December 9, 1999
My Night in BC Politics - THE COMMENTARY
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER - Last night’s debate at Tupper by the four declared NDP leadership hopeful’s, made for an interesting evening. I got there just before seven and found myself standing in the foyer amongst a throng of people. People who were NDPers, left-wing demagogues and typical BC folk, BC that is, when it’s the East side of Vancouver. I was standing there watching the soaking crowd file into the building, when I noticed who I was standing next to. None other than Judi Tyabji-Wilson, who was waiting for her co-captain (Despite they’re financial difficulties, they just bought a boat.) Gordon to come. We briefly met eyes and she acknowledged my mere mortal existence, while folks came up to her and congratulated her on her recent civic election win in Powell River. The first hard-core lefty I spotted was none other than BC Fed, president Jim Sinclair who, too was trying to get dry before hitting the auditorium. Joy MacPhail tried to make a grand entrance, when I notice Ujjal Dosanjh talking intently to some party faithful. Joy was trying to find a place to, “Ditch this umbrella.”
Gordon did slip in and met up with his flacks and his Judi. I overheard them comment on the “good” turnout, as Mrs. Wilson tried to cajole an old friend to ask a question. I made my way to the auditorium to look at the audience. The audience was filled with mostly middle aged to retired folks who have deep roots in labour and the sort. I found my seat in the left orchestra portion of the auditorium which was now turned into a media frenzied-up arena for political debate, albeit that it was staged by the lickspittles of the party. The colours of the NDP were spread across the stage, with Ujjal Dosanjh’s mug pasted around the walls of that room. His people had very smartly placed a Dosanjh pamphlet on every seat of the room, and as I got into my seat picking up the brochure, I had a Joy MacPhail flack thrust a coloured Joy one into my hands. The Dosanjh team wins kudos for shameless publicity. It also happened to be in the area where the Pro-Joyers had chosen to plant, so I did hear some interesting conversation. They too, like the Wilson’s had tried to convince some NDPers to ask tailored questions, and I heard them comment on how happy they were that they were the only group to have a coloured brochure. Like that helped them any.
The cameras were getting set up, BCTV’s Keith Baldrey strolled in, ever so newsman like, as did Lisa Rossington of VTV who was wearing the exact same outfit she wore the night before covering the Delta-South by-election. She looked more like she was going skiing than covering British Columbian politics. I noticed Women’s Equality minister Jenny Kwan take her seat within spitting distant of mine, while Tourism Minister the snappy Ian Waddell get through a throng of people to his seat near the front. Joy MacPhail was deep in the trenches, talking to people, smiling that striking smile of hers, sitting next to people in the house talking shop. Gordon Wilson strolled amongst the front row of watchers, talking up a mild storm without breaking a smile or any sort of expression on his mug. Corky Evans came in and stood feet from Ujjal Dosanjh, both not exchanging even a glance while talking to the group of assistants they’ve assembled for the night. The Vancouver Sun’s brilliant columnist Vaughn Palmer retreated from the press corps table at the front of the stage to the back of the room, with cell phone in tote.
NDP president Bruce Ralston took to the podium and instructed the candidates to take their places at their respective lecterns. Ujjal Dosanjh was very helpful in distributing water in ugly purple glasses to all of his fellow debaters, except Gordon Wilson. The stage looked like this: Stage left, the NDP’s hand picked panel of a member of the Young New Democrats and a member of the NDP’s Women’s Right’s sub-committee. The NDP sign in the back, with the four candidates centre stage and NDP president Ralston in the main podium, stage left.
Of the opening statements, Wilson was first, followed by Dosanjh, MacPhail and Evans. Wilson was strong, he won that audience over with that eloquent, but unwavering charisma he has in his speech delivery. Mrs. Wilson and crew applauded ever-so loudly as they sat behind, near my seat. Dosanjh was a little bland, while MacPhail tried to act like a jokey clown, and not because she’s got red hair. All of them referred to their loss in Delta-South the night before, expressing their need to rebuild the party after that pathetic loss. Corky Evans was perhaps the best of the opening speeches. To me, he represented the NDP and its left-wing at its very finest. He appealed not only to the unionists and tradespeople in the audience, but to the yuppie and middle aged city folk who’ve come all the way from Vancouver Burrard, and Vancouver Hastings, but from the North Shore to Aldergrove. One man, a party exec who sat to my right, just came in from Prince George. Evans was very good, humorous at times, as well as positive and hopeful. He won that audience over, some of whom stood up in ovation at his unique and moving speech. Is sounded like preaching from a pulpit.
That was followed by terribly soft pitches lobbed so softly from the panel, then to some nearly as soft questions from the audience. The lines were long to the mikes, and even with two, Ralston cut off the mikes before even half could query the leaders. Nurses union president Cathy Ferguson stood in line for a half an hour, but had to return to her seat when she found out she couldn’t ask her question.
Perhaps the highlight of the night, in terms of the media, would be the drama that unfolded at the mike. Ralston had told the audience that the next in line to ask a question could not, because he was not an NDP member. The man, one Roderick Lewis, a mental health advocate, was asked to leave the mike but adamantly refused. At which point a loud and disruptive discussion erupted between Lewis and Ralston, by then all the four major TV outlets had their cameras descending on Lewis, and Ralston to avoid criticism, allowed Lewis to speak his mind. While Lewis was going on and on about his mental illness binge, NDP rank and file were berating and using expletives to try and drown out Lewis. It was a moment of high drama indeed, as I noticed the police at the doors to the auditorium.
The race is now between Wilson and Dosanjh. Dosanjh and MacPhail were exchanging plesantries all throughout the debate, which it really wasn’t. It was more of a townhall meeting or an NDP pitch night. MacPhail even nudged Dosanjh to take note of her son Jack’s presence in the room. Evans and MacPhail were pretty chummy. All three, none of whom displayed any of the sort to Wilson. Both Wilson and Dosanjh made very direct references to each other, thus proving that these are the two candidates with the best chances. MacPhail will probably place strongly in a first ballot, and I see her throwing her support to Dosanjh. Wilson will place well ahead of Evans, but Evans votes will be nothing to snuff off. He will win a ton of support from the rural parts of this province, and keeping in mind what he had to say tonight and his mannerisms, he will win a lot of grassroots NDP support.
Wilson could easily win the convention if he gets either Evans’ or MacPhail’s support on the 20th. But considering the policy stands that Dosanjh has taken, and their similarities to those of Evans and MacPhail. Dosanjh could handily win the NDP leadership.
As I slipped out of the auditorium I avoided the BCTV and CBC cameras. One man that did talk, was asked his opinion on who won the debate. He said, “The people of British Columbia.” From now till February the 20th, lets hope so.
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An archive of Joseph Planta's previous columns can be found by clicking HERE .