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.