direct access to the ministers because you’re not in your caucus meetings,” Ashton said.
But on the other hand, Ashton’s party, the B.C. Liberals, took the most votes and the most seats in the election, but ultimately failed to gain confidence in legislature, when the B.C. NDP teamed up with the B.C. Green Party in an agreement to maintain John Horgan as the party leader.
“But everything seems to be working very well in Victoria, and as most people know I’m not really super political. I like good governance and that’s what I practice, and I have a good working relationship on both sides of the house,” Ashton said.
“Whether you voted for me or not, or whether you voted for the Liberal Party or whatever, I’m here to represent you and I do my best.”
With former premier and Liberal Party leader Christy Clark now out of the picture, Ashton said it has been a time for introspection for the party as it builds up to the leadership vote in early February.
“It’s given the party the opportunity to reinvigorate itself and come back and come forward. I still think overall for people like myself … the Liberals in their past 16 years have delivered an awful lot to the citizens of British Columbia,” Ashton said.
“However, now there’s a different government in place and it’s incumbent on people like myself to be able to work with that government. Number one as opposition critic is to hold their feet to the fire.”