I've lived in Ontario for five years now but I’ve never really gotten involved in provincial politics here. I think it’s because, having come from the always entertaining and wacky world of BC politics, Ontario seems pretty dull by comparison. Certainly watching the HST drama from afar has been far more interesting than some supposed drama about Dalton McGuinty and hydro rates or something.
It’s hard to know where to start. Arguably the most electorally successful premier in BC history in Gordon Campbell, who survived a drunk-driving charge while in office, only to be felled by a caucus and taxpayer revolt. A taxpayer revolt led by Bill Vander Zalm, a former premier who presided over the destruction of the once-mighty Social Credit brand and left office in disgrace and mockery. And an opposition party in the BC NDP that, with the government at historic lows in the polls, seemed more interested in knifing its own leader, Carole James.
The latest development, Campbell’s resignation as Premier, was both inevitable and surprising. He tried to save himself with a televised infomercial a few weeks ago, offering large personal tax cuts, but the damage was done. With a caucus revolt brewing, Campbell recognized the writing was on the wall and decided to go as gracefully as possible.
Campbell’s departure triggers what should be a pretty interesting leadership race to replace him with all kinds of names being thrown out, from current minister like Kevin Falcon to past ministers like Christy Clark, as well as popular mayors and even federal Conservative cabinet ministers like James Moore.
Surprisingly, polling shows that, unlike when Rita Johnston beat-out Grace McCarthy for the Socred leadership after Vander Zalm ran the party into the ground, the BC Liberal leadership may still be a prize worth winning.
If Campbell had stubbornly decided to stay on the BC Liberal brand seemed destined to join Social Credit in the political graveyard, its support splitting between the BC Conservatives, the BC NDP and possibly a new centrist alternative. That erosion could still happen at a slower pace, but by falling on his sword Campbell has given his party a chance to live on.
New polling from Angus Reid taken after his televised infomercial but before his resignation indicates Campbell’s last-ditch hail-mary didn’t land, but he stands a good chance taking a lot of the voter animosity with him when he leaves the legislature.
The NDP still has a strong lead in the horserace, 47 per cent to 26 per cent over the BC Liberals, with the Greens and Conservatives tied at 10 per cent. And if the HST referendum goes ahead, 66 per cent will vote to abolish, 21 per cent would keep and 13 per cent are undecided.
The poll shows while they liked the policy promises in Campbell’s infomercial they’ve completely lost faith that he’ll keep his word on anything, with 66 per cent calling him unconvincing.
There is, however, a lot of underlying weakness evident in the NDP numbers. While Campbell scores an anemic 12 per cent leadership approval rating, James isn’t a whole lot better at 25 per cent.
And here’s an interesting set of numbers. While only six per cent said they’d like to see the next election return a BC Liberal government led by Campbell, remove Campbell from the equation and the NDP lead is only preferred 32 per cent to 28 per cent.
While the level of remaining resilience in the BC Liberal brand is surprising, the NDP weakness isn’t. Their numbers are very soft. For many years BC has been a two-party system, swinging back and forth between two defaults. People are pissed off with Campbell’s Liberals and James and the NDP are the default choice, but she’s still the leader and the party the electorate soundly rejected in the last election.
With a new leader at the helm of the BC Liberals and a few years to govern before the next election, that 47 to 22 NDP lead will shrink and this could be a very tight race once more. It will depend, of course, on who the new leader is and, more importantly, what they do with the HST. While the HST is the right policy, the people seem to have spoken pretty clearly and the referendum seems a formality at this point. If a new leader reverses the HST it's a new ball-game. If they try to sell it in a referendum battle, it will be closer but I don’t see them pulling it out.