Monday, 4 March 2013

Politics in British Columbia: A Creatively Written Soap Opera

Christy Clark, oh how I love you.  She currently presides over the B.C. Liberal Party and as such she is the Premier of the province.  Effectively, she is the most powerful person in the province that I have lived in my entire life.  As I near my 30th birthday this fall, I have spent all of my adult life living under the government of the B.C. Liberal Party.  I have dutifully voted against their party in both 2005 and in 2009.  In 2005 I cast a vote for Bob Simpson who at the time was representing the New Democratic Party (NDP), and he was successfully elected as a member of the Opposition.  I have never voted either Provincially or Federally for party that was able to win and form Government.  It looks as though that may change come this May as B.C. looks forward to the next election.

As I recall, while the election was approaching in the Spring of 2009, the NDP was full of optimism.  The party was led by Carole James a charasmatic leader, who led the party from near wipe out in the election of 2001 back to relevance.  James had ties to the local region, her husband is from Burns Lake, and is now the Chief of the Burns Lake Indian Band.  As I fly off on this tangent, I'll say that James' fault was basically that she was too nice.  She seemed to struggle when it came to taking the government to task.  Inherently, this wasn't just perception, she is just too good of a person to attack in a way that Political leaders need to.  She has been a foster parent for over 20 years, and spent time in her twenties working with mentally handicapped adults, both activities that garner her much respect from me.  The optimism the party had leading into the 2009 election was based on hope more than substantial reasoning.  As a result, the NDP made some gains, but they weren't significant and the election was once again lost.  As it was the second losing election for James as leader, it wasn't surprising when key members of the caucus denounced her as leader, and asked for a leadership review.  She subsequently resigned on December 6, 2010. 

While I have been a follower of the political scene since I was teenager, and I obtained a BA of Political Science at UNBC, I have been regrettably inactive in the political scene.  I had gone to a number of NDP events and such with my dad when I was younger, but once I moved from Quesnel to Prince George, it was rare for me to go out of my way to attend.  The race to choose a new party leader in 2011 rekindled my interest.  I paid my dues and became a card carrying member of the party, this enabled me to cast a vote in the leadership race.  I attended, along with my dad and brother the debate that was held in Prince George.  All 5 candidates were present, and a lively debate ensued.  While less heated then debates between competing parties, I still learned plenty about the ideas that the candidates held.  As a low-level cannabis activist, I had already determined that I would support Dana Larsen on the first ballot as he is THE activitist when it comes to cannabis law.  Knowing that he would likely drop from the ballot my second choice was John Horgan.  Ultimately, the party chose Adrian Dix, current MLA in Vancouver Kingsway, and former staffer for Premier Glen Clark in the 90s.

The NDP spent 2011 and 2012 quietly gaining popularity by having the governing Liberal Party make egregious errors that cause consternation amongst the voting public.  As the calnder turned to 2013 and the election campaigned neared, I began to anticipate the NDP's approach to the election.  Well, the Liberal's have hardly given them a chance to get started.  I am happy that the NDP has chosen to stay away from attack ads, which are usually a staple of Opposition parties desperate to get ahold of power.  Conversely, it is the governing Liberal Party that have spent heavily on attack ads, bringing up improprieties about Adrian Dix from 17 years ago.  Yes, you read that right.  All the while, numerous sitting MLAs have come out announcing the won't be running in the next election, an odd development that rarely occurs.  The Liberals started throwing shots at the NDP questioning why they were not producing an election platform for their party to criticize.  While we still haven't seen that platform, the Liberals have been busy deflecting and evading as they have faced numerous scandals in the past few weeks.

The budget was produced two weeks ago, and it was full of promises.  Balanced budget of course, and the way I see it, this is just standard electioneering.  Hardly something that the Liberals should be criticized for as the NDP were guilty of producing shady budgets when they governed as well.  It's an election tool, plain and simple.  What the Liberals didn't account for were the events of this past week.  Last Monday, the latest opinion poll results were released.  While there are 5 or 6 different firms that conduct opinion polls, the Angus Reid Group is the most consistent.  They have conducted a poll nearly every month since the last election in 2009.  The Liberal Party hasn't led in any of these polls since 2011, and even then it was by a few percentage points.  After a couple months, the NDP retook the led and has held it ever since.  The latest numbers released on February 25th saw the NDP at 47%, the Liberals at 31%, the Greens at 10% and the Conservatives at 9%.  Certainly, with less then 3 months until the election, this had to cause concern amongst Liberal Party members.

The next day, two prominent business men, along with Conservative leader John Cummins came forward with accusations that minister Pat Bell, one of the MLAs for Prince George, had improperly promised them an inside track on a huge downtown construction project.  Sure, they are likely bitter that Pat went back on his word and the bid process went ahead with 3 other bids as "finalists", but there is likely some merit to these accusations.  One of the men had brokered a deal with the other to buy up a large parcel of downtown land in order to then sell it to the province or the University so that they could build the Wood Innovation Centre, a mega project that the Liberal Party has been touting for years.  One of the businessmen had sunk some serious money into acquiring the land from the other.  Pat Bell has denied all involvement, stating that he obviously wouldn't anything like he was being accused of, because of course it would be improper.  The best part of the story, is that the businessmen are both long term supporters of the Liberals, and one has donated funds totalling more than $100,000 to their party.  Now the party is willing to paint these men as liars and to throw them under the bus, while happily counting the money they had been given.  For a better account on the accusations and the denials see here: story.

Fast forward two more days, yipee they made it one day without a new scandal, and the now infamous memo was brought up in the Legislature by the NDP. The memo, written by Christy Clark's Chief of Staff and personal friend Kim Haakstrand, was 17 pages long and distributed via personal email to 17 or so other important members of the party.  It outlines a number of strategic ideas that were developed in order to woo the ethnic voters of the province to the Liberal Party.  While this practice is not uncommon, it is rare to see it blatantly spelled out in such a manner.  The most inappropriate thing was the plan to use tax payer funds to implement the plan.  Well, I'll be!  I thought the Pat Bell debacle was bad, then this one came along to take the cake.  Of course, there is more.  Christy refused to apologize initially, and still maintains that she knew absolutely nothing about the document.  All this while a number of the recipients are close friends of hers, including the author who is described as one of her closest personal friends, and an employee of hers for over a decade.  Many of the other recipients were close personal friends of hers.  While denying, she is also forgetting that the Chief of her Staff is employeed to help her develop policy, usually under her direction.  The next day during the sitting of the Legislature, we did recieve an apology.  Not from Christy, as she was not even present, but from her right hand man Rich Coleman who read a statement on her behalf.  She demanded an inquiry, ridiculous when you consider it, as she could just ask her best girlfriend what was going on (remember, she didn't know about it, tee hee hee).  She has now let her friend Kim get thrown under the bus, all while the RCMP has decided to get involved.  This story can be found here.

In the end, the Liberals called an emergency meeting, got together on a Sunday afternoon for a few hours and emerged a "united team".  Buy that if you want, but the whole thing stinks and likely seals the fate of the Liberal Party in the coming election.  I plan to volunteer in my local riding, doing some menial tasks as well as attending the local debates in there are any.  Shirley Bond of the Liberals who currently serves my riding classicly refused to attend any debates in the last 2 election campaigns.  Will she once again be unwilling to take part knowing she is behind in all polls this time around?  We will have to see.  Perhaps it is time I will be able to live while being governed by a party that I actually support.  This is to say nothing of the Federal government, or the local municipal government who are raising fees and taxes so rapidly I can barely afford to keep my home.  Alas, I digress.

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