Monday, April 19, 2010

BC is hungry for an alternative

I haven’t been active at all in provincial politics since I moved to Ontario nearly five years ago. Naturally, I’m inclined to support the McGuinty Liberals (some issue by issue disagreements with them aside) but I’ve neither joined (except briefly before the last election) nor volunteered for the party, and haven’t blogged much on provincial issues either.

Could be that I have my hands full following the minority madness in Ottawa, but I also think it’s because I was spoiled growing-up in British Columbia, where provincial politics is more than a little crazy, and always entertaining (even if Campbell tried hard to make it boring again.)

From the craziness of the Vander Zalm Socreds with scandals such as the Fantasy Gardens affair, to Bingogate under the NDP’s Mike Harcourt and all the drama about Glen Clark’s deck and the fast cat ferry fiasco (alliteration is key to a good scandal), to Gordon Campbell’s Hawaiian DUI, the legislature raids and now the return of Vander Zalm and the HST drama – BC politics is never boring.

It has, however, become increasingly polarized over the years, and that has left many – myself included – unimpressed with our options and hungry for an alternative. I joined and volunteered for the BC Liberals in my teens in the mid-1990s, when it was led by Gordon Wilson (before his nuttiness was evident) and was the third-party in BC. And when it was also still what you and I would call liberal.

Then when the Socreds imploded, they essentially launched take-over of sorts and Campbell took the leadership. They still seemed liberal enough in 1996, when they lost the seat-count to Clark’s NDP (but won the popular vote). I then headed East for university and, when I came back around 2002, they weren’t so liberal anymore. In government they’d taken a sharp shift to the right, leaving many centrist Liberals feeling homeless. Some stuck it out with the BC Liberals, others voted NDP. I cast my ballot based on the local candidates, supporting and voting for both parties over the years but with enthusiasm for neither.

It’s a situation many in BC find themselves in. The BC Liberals are too right; the BC NDP too left (and not particularly welcoming to federal Liberals either, which doesn’t help). It leaves many on the sidelines, and many holding their noses to vote for the lesser evil. And neither party seems particularly inclined to appeal to this disenchanted centre.

It leads to a teeter-totter of voter support in the province. The province, when it had enough of the Harcourt/Clark years, reduced the NDP to two seats in 2001, handing 77 seats to the Liberals. They gave Campbell two more majorities but with decreasing enthusiasm and now, with their handling of the HST feeding underlying fatigue and disenchantment with the governing party, the polls show the BC NDP is again poised to win a mandate (although the election won’t be until 2013).
The opposition New Democratic Party has harnessed public anger over the harmonized sales tax to open its biggest lead since Gordon Campbell's B.C. Liberals took power in 2001, a new Angus Reid poll has found.

Conducted this week, the poll found the NDP have 47 per cent support, a commanding 18 points ahead of the governing Liberals.

The Liberals have the support of just 29 per cent of people across the province, the poll found, 17 points below their total in the election last May. The Green Party has 15 per cent support, and the B.C. Conservative Party has five per cent.

Interestingly, though, it’s not as ifBritish Columbians are suddenly enamored with Carole James and the BC NDP. It’s just that they’re really pissed at Campbell’s Liberals, and there’s no other real option.
Forty per cent of people polled described the NDP as "inefficient," and 37 per cent called it "weak."
What if there was another option, though? That’s where it gets interesting:
The poll found that a newly created centre-left party could form the government if it ran in the May 2013 election.

When asked, 34 per cent of people said they would vote for the new party, ahead of 28 per cent who said they would vote NDP. A new centre-left party would relegate the B.C. Liberals to third, the poll found.
That may sound like a surprising number, but to seasoned observers of BC politics it really shouldn’t be. There is a strong hunger for a centre-left alternative in the province, for a real Liberal party founded on core Liberal values and policies, instead of a party of conservatives usurping the Liberal name.

Could the vaunted BC Liberal coalition of right and centre (if it ever really existed other than in name) be ready to fracture? Maybe. Could we see a third party in the province, a party of the centre-left? If things get dire enough for the Campbell Liberals, it’s certainly possible we could see an exodus.

The question though is who flees though, and who do they attract. The other possibility is a strengthening of a right-wing party. Might some of the right-wing BC Liberals flee to the BC Conservative Party, or form their own alternative? The same Angus Reid poll showed a new right-wing party would guarantee an NDP majority and reduce the BC Liberals to 15% in the polls.

Even if the right fled, allowing the centre-left to reclaim the BC Liberals, the brand may be pretty tainted, sadly, at this point. A new party would seem like the better choice, with the better chance of securing voter support. It may be a question of who flees the BC Liberals first. But a centre-left party would have the best chance to form a government, drawing support from both centrist BC Liberals and BC NDP supporters who voted for the party by default. A solidly right-wing party wouldn't challenge for government.

We seem to go through these upheavals every now and again in BC. The constant, though, has been a two-party system. The BC Liberals were largely a fringe party under Wilson until the Socred takeover. We essentially traded the Socreds for the new “Liberals.”

Now we may be due for another upheaval. Whatever happens though, I hope we don’t end up with another two-party province. The ideal situation would be parties of the left, right and centre. And wherever you’d put the Greens.

BCers deserve clear choices, and they’ve been lacking for far too long.

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Kyle H. said...

Very good post, Jeff.

I agree; BC does look like its ready for a new alternative. The problem is, however, that any alternative will most likely be built out of existing organizations, which presents a problem.

The most likely scenario is the one you mentioned; right-wingers within the BC Liberals moving to the BC Conservatives, while the social liberals remain within the BC Liberals. The SoCreds did it after their collapse, and history does repeat...

But that means BC would need to sit through a term or two of NDP government, much like in the '90s after the SoCred collapse, before any centre-left party (assuming the BC Liberals go that route) could amass enough organization or support to win. Which isn't too bad of a trade-off to my Ontarian eyes, though I wasn't living under the Harcourt/Clark NDP either...

Niles said...

I could see a splinter to the Right. I'm not really sure there *is* a middle ground in BC. This is speaking as one who grew up listening to a Sask NDPer arguing with his BC brethren *and* the BC Socreds (it was uh, vigorous debate) and that's where he retired, so the debate went on for many a summer.

Given the number of billboards in the Interior extolling Right virtues and MPs and the American influence up through the dry side of Washington with its lil teabaggers and Christianists, I've noticed a growing frustration amid envy of the furore south of the 49th. Like Campbell isn't Right *enough*.

All this while I listen to the progressive BC kinfolk muttering darkly about the sale of BC rail and waterways and what will it take to get people to stop voting Socred. They're not sure even the HST will do it. I have yet to hear any of them approve of the tax, simply because none of them see it as harmonizing anything but (depending on pov, large corporation or government) pockets.

Stuck in one-party Alberta, it's all very interesting to me.

Joan said...

Before Campbell's second election victory, I supported the Democratic Reform Party, which was formed by a group of disgruntled liberal voters who saw the Liberal Party of BC as another right wing conservative party which had usurped the Liberal name only. Mr. Merino, who led the DRP, was not allowed to speak at the Leaders Debate and was given short shrift by the media. I know that there was little chance of him winning but it is surely very difficult to establish a new party without ANY media coverage. Add to that a lack of funds and you get failure. What a shame that it is really money that talks. I would be the first to jump on the wagon if a truly Liberal Party were to be established under any name.

Eugene Forsey Liberal said...

Surely there is already a municipal precedent, so call the new party: Vision BC.

Kyle H. said...

"Surely there is already a municipal precedent, so call the new party: Vision BC."

Vision Vancouver is made up of New Democrats and Greens. That's not too liberal, that's just left, even if they're the more moderate of the left in Vancouver.

BC Mary said...

It's really a pity that political parties don't believe in honest labels.

Reform became Alliance then Canadian Reform Alliance Party (CRAP), then Democratic Reform Party (I'm getting mixed up now ...)

then Conservative Party of Canada (CPC being the time-honoured, registered name of the Communist Party of Canada but hey, they lost the court challenge ... go figure!).

The worst, I think, is when we know that BC Liberals aren't Liberals.

Please keep this discussion going, Jeff. Perhaps we'll reach a concensus on a new party. I heard someone suggest "Dogwood Party".

marie said...

Hey, I am a long time BC resident and given the choices we have, I still intend to park my vote with the liberals. I have seen the corruption of the NDP, not ever seen a Conservative candidate I would vote for.

I am asking questions of the liberals on the HST and why are we not getting more facts so we can decide for ourselves. As for the Media, they are no better provincially then federal. I do not watch CTV for obvious reasons.

If anyone thinks the HST would not be implemented if the NDP were to win, Maybe I can sell you some ocean front property in the South Okanogan. I can't stand Carole James and I can't stand the big unions demanding more than this province can deliver. She is about as credible as the CARP party was and still is federaly.