It may not, if Premier Campbell can’t learn from previous political meltdowns.
So, Gordon (Pinocchio) Campbell is at 12 per cent “popularity.” I’d like to know who the hell the 12 per cent are! They must have just been aroused after a lengthy coma.
In my lifetime I have witnessed four political meltdowns, four parties that had the wheels fall off. They were:
The Bennett crash: In the 1972 election, an unbeatable Premier W.A.C. Bennett was indeed beaten when his party came apart during the election, the highlight coming when Phlyin’ Phil Gaglardi (so called because as highways minister he kept getting speeding tickets when “testing the curves”) offered to take over from Bennett. Neither the voters nor Bennett were comfortable with that offer.
The Zalm slam: In 1988 Premier Bill Vander Zalm (yep, same guy) faced a leadership secret vote at the Socred party convention in Penticton and was saved by Don Philips and Phil Gaglardi who put forward a motion to have the secret ballot be an open one, with the vote on that motion being open! The day was saved but unfortunately for Bill, there was a tomorrow, then a lot of tomorrows and it just got worse. At that, it was really Vander Zalm’s successor, Rita Johnston, who could have saved the party but put herself first.
The Kim Campbell gamble: In 1993, Brian Mulroney quit and turned the reins of office over to the luckless Kim Campbell, who tried to pull a party together that had been all but smashed to bits by her predecessor.
The New Dem sinking: In 2001, an NDP led by Ujjal Dosanjh and reeling from a premier Glen Clark scandal, plus a terrible decision to build ferries that weren’t appropriate for our waters now, was all but wiped out in the general election.
These situations had one thing in common — once the political vehicle began to wobble badly, nothing could save it, not even a leadership change as the federal Tories and provincial NDP made.
The factions factor
There’s a reason for this and it goes to the nature of a political party under our system. Unconditional loyalty only goes to a leader when things are going reasonably well. That loyalty is not a “for better or for worse” situation at all. All parties have factions and not all factions wanted the leader in the first place and have a death wish for him, believing that their guy/gal could have done better. They bury their feelings when things are going along OK but they return just when the leader needs loyalty most.
This goes deeper than just the party at large. Once the cracks show, usually with an angry MLA/MP crossing the floor, other well-known members of the party speak out. Constituency organizations turn on MLAs who won’t denounce the leader and snapping wannabes (who probably lost the nomination last time) lurk, awaiting the right moment to bite.
The leader tries to administer discipline, which just makes matters worse. Perhaps he tries to bring in legislation and policy that will appease the caucus, which is now a caucus that smells blood and won’t do what is expected of it any more. Grumbling turns into serious rumbling. One might call it the Tiger Woods syndrome, where no matter how hard you try, your efforts fall short.
Hard to forget
On the CBC political panel I share with Moe Sihota and Erin Chutter, the latest polls was the only topic and Moe suggested that Campbell still has two years to get things right. I suspect that answer was more a warning to the party he’s president of than a statement of belief. He suggested that Campbell might come up with a popular move, such as, he suggested, making mortgage payments tax deductible. Apart from the fact that since only the provincial share of income tax would be involved, thus a fairly modest amount, it’s easily handled by the NDP saying “we’ll do the same.”
It has been truly said — the putative authors are many — “In politics, six weeks is an eternity.” The problem the Liberals have is that not only must they come up with policies that appeal, but ones that block out the bad things that have happened. For that to happen, those bad things have to be buried in the past. Unfortunately for the Liberals, those bad things reappear anytime a voter buys something and pays the HST. It’s not just the hated tax, it’s the history of that tax. The HST not only reminds voters that they don’t like the tax but that the government lied to them.
Without intending cynicism, politicians are always “economical with the truth.” And the public expects that. They understand that politicians polish the apple, hire expensive spin doctors and only put out bad news on Friday afternoon when the media is in its pre-weekend tippling mode. What voters will not put up with is policy that was snuck by them and based on flat out prevarication. The leaking of the ministry policy paper that Finance Minister Colin Hansen saw two months before the election statement that HST wasn’t even on the radar, has created an open political sore that no ointment can cure.
But there’s more. This blatant untruth, of which voters are constantly reminded, also reminds them about other government, which is to say Gordon Campbell, deceits about the privatization of BC Rail, the size of the budget deficit, the fish farm issue and impacts of his energy policy. These would not be ongoing issues but are secured to the next campaign because of the premier’s utter lack of credibility of which these past events are resuscitated.
Then there is the Basi-Virk trial, which promises to have lots of ongoing reminders of government, ahem, shortcomings.
Prescription for survival
What should the Liberals do?
Just what Bennett Sr., Bill Vander Zalm, Brian Mulroney and the 1991 NDP failed to do — put the party first and fight not to win an election (though God knows what can happen in B.C. politics) but to have a viable party available to be a strong opposition and government-in-waiting.
One cannot leave this subject without speculating whether a new party might come out of the political fog. The opportunity is certainly there — there is a political collapse happening and politics, no less than nature, abhors a vacuum.
At this writing, however, it doesn’t seem to be happening. We hear rumbles from the Conservative party, which doesn’t seem to understand that the vacuum is not at the right but in the centre. Those who run this tiny gaggle of failed politicos and wannabes seem oblivious to the fact that any party connected by even an invisible thread to Stephen Harper & Co. is a bad political joke in these parts.
My way out long shot?
John Cummins and Vicki Huntington start a party clearly of the centre, thus resurrecting the late but now much lamented B.C. Social Credit party.