01.01.2012 03:02 PM

Not in today’s Sun: coalitions work

This was supposed to be in today’s papers, but isn’t. If my bosses are starting the New Year by flushing their Pet Progressive, I’ll let you know. Here’s the column, in the meantime.

**

VANCOUVER – If you need further evidence that political coalitions equal political power, British Columbia is getting ready to provide it.

On Canada’s Left Coast, you see, the Left – as embodied by the B.C. New Democrats – look ready to seize power in the next provincial election. And it’s mainly because the centrist coalition that comprised the governing B.C. Liberals is falling apart.

The B.C. Liberals – whose losing 1996 campaign, full disclosure, I helped to run – have always been a coalition party, going back to their earliest victories two decades ago. Since their improbable first wins in 1991, the B.C. Liberals have been a hodge-podge of federal Liberals, federal Conservatives, former Socreds and even a few business-minded social democrats.

In 1996, we won more of the popular vote than the New Democrats, but – thanks to some suspicious NDP-led gerrymandering – fewer seats. After that loss, BC Liberal leader Gordon Campbell actively courted conservative-minded folks to join the fold, and help defeat the NDP. In 2001, he was massively successful, winning an astonishing 77 or 79 seats in the legislature in Victoria.

Back when I was helping him out, Campbell was always welcoming of new recruits, whatever their political pedigree. “I don’t care if you’re a federal Liberal, or federal Conservative, or a Reformer, or from Mars,” he’d say. “But when you come in our door, you are a B.C. Liberal. Leave your fights outside.”

And, mostly, B.C. Liberals did. While their decade in power saw the occasional ideologically-driven flare-up – and while the party was buffeted by no shortage of scandals, most notoriously one in which senior Liberal advisors pled guilty to corruption-related charges – the Campbell Liberals defeated the New Democrats in 2005 and 2009. Eventually, Campbell resigned, and now leads Canada’s High Commission in Britain.

To her credit, new B.C. Grit leader Christy Clark had been climbing back in public opinion polling, and she seemed to be escaping fallout over the province’s asinine decision to withdraw from an HST accord with the federal government, too. Until just a few months ago, Clark had been positioning her party for an astonishing fourth consecutive election victory.

That is, until former Tory MP John Cummins was elected leader of the B.C. Conservatives in May. Cummins – aided and abetted by a gang of advisors that includes former B.C. Socred Premier Rita Johnson, former Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford, and former Okanagan-area Conservative MP Jim Hart – then cheerfully set about destroying B.C.’s centre-right coalition, and getting the B.C. New Democrats back into government.

Because, make no mistake, that will be the result if Cummins’ Conservatives continue their upward trend in the polls. The B.C. New Democrats will form government, in an election that can come no later than the Spring of 2013.

Incredibly, that means that the controversial NDP leader Adrian Dix – who, last time he was anywhere near the Premier’s Office, was forced to resign as a top aide to disgraced B.C. Premier Glen, for back-dating a memo about casino licences – will be Premier. And, mostly, he will have John Cummins ego to thank for it. The party that gave B.C. Hydro-gate, Bingo-gate and destroyed economic growth in the province will be back.

In Canadian politics, it is always thus. When Preston Manning (and, to a lesser extent, Stephen Harper) blew apart Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative coalition, they helped to usher in more than a decade of Liberal rule. When Paul Martin and Michael Ignatieff wrenched the federal Grits too far to the Right – thereby scaring away blue New Democrat voters – the Liberal Party commenced a downward descent from which it has yet to recover.

In a country as big and as diverse as this one, it has always been necessary to bring together the like-minded, and not to drive them apart.

If and when Adrian Dix becomes Premier, therefore, his first official act should be to declare a John Cummins Appreciation Day.

He’ll deserve it.

26 Comments

  1. David Paterson says:

    Interesting perspective. Missing is any mention of Bill Vander Zalm who has incredibly become relevant again. He is likely to join hands with Rita which could seriously undermine the frail leadership of post-James NDP.

  2. frmr disgruntled Con now happy Lib says:

    Thank-you for this informative piece, Mr. Kinsella…..but we shouldnt forget the BC NDP’s fast ferries fiasco either…..http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_Ferry_Scandal

    I like Christy Clark(even though I did vote for George Abbott) and think she is doing a fine job considering the relatively weak economy, and the HST mess she was saddled with…..the HST could have been sold in a completely different fashion,(leaving out restaraunt meals, haircuts, funerals, etc) and it was one of Gordon Campbell’s few political errors(from a man who wasnt known to make many)….Many of those who are making life difficult for Ms. Clark are disgruntled folks who were left out of cabinet or dropped from it…..including my own MLA……

    If we have a return of the NDP{{shudder}} we will, as you say, only have the Refoorm types led by homophobic bigot John Cummins to thank……

  3. CQ says:

    I think what you’re writing about is, yet again, our lack of worthwhile Canadians running as and then succeeding as political leadership candidates. We are merely a failing extended nation of Rob Fords versus George Smithermans versus Joe Pantalones versus Adam Giambrones versus Sarah Thomsons versus Rocco Rossis versus not-John Torys and Stephen LeDrews.

  4. jon evan says:

    Liking the HST betrays you as an away person as someone from Ontario because BC voters rejected it and voters are always right. If Dix gets in (hopefully with a minority) it is only Christy Clark’s fault! She didn’t have to go to a HST referendum. No, she could have left it has a Gordon Campbell legacy and moved on, but now she’s into a money crunch! Instead of one tax now she has taxes a plenty for 2012: a hike in ICBC rates, increased MSP premiums, increasing carbon tax, premium gas taxes but as well the HST which is still here and all these taxes will only play Cummins tune that BC is taxed to death with inefficient socialist taxes! Her fate is sealed. I agree BC needs a new coalition alternative to the NDP who would tax business and drive them out again. It’s time for BC conservatives to leave the BClp and unite against Dix with a conservative coalition!

  5. DJ says:

    I think the NDP deserves some credit for getting its act together after the coup against Carole James last fall. Even she is on board and set to run again. The NDP is remarkably united under Dix, and Dix is a very hard worker. Sure he made a mistake with that memo over a decade ago. He admits to this. However, the Liberals have absolutely no moral high ground on ethics and accountability, and people are looking for a change. If Liberal supporters are going over to Cummins and the Conservatives, it’s because they don’t like what the Liberals have been doing. I predict that the split on the centre-right, combined with an aggressive NDP get-out-the vote effort, will wipe out many Liberal MLAs. Get ready for a Premier Dix. There are actually some on the right who are willing to accept this in order to punish the Liberals. I think voters, in general, also want to punish the Liberals.

  6. dave says:

    Tough being a BCer and seeing someone call the BC Libs a centrist party.
    I find it hard to put the 5th paragraph together with my experience. A lot of us thought that when Campbell and his crowd knocked off Gord Wilson, that Campbell did cleanse the party of any Liberal centrists, leaving only Libs who would fit themselves to whatever they were told to fit themselves into.
    In my constituancy, a hard working Liberal who had run for the party and his supporters were simply told by Campbell HQ that he could not run again, no reason given, and he was replaced by a local Socred.
    I understood that that the same thing happened throughout the province.

    Centrists? Not a chance!
    Party of business? The corporate raider business!
    Bring in investors? Sold our provinces assets for peanuts!
    Right wing? ‘Hucksters’ is closer to the reality.

    (I always liked Corky Evans description of the BCLIbs as the Socred witness protection programme.)

  7. Riley says:

    Proportional representation would fix all of this. More BCers Voted for it than they did for the Liberals in the last election. The current government is a phony government, as will be the the next one — until BC finally chooses PR like 90% of the world’s democracies have. FPTP will produce an NDP “majority” with 37% of the vote. PR necessitates consensus and will keep the extremists (and that’s about all that BC seems to produce) in check.

    • dave says:

      When Adrienne Carr suggested her formula for partial proportional representation about 10 years ago, it looked good to me: Elect 1st past the post reps in each of the 34 (I think it was) federal ridings, and elect the rest by proportional rep. That attempt failed, but it got a lot of support.
      I belonged to NDP at that time, and I asked around what we were doing on electoral reform. I was told that we had a committee studying it. I never heard or saw any report or recommendation from that committee. I got the impression that the party bigwigs down south were just going to wait until 1st past the post brought them back to power.
      Parties run our electoral system for their own interests, and they are not going to change our system unless it will help them. Voters and democracy don’t enter in to it.
      It was one of a bunch of reasons I gave myself for leaving that party.

  8. Paul O says:

    Fwiw, the article is currently linked in the online edition of the Ottawa Sun.

  9. Shawn Mullin says:

    Because the ying and yang of right/left politics has created such clear and decisive policy. My kingdom for politicians who are actually willing to compromise and work together instead of constantly positioning themselves for the next election. Sometimes I wish there were no parties so the federal scene was more like a small town municipal council. Stay true to yourself and your ideals… work for the betterman of your city/country… instead of always trying to find an ege for the next vote.

  10. Tiger says:

    That’s the key calculation, isn’t it? How bad are the BC Liberals, from a conservative’s perspective?

    Are they as bad as the late-Mulroney PCs were, where a couple terms of Chretien Liberals was a not-bad price to pay for building a better centre-right party? Or is it worth working with the existing party, rather than let the BC NDP back in with Dix as their leader?

    I’m not from BC, so I don’t know what the right answer is.

    • Tiger says:

      To the extent that the Tea Party backs strong candidates, it wins.

      See Toomey (PA), Rubio (FL), Lee (UT), Johnson (WI), Paul (KY).

      To the extent that the Tea Party backs weak candidates, it loses.

      See O’Donnell (DE), Buck (CO), Angle (NV).

      There isn’t a need to force structural change because it’s already a grassroots process — that’s what primaries are. They just have to go play in them. (And have, brilliantly!)

  11. Tiger says:

    But yes, Cummins’s success in the polls suggests that a bunch of BC conservatives are leaning towards thinking of the BC Libs as as bad as the early-’90s Progressive Conservatives…

  12. Dan says:

    Thanks Gord. That’s the best endorsement of proportional representation I’ve seen yet.

  13. This column does appear on the Sun’s website entitled, B.C. politicking will put New Democrats back in power at http://www.torontosun.com/2011/12/30/bc-politicking-will-put-new-democrats-back-in-power. Job’s safe for another year 🙂

    Happy New Year!

  14. Robert Jago says:

    That’s demonstrably false. Israel, Spain, Italy – these all use strict PR systems – none of these countries is known for the ‘mushy middle’. In Italy, you’ve got actual fascists and actual communists sitting in the same house. In Israel, you’ve got Trudeaupian hippie Liberals sitting across from supremacist religious nuts. It’s the Canadian version of the First Past the Post System (where a party boss signs your nomination papers, where there’s iron party discipline) that creates a mushy middle.

  15. BC Liberal Voter says:

    “To her credit, new B.C. Grit leader Christy Clark had been climbing back in public opinion polling”

    Around this time last year the Liberals and NDP were tied in the polls, which was pretty astonishing given how unpopular Gordo was. Even more amazing the female vote was evenly split between Liberals and NDP. Then the NDP ditched their female leader for a man, the BC Liberals ditched their male leader for a woman, and guess what happened? The Libs freefell in the polls, due nearly entirely to women defecting to the NDP – the NDP now leads by 24 percent among women. Please staple this factoid to your forehead for reference the next time the topic of gender politics comes up.

    Far from climbing back in opinion polling she has been in a one way freefall drop in the polls since the day she was sworn in.

    “Until just a few months ago, Clark had been positioning her party for an astonishing fourth consecutive election victory.”

    I gotta respectfully pull Lotusland rank here as a BCer here, bub, she did little to position her party for victory other than fail epically and consistently. The attack ads against Cummins were so bad the wide reaction was ridicule. Her rebranding of the Libs as the Christy Party has the handprints of Team Martin failbots all over it. Posing for the official cabinet photo with her kid on her lap – as if she’s the first politician ever to have a kid – seemed to lack gravitas. There is a concern, expressed by the media, that she is incompetent and immature. Either of Kevin Falcon or George Abbott would have been better, and Falcon would’ve guaranteed no leaking to the Conservatives since he has conservative cred.

    The BC Liberal government is on a plan to increase the debt by $14 billion over 3 years and there are many of us in what is supposed to be a free enterprise coalition who can’t abide by that. We don’t want to become Ontario or Quebec with their Greek style – in more ways than one – debts. She has plenty of time left in her mandate to get on with the business of running a good government and if she can’t do that then the fault lies not with Cummins but with her for driving what still is a glorious right wing coalition into the ground.

    • The Doctor says:

      That’s some interesting stuff on the numbers and the gender angle. I hadn’t considered that.

      I’ve been a bit disappointed in how ineffective a politician Clark has been so far. I would have thought that her experience as a talk radio host would have given her a better common touch.

      On the other hand, to be fair to Clark, she’s been dealt a terrible hand of cards.

  16. Woody says:

    I believe that this is the work that was done on PR: http://www.citizensassembly.bc.ca/public

    But it went to a referendum in 2005 and failed because there was not enough suport from the electorate http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens'_Assembly_on_Electoral_Reform_(British_Columbia)

    • The Doctor says:

      Yep. You can’t say that BC didn’t give PR an honest, good-faith shot. Naturally, some can complain about the 60% threshold that they set on the referendum, but if PR is such a great thing, you’d think that you could have hit 60% approval.

  17. Chris says:

    I get the impression that BC’ers were really angry about the whole HST thing — not only the tax, but the way they were lied to. Don’t count on them leaving any Liberals in office at all.

    The BC Liberals have been in office a long time. The last time a BC political party was in office that long, they were swept from power in an avalanche. The one thing FPTP does is, it can really punish bad governance. (Provided the populace wants to punish bad governance, of course.)

    Clark dealt a terrible hand of cards? One might argue that she was dealt a hand of burned-out cigarette butts. Even in the best case, the HST won’t disappear until just before the 2013 election.

    I see the BC Conservatives are polling near even with the BC Liberals. If Clark doesn’t act fast, she may end up as the lamest of all ducks.

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