Tuesday, 01 February 2005
Getting back to BC politics
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER - Pondering provincial politics has not been something I've indulged in these recent months. The American presidential race was a bit more engrossing, not to mention time consuming than the by-election in Surrey-Panorama Ridge, among other recent political activities. Nevertheless, as we inch closer to May's election, things are heating up-what with the interim debate on the STV referendum, as well as nomination battles and the sort; not to mention cabinet resignations and retirements, which everyone doubtlessly reads into every move.
The whole scene surrounding Prem Vinning's softball call to the Premier was hardly a blockbuster, though Sean Holman deserves all the credit in the world for busting open that farce. Vinning did well in walking away from the appointment when the rouse was discovered, though Premier Campbell didn't look too good when he was asked if he recognised Vinning. He claims he didn't, but everyone else in Victoria did.
As the provincial political scene gains a bit more interest from me, I'm constantly checking into Holman's fine website, Public Eye Online, as well as reading the postings of Paul Willcocks who is fast becoming for me, a reliable observer from Victoria. Of course, Vaughn Palmer's columns, I read every day, as well as Mike Smyth's, but the online community is fast becoming a medium that I trust and rely upon. David Schreck's website is a regular visit, as is Norman Spector's though his focus is not exclusively provincial. There's a lot to keep me posted, and we'll do our best in featuring all sides in the run up to the election on THECOMMENTARY.CA's interview segment, On the Line.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked with the NDP candidate in Vancouver-Fairview Gregor Robertson. The businessman turned politician seemed an amiable enough person and the odds-on favourite for the seat recently vacated by former finance minister Gary Collins. Now that Collins has flown the political scene to head up Harmony Airlines, I think Robertson is right in being confident enough that he'll take the seat in May. For many this shifting of focus of the NDP is welcome. Compared to the Campbell regime, a new gentler NDP seems to be appealing again, especially to the centre-class who swing elections. Then again, the left can be a rancorous bunch. We're seeing it now in Vancouver with this split within the governing COPE council. While some want to appeal to the middle, those on the left eschew any sort of nuance. Moreover, that's the same on the right side of the ledger. In North Vancouver, incumbent MLA Dan Jarvis, a liberal closer to the centre, had to fend off a fierce nomination battle against an avowed right-winger. There is a need for moderation, sure, but moderates are often unpopular within the two polarising schools of thought in this province, whether it's a Socred or in its current form, the BC Liberal Party, and the NDP.
I'm often ambivalent when it comes to making my choices in the provincial arena. I'd be considered a conservative, seeing that I would have voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004, and that I voted for Stockwell Day and Stephen Harper in the last two federal elections. The direction with which Gordon Campbell has gone hasn't been all that contrary to my beliefs, though I think the ways in which he's done what he's done have not been widely acceptable, even to conservatives like Norman Spector. I like Gordon Campbell, I don't think he's the heartless son of a bitch that people on the left make him out to be, but I also get the sense he's a bit of a phoney some of the time. Regardless of political stripe, I abhor phoniness. Then again, I get the sense that Campbell is a phoney just from watching him on television or listening to him for over 15 years now, before he was Premier. I suppose that is why he doesn't resonate with women, and why he's beginning to lose lustre with rural British Columbia, because he's a bit slick. Now, he shouldn't go back to packing a guitar or wearing plaid like he did in 1996, but I think some lessons can be derived in that Maui incident of a couple of years ago. That contrite, honest, raw Campbell resonated with the public; proof of that is seen in the fact he's still the Premier. He levelled with the public, and they understood where he was coming from. Maybe it's too late to level with voters about BC Rail or renegotiating contracts with unions, but it's worth pursuing if he wants to really earn his re-election.
I voted for the NDP candidate in my riding the last time around, because I liked him best compared to his opponents, and because the result of the vote was already obvious, that in casting my vote the way I did, I was merely doing my part in making sure an opposition was in place. This time around, maybe I'll look at my local ballot and just pick the candidate I like best. Alternatively, maybe I'll consider it a referendum on Gordon Campbell's performance. Yet that criteria wouldn't be fair, as I don't think Carole James has resonated enough with the public that she can be considered an alternative to the Premier. Gregor Robertson admitted in that interview he did with me, that she hasn't been visible enough in the media, but that she will in time. That's perhaps a bit too hopeful, because as bad as Gordon Campbell is made out to be by those in the NDP and their affiliated public sector 'groups,' it will not be out of the extraordinary for the Campbell regime to win again, and decisively.
The make up of the said Campbell regime has gone through a bit of a change as of late. With the departures of people like Christy Clark, Gary Collins, and the whispered departure of Geoff Plant, there seems to be a movement to the right. Without these liberals, in the literal sense, as well as in the figurative, coupled with Mary Polak's candidacy in Surrey in the by-election, has signalled a move to the right, as has the emergence of Kevin Falcon as a prominent voice in the cabinet. Paul Willcocks put it best when he said that the free enterprisers seemed to work cohesively in getting the hard work done, but now that surpluses are the norm, there seems to be a split on what to do with it. I've always thought that parties come apart best when destroyed from within. The BC NDP is an example of that. For Gordon Campbell, that could very well be the fate of his party, which I've thought was hardly a party to begin with.
These forthcoming months will be interesting ones doubtless. How interested British Columbians will be about the politics of their province will be another more curious thing to watch.
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