Sunday, 12 September 2004
The rise of the BC Conservatives?
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER -- Last week, I spoke with Blake MacKenzie, a representative of the BC Alternative Task Force, the group that's pushing for the merger between the BC Unity and BC Conservative parties, which when formed would take the name of the latter. (During the interview, which you can listen to at thecommentary.ca/ontheline, I neglected to give their web address: http://www.bcalternative.com.)
At face value, cynics point that Unity, which failed to crack 4% in the last election, is but continuing its existence by hijacking the BC Conservative name, hoping to cash in on brand recognition. Which, if we were to pursue that argument would be a bit silly considering the whole unite-the-right initiative federally, did not yield a result that resembled the percentages gained by the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties previously.
Mr. MacKenzie however made some salient points. The dissatisfaction had in this province with the current BC Liberal government led by Gordon Campbell is prevalent within not only left-leaning British Columbians, but also those of a right wing bent. Many on the right, including myself, have never been comfortable with the agenda as pursued by the BC Liberals. There are those who see not only a neo-conservative agenda within the Campbell camp, but also more and more those connections between their federal namesakes, the Liberals, despite all talk to the contrary.
The idea proffered by my BC Conservative guest last week, that there are those on the right, who do not believe in the idea that free enterprise for free is particularly effective or beneficial, is a strong one. The government has tied the idea of economic prosperity with the involvement of private enterprise, BC Rail, chiefly exampled. And, when the left and the right, seem to be in concurrence with the idea that something is awry with that thinking, then perhaps something is wrong.
I did not vote for the BC Liberals in the last election. I wasn't enamoured of the NDP, not in the least, but because it seemed as if the Gordon Campbell juggernaut would sweep all seats, I thought the NDP was the logical choice to provide some opposition in the legislature. (Also, against my better judgement, I thought the NDP candidate was a good choice.) The ideas that Gordon Campbell and his party espoused however, were ones that I had no objection too. I just felt their name, BC Liberal, was a mode of convenience, and perhaps we all would have been more comfortable had they a less erroneous name.
With the emergence of a BC Conservative Party, there is now a real third choice in this coming election; and that's welcome considering there were many seeking a third-party choice, but not willing to vote Green, for whatever reason. The message of hope and promise is one that is potent. The election in the United States for one sees such hopeful themes trumping the harsh reality or war and economic disarray.
Nevertheless, there are challenges for this new BC Conservative Party. The Mayor of Lake Cowichan, Jack Peake, who backs the new party, says that there is a choice now, instead of the previous dichotomy between the extreme left, according to him the NDP, and the extreme right, the BC Liberals. He may be right; however, for the party to succeed as a contender, more rampantly right-wing voices may need to be tempered to gain wide popularity amongst the masses. Some of the right-wing voices within Unity and some of its subsidiaries struck one as perhaps too right wing to the point that it's obvious why they're not bought into the BC Liberal party. Then again, tempering such voices may just signal a capitulation of this party to the heap of other political parties who merely knuckle under the whim of public pressure without possessing values and adhering to ideals.
Despite the optimism of the BC Conservative Party, one does not see a wholesale re-engineering of the political culture in this province to the point where we'll have three or four competitive parties in British Columbia. Nor, do I think we will see the BC Conservatives elect anyone in May 2005. The Greens hit double digits in 2001, yet didn't elect anyone. If any party ought to expect gains, one would assume, previous success withstanding, that it'd be the Greens, and not the Conservatives.
Whether or not the BC Conservatives render any success in the forthcoming election, what is clear with its formation is that the breadth of those dissatisfied with the current regime is wide. However, whether it's deep enough is the question. And between now and May, the BC Liberals have to either address the dissatisfaction of what has been their constituency, or else they will face the judgement of the people. At this point, it doesn't look like it'll be a particularly kind verdict for Gordon Campbell.
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