Notes on Huntington’s win, James’s loss, Campbell’s heir.
First, heartiest congratulations to Vicki Huntington in Delta.
Liberal Attorney-General Wally Oppal said he didn’t realize how angry people were at the government. If the previous MLA, Val Roddick, had bothered to turn up to any of the rallies against overhead transmission lines or the new highway and passed those concerns on to cabinet, they would have known, just as I and my colleagues did, that this Liberal bastion was in deep, deep, trouble.
NDP missed its chance
And what was the message, province-wide, for the NDP? The party has some serious stock-taking ahead. They lost the election more than the Liberals won. I say that because with half the electorate staying away, you have to conclude that a lot of these people didn’t want to support Campbell but were unsure about the NDP. And it’s understandable.
Consider, for example, how they missed their chance to campaign strongly on saving BC Hydro.
From the start, a couple of facts. You cannot store electricity in bulk, so it must be used as it is made. BC Hydro “stores” electricity by storing the water needed to make it. Private power plants — which don’t have storage reservoirs and are proud to boast that — are dependent on the flow of water to be high enough to turn the turbines. That only happens at spring run-off and a while after that.
What if a truthful government had told the voters with ads to suit, “BC Hydro owes $31 BILLION to private power producers for power that they can’t use because it’s produced when Hydro’s reservoirs are full? Hydro must, then, sell that power to the U.S. at a huge loss. Every time another private power scheme gets a license, Hydro must make the same deal with them so they go further in the hole. This will bankrupt BC Hydro.”
If you were advising the NDP campaign brass, wouldn’t you say “Wow! B.C. people love Hydro! You say Campbell’s going to bankrupt one of the best power companies in the world to cater to its private power pals! For God’s sake, that should be the centrepiece of your campaign!” In fact it was not, pretty much whenever NDP candidates did mention the issue, it seemed the leader and candidates weren’t really sure of the issue.
It was left to me, spokesperson for Save Our Rivers Society, and a few others, to take that message around the province, giving speeches that were, for the most part, to the converted.
Too far down the list
The NDP didn’t understand this issue. It was a throwaway line in speeches about traditional NDP concerns. The consequence was this. Since the NDP were making it issue number five or six, Campbell was able to ignore it entirely.
I challenged Campbell and his ministers to debate me and was refused — refused as I would have advised them to had I been on their side. Campbell knew that he had no defence against the arguments so he instructed his candidates to avoid the issue like the plague and answer every question with: “We’re going to make B.C self-sufficient in energy by 2012” — even though the private power, being mostly for export, couldn’t help reach that goal.
Campbell fudged old budgets
The Liberal position wasn’t even seriously challenged. Especially unchallenged was the prospect of BC Hydro being bankrupted by a policy that forces them to pay double the cost that they can recover on the market.
Just as shocking to me was the NDP allowing the Liberals to claim that the NDP left the province in tatters when it left office in 2001. In fact, the NDP balanced its last two budgets, leaving a huge surplus to the Campbell government, which immediately gave that surplus and then some to its more affluent supporters by tax cuts. The Liberal version of history was not seriously challenged and, if only for that reason, the NDP campaign committee ought to be sacked.
James right to stay on, for now
Carole James was right to declare early that she would stay on — even if she doesn’t intend to. Hastily contrived leadership races often mean that all the good candidates are not ready to get involved. The federal Liberals were lucky that when Dion pulled the plug, serious contenders like Bob Rae were able to support Ignatieff. The selections of Kim Campbell and John Turner make this point.
James also knows that it will be difficult for a new leader to make the changes in the party that she can now make. When a new leader takes over, usually there’s a lot of fence mending to do, meaning it’s no time to start sacking the party brass who have overstayed their usefulness.
I supported Carole James and if I were in the party, I would endorse her staying for the next dust-up in 2013 and her astuteness to play her cards close to the chest and give the party a chance to re-invent itself.
What New Democrats must do now
With or without James there are three things the NDP must do.
First, sack the campaign committee for the simple and good reason that they lost the winnable. They never did come to grips with the issues and often looked as if they had a death wish for James.
Next, they must get rid of their foolish “gender equality clause,” which forces the constituency to select a woman when a man resigns. I support gender equality but this is not the way you do it. Not only does it look “loony leftist” to the public, it breeds disharmony in the party rank and file.
Finally, the NDP must lure organized labour back into the fold. James is going through what the British Labour Party went through 30 years ago — making the party democratic. She did that by taking away the special block votes for unions in party conventions and, understandably, unions are cross. It will take skilled negotiations to get this important segment of NDP support if not back in the tent, at least helping, not hindering.
Campbell’s last hurrah
Finally, it’s my guess that Premier Campbell will call it a day after the Olympics just as Bill Bennett resigned after it was clear that Expo 86 was a winner.
Campbell won’t make the mistake of not leaving an heir apparent. Bennett’s sin of omission gave us Bill Vander Zalm, a man Bennett knew couldn’t keep the party together.
The logical candidates are Mike De Jong and Colin Hansen and it will be interesting to watch the Liberal chessboard as matters move along.
The next four years should prove very interesting for us political junkies!