A Two Ring Political Circus

Politics is a serious business.  When it’s done right, it can be beautiful to behold.  Unfortunately, mostly, it isn’t, and when it isn’t, it’s really, really boring.  That’s why it’s always magical when the politicians in British Columbia come out to play.  These folks could teach Barnum and Bailey a few tricks, and, for the most part, they’re the reason the rest of Canada thinks people in B.C. are all wandering around, stoned.

For the uninitiated, here’s a brief history of politics in Lotus Land.  Originally, British Columbia was not so much a province of Canada as a private duchy, ruled by an oligarchy from Kelowna.  This regime was briefly overthrown in 1972, by a 60s group called Dave Barrett and the Socialist Horde.  But the oligarchy quickly reclaimed power and governed until Billy VanderZalm finally messed it up — for good — in 1991.  What followed was a prolonged period of anarchy.  In a political free-for-all brawl that lasted 10 years, whole parties were wiped out and resurrected, the Socreds died, the Liberals were born and the NDP died and were born again (There’s a bit of irony there.)  Two premiers were, shall we say, “tainted,” and both had to resign.  And in one astounding turn of events, Gordon Wilson went from Leader of the Opposition in the Liberal party to Minister of Finance in the NDP government that he was originally opposed to — after stopping briefly to form the Mom and Pop PDA party with Judi Tyabji.  All in all, those were heady days.  The period ended when Strongman Gordon Campbell hijacked the shiny new Liberal Party and restored order.

During the Campbell era, BC used the American two-party system (with limited success) and a number of smaller political groups gained prominence, including the Green Party.  For the last couple of years, British Columbia has had 2 ½ legitimate political parties and about 3 wannabes.  There’s the Liberal Party (which isn’t Liberal, and never was) the NDP (who are the natural successors to the two “tainted” premiers) and NDP-X (Extreme) a rebel alliance within the NDP who are one harsh word away from packing their bags full of votes and forming their own party.  In the midst of this, Gordon Campbell’s popularity was dropping faster than Lindsay Lohan on a play date over the basic issue of taxation without representation.  It looked like the NDP would, once again, form a government.

All this came to a screaming halt on November 3rd, 2010, when Campbell resigned.  Within a month, NDP-X shot everybody in the foot when they staged a bloodless insurrection which forced NDP leader Carole James to step down.  Without a viable leader in either party, the gates of anarchy came right off their hinges.  Suddenly anybody with $15,000 and a lot of chutzpah had a crack at the crown in the Duchy of BC.  Let the games begin!

The Liberals were first off the mark, with a number of candidates for leader — including two women: one who didn’t have a hope, and one who’s been looking for an opportunity ever since she quit the government the first time.  The NDP, however, were severely hampered when they discovered that, under their gender rules, at least one of the three top jobs in the party had to be filled by a woman!  Obviously, they’d just trashcanned the only female they had, so now men were effectively banned from party leadership.  Undeterred, a couple of guys announced their candidacy, anyway.  However, at this point, nobody wants to change the rules and neither of the two boys (Moe Sihota and Bob Smits) already on the job, seems willing to go under the knife.  Therefore, it looks like — eventually — someone else is going to have to get thrown under the bus, like Carole James, to make room for the incoming testosterone.

Meanwhile, the Liberals did change their rules from the traditional one person/one vote system (which has been around in BC since before Pattullo was a bridge) to a winner-take-nothing formula of second and third choices that looks like Bohr’s Theory of the Structure of Matter and is just about as complicated.

Of course, the secret to success in both parties is signing up new members (who vote for the candidate who brought them.)  However, that old “Onesy, twosy, would you like to join my party?” method was way too slow for some candidates.  In typical BC fashion, they just cranked up the Xerox machine and went wholesale on the application forms, and then showed up at party headquarters with bags of $10 bills to complete the huge number of transactions.   Of course, this is just an unsubstantiated rumour.  On the other side of the political spectrum, somebody questioned the wisdom of limiting party membership to humans and signed up a cat.

NDP Candidate?

Then, in one of the strangest moves to come out of these leadership races — and perhaps in all political history — both parties decided to run the same guy as leader.  Oddly enough, nobody has detected this.

Liberal Candidate?

So here we are on the verge of a Liberal Party vote for leader and the NDP will hold their vote in April.  Since this time last year, the Premier has resigned, the Leader of the Opposition has resigned, several Ministers have resigned and their opposition critics have resigned.  There’s nobody left to run the show in Victoria because every politician west of the Great Divide is jockeying for a position in the New World Order.  The government hasn`t even been is session for over 6 months but nobody’s noticed and nobody gives a damn.  Honestly, the politicians of British Columbia had better be careful.  The circus might be entertaining, but people are beginning to think, “We`re better off when these clowns don’t go to work every day.”

I hope it’s not another “new direction”

Wow!  Just when you think the world is going to be ruled by The Mundanes forever, fate raises its lovely hand and gives you a slap.

On Wednesday morning, Christy Clark is going to declare she’s a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party of BC.  Actually, everybody above ground already knows she’s going to run, but she has to make the announcement at an event; it’s in the Official Political Candidate’s Handbook somewhere.  Quite frankly, it’s refreshing to see somebody playing by the rules around here.  Ms. Clark will turn a forgone Kevin Falcon conclusion into an interesting, two-person race.  Some pundits think she’s already the de facto Premier; some don’t.

Either way, she’s following a grand political tradition.  In British Columbia, when things get buggered up beyond all belief — like when the  lunatics decide that the HST is good for the asylum — the men usually make themselves scarce.  They find a dedicated woman and put her front and centre.  She can either clean up the mess or get torn apart by the snarling mob — they don’t really care which.  Then, in due time, when things settle down, the men show up again and start yipping about “a new direction” or “change” or some other such nonsense.   They pat the woman on the back and push her out the door, if she’s still around.  If she isn’t, they just never mention her name.

This isn’t all hyperbole, by the way.  In 1991, Social Credit Premier Bill Vander Zalm was up to his smile in conflict of interest over the sale of Fantasy Gardens.  He resigned his office in April, and Rita Johnson became Socred leader and Premier at the party convention in July.  It’s absolutely impossible to build a political organization in just six months.  So, by the time the provincial election in October came around, the Socred brand was so damaged that Rita didn’t have a prayer.  Social Credit was forever discredited, and it faded away.  However, most of the people involved just moved one space over and became Liberals — with that “new direction” everybody’s always talking about.  Ms. Johnson’s name was never spoken again.

If you’re too young to remember 1991, maybe 1999 rings a bell.  In March of that year, NDP Premier Glen Clark’s house was searched by the RCMP and he was accused of – you guess it – conflict of interest.  He resigned in August.  In the 2001 provincial election, the NDP were beaten so badly they needed a defibrillator.  They didn’t have enough MLAs left to get up a good game of canasta.  In fact, there were only two: Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan.  Oddly enough, no men were elected.  Then in 2003, when it came time for the heart transplant, the NDP selected Carole James as the donor, and charged her with cleaning up the mess.  Ujjal Dosanjh went on to federal politics(as a Liberal), Glen Clark went to work for the uber-capitalist Jimmy Pattison (clearly a “new direction”) and I have no idea what happened to Moe Sihota (but I’m sure he’ll turn up.) Carole had a lot more time than Rita but she worked just as hard.  In the next provincial election, in 2005, she and the NDP turned 2 seats into 33.  Overnight, Leader of the Opposition became a trophy worth having again and then, when Gordon Campbell hit the road over the HST debacle, it got downright desirable.

If this all sounds like a gender-based conspiracy, it’s not.  If you need an explanation, suffice it to say that women tend to believe in the cause, come hell or high water, whereas men see the writing on the wall and prefer to fight another day — which brings us to the current NDP fiasco.

Carole James wasn’t booted out by a conspiracy.  She simply ran afoul of that same vocal minority that inhabits every organization: the ones who get what they want just by being a pain in the ass.  For example, Jenny Kwan doesn’t want to be leader.  In fact, my guess is she isn’t even interested in provincial politics anymore.  She’s already looking down the road at Libby Davies’ accrued pension — in Ottawa.  Unfortunately, the Baker’s Dozen saw Ms. James as a typical short-term female leader, who just wasn’t tough enough to actually govern.  They took it upon themselves to ignore the majority (in the name of that same old “new direction” again) and they wouldn’t play unless they got their way.  In her resignation speech, Carole James said, “I know there will be individuals who see this as a win for the bullies,” — and she’s right.  Gender lines are drawn — even in the NDP.

So where does that leave Christy Clark?  If she does get to be Liberal leader — and I’m thinking that she will — first of all, she’s got a huge mess to clean up.  The Liberal Party of BC is about as well-liked as H1N1, right now.   She’s going to have to deal with the HST and the minimum wage.  She’s going to have to build voter confidence and acceptance that hers truly is a different Liberal government; meanwhile, constantly looking over her shoulder to see who’s got the knives out in her own party.  Finally, if she does all that, then she gets to face the NDP who have just demonstrated, beyond any doubt, their ruthlessness.  I was never a fan of Christy Clark, but if she can do all that, survive, and deal with the bullies over at the NDP, she’s got my vote.