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The Zalm Factor

Vander Zalm leading the charge... to where?

New Dems wise to keep their distance from Bill Vander Zalm, despite his HST-fighting success.

The HST business is having some interesting fallout.

One need hardly note that the Campbell government is spinning out of control, otherwise how can you explain the appointment of Hon. Wally Oppal, QC to head up the Pickton inquiry? Of course he’s a nice guy with a great record, but much of that record is political within the ranks of the Campbell government, and this smells like our Pinocchio premier’s payoff to the former attorney general.

If so, that doesn’t mean that Oppal won’t do a good job. I’ve no doubt that he will. But the exercise is tainted by the brush of Campbell, and it’s hard to think of a more awkward first fence to jump.

In politics, it’s said that six weeks is an eternity. How about six days or thereabouts? That’s the time it took after announcing his HST referendum for the chinks in the armor of the Vander Zalm fighting machine to begin to appear. During Gardener Bill’s highly successful campaign, recall was the principle tool of war. “Give us a referendum or we’ll bring down the government” was the cry. The problem is that they got the referendum (for which I say hurrah!) so that the threat became unnecessary and, in my mind, undoable. One could almost hear the hissing sound from the punctured balloons.

What to recall about recall

Recall, one must remember, is an American tool designed for a system much different than ours. No matter how many Washington state politicians are recalled, the government still survives; its purpose is to get rid of especially useless ones. The intent of the B.C. version was the same, but it’s in a system where recall can bring down the government. Thus it is, I contend, an abuse of the spirit of recall to use it to threaten a government’s existence rather than just for ousting bad MLAs.

During the NDP years, one recall effort started in Prince George against then-MLA and finance minister, Paul Ramsey. Right wingers, slavering at the chance to hurt the unpopular NDP government, flocked to Prince George where they railed against the government. I editorialize that this wasn’t the purpose or the spirit of the recall law, and that Ramsey should only be challenged on his record as an MLA. Whether or not that was the telling argument I cannot say, but the effort fizzled out.

Now that Vander Zalm & Co. won the HST battle, he will lose the war and in fact, as Paul Ramsey has noted, he will give Liberal backbenchers an excellent chance to be reintroduced to their constituents.

(By way of aside, my MLA, Joan McIntyre, complained that a recall petition in her riding would keep her from performing her duties. What duties, Ms. McIntyre? Going into the legislature with the other Liberal applauding seals and warmly supporting the worst, most dangerous premier in our history? Give me a break!)

Who’s your Zalm?

What will become very obvious is the reluctance of even New Democrats to let former and disgraced Bill Vander Zalm tell them what to do; they will stick up for the local kid no matter what they might think of the government in power.

In the minds of the B.C. voters there are three views of Bill Vander Zalm. Those who never did like the man. Those who have always loved him. And the main group which applauds him for his stance against the privatization of BC Rail and the HST debacle, but wants no part of him when it comes to their local affairs and looks in horror at the prospect of him returning to politics.

This has all played into another political game — a new party of the middle vowing to recapture the ground that the old Socreds under Bennett I and Bennett II occupied. The moribund Conservative party of B.C. is entering the political arena as well, apparently oblivious to the fact that the political vacuum is in the centre, not the right, and thinking that if they can bring in the said Vander Zalm, former premier Rita Johnston and the former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Brian Peckford, the public will flock to their colours. Yeah, right!

Delaney’s love affair with Zalm

An interesting move — interesting if you like the minutiae of B.C. politics, that is — was the recent move by perennial member of the B.C. politics minutiae group, Chris Delaney. He has left Vander Zalm and the HST campaign to become the official spokesman for the BC First Party and, one suspects, its putative leader. Delaney’s cross to bear is his association with and great affection for Bill Vander Zalm, as evidenced in Vaughn Palmer’s excellent column in the Vancouver Sun on Sept. 29.

Palmer quotes Delaney introducing Vander Zalm at a political meeting, where he compared the Zalm to Lincoln, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, closing with: “I thank God for sending us a great leader… I thank God for Bill Vander Zalm.”

I’ve known and liked Chris Delaney for some time now and have always been impressed with him personally and his grasp of the issues, however the above quote makes me think he’s like the clock that once struck 13, never to be fully trusted again.

Time will tell how these loosely connected issues: HST, recall, the straw-grasping BC Conservative Party, the BC First wannabes and the political spirit of Bill Vander Zalm, play out.

At this stage, the game is still Carole James’ to win, provided she learns what the political rules are in down-and-dirty politics and starts to play by them.

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