By Max Miller, Grade 12
So much has happened since Gordon Campbell’s government introduced the Harmonized Sales Tax to British Columbian citizens, that it’s hard to believe it’s been scarce more than a year since. The HST raised taxes on everything from groceries to haircuts to 12%. It was introduced shortly after the Liberals, led by Gordon Campbell, were re-elected on the platform that they would not raise taxes this way. Because of this decision, Campbell became one of the least popular politicians in Canada, and he stepped down from office in March 2011.
By: Puneet Riar, Alumnus
In the last couple of months, British Columbia’s politics has been acting the way a grade seven class acts when the teacher hasn’t photocopied enough handouts and steps out to print off more – chaotic. Backstabbing, resignations and expulsions have dominated newspaper headlines across the country and it seems that this whole situation will carry on in the year 2011.
On October 7, Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson was expelled from the British Columbia New Democratic Party caucus (he now sits as an Independent) for criticizing a speech BCNDP Leader Carole James made to the Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention—and indirectly, criticized her leadership. A few days after that, on the 15th of October, the caucus (party) chair Norm Macdonald resigned from his position, the reason being that James failed to consult him on Simpson’s discipline. Following Macdonald’s resignation, on November 19th caucus whip Katrine Conroy also resigned, stating the same reason as Mr. Macdonald’s.
If this wasn’t bad enough, things really started to get worse as the days went on. Before the November 20th NDP Provincial Council (deliberative body to discuss issues within a party; includes reaffirming confidence in the party leader), the caucus revolt came to light when three MLAs (Jenny Kwan, Claire Trevena and Lana Popham) met with Carole James in Vancouver and quietly gave her a letter signed by 13 NDP MLAs—dubbed the “Baker’s Dozen”—stating that they had lost confidence in her as a leader. Ignoring this, James went into the provincial council in Victoria and managed the approval of 84% of the council, rejecting a motion for a leadership convention next year. Pro-Carole scarves were being handed out at the council, though the “Baker’s Dozen” refused to wear them to show solidarity in their dissent.
Fast forward to December 1st: leader of the “Baker’s Dozen” Jenny Kwan (Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA and one of the longest serving BCNDP MLAs) released a statement, saying that James was “dividing the party by staying on as leader” and that “under James’ leadership, debate has been stifled, decision making centralized and individual MLAs marginalized”. The statement also called for an immediate leadership convention. In response to the scathing statement, James scheduled an emergency caucus meeting for December 5th but was indefinitely postponed so private discussions could be held with the “Baker’s Dozen”. Coming out of these discussions was a statement of solidarity: if James tried to eject even one member of the dozen out of the NDP Party, she would have to remove all 13 of the members—that’s 40% of the party. Under law, these 13 could actually form their own party!
To add scandal to the situation, Kwan also condemned a “backroom deal” of former cabinet minister and party president, Moe Sihota, being paid a $76,000 salary by unions. Kwan alleged that James knew about this deal for a long time but had just revealed it to the party around the beginning of December. “There should be no place in today’s politics for such backroom deals,” said Kwan; irony in my opinion.
Taking the infighting no more, 7-year Leader Carole James surprisingly resigned on December 6th, stating that her decision had been made “in the best interests of British Columbians, who expect and deserve a functioning Opposition”. James will stay on as leader until a new leader is chosen. No date has been set yet for this.
While the NDP seems to be in the spotlight, within the British Columbia Liberals, Premier Campbell also made the headlines when he resigned on November 3rd amidst a 9% approval rating and the implementation of the HST. He will also stay on as premier until a new leader is chosen on February 26, 2011.
Barely two months ago, the NDP was revelling in a massive lead in the polls against the Liberals. In a mid-October Angus Reid poll, 49% of British Columbians would have voted NDP compared to the 24% for the Liberals. The Mustel poll out on December 17, however, gives the Liberals a five point lead over the NDP, 41 to 36. So far, candidates to replace Campbell are: former Education Minister George Abbot; former Health Minister Kevin Falcon; former Attorney General Mike de Jong; former Minister of Regional Economic and Skills Development Moira Stilwell; and the favourite Christy Clark, a former BC Liberal cabinet minister. On the flip side, no public statements have been made, but Fraser-Nicola MLA Harry Lali, Port Coquitlam MLA Mike Farnworth, and our own Vancouver-Kingsway MLA Adrian Dix are all suspected contenders of the NDP leadership.
Things like this don’t usually happen in BC. With party discipline so rigid, members of a party rarely vote on their own opinions, let alone try to boot their leader out of her position; it is really crazy for all this to happen. With both leaders soon to be gone, both parties will be able to start fresh and redefine themselves by the next election. Even so, the Liberals seem to have a slight advantage: with the BCNDP crisis, they could point out to the electorate that the party is not fit to run government if it can’t even run its own party. What the NDP party needs now is a leader that can bridge the gap between the James dissenters and supporters, whereas the Liberals simply need a leader, because at this point any one is better than “Gordo”. NDP strategist David Schreck accused the “Baker’s Dozen” and Jenny Kwan of “blowing up the party” and “destroying their chances of beating a reinvigorated Liberal party in 2013.” Within the NDP, some say that the firing of Bob Simpson was right, but I have to disagree. I believe that the opposing party to James should not be silenced. Within a democracy, questioning and disagreement with authority is allowed. It is not just the majority who matters, but the minority as well. As Edward R. Murrow’s once said, “we must not confuse dissent with disloyalty”.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/blackbird_hollow/2893862600/ Carole picture
http://www.flickr.com/photos/claytonperry/5145345354/ Gordon picture