We don’t know much about the B.C. Liberals except that after tomorrow, they will form the next government.
These Liberals have never been in power before and so it’s difficult to say what they will do. The last Liberal party in power in B.C. was from 1933 to 1941, with Premier John Duncan MacLean. But you can’t compare these two Liberal parties. Today’s Liberals are not the Liberals of sixty years ago — in fact, they are not even exclusively liberal.
The B.C. Liberals are an collage of Social Credit, Conservatives, Reform, and even a few liberals. The remnants of these former parties coalesced with the express purpose of defeating the NDP, and that’s what they will do. They are a unite-the-right party that the Canadian Alliance and federal Conservatives should envy.
Premier-elect Campbell has kept a tight reign on his party, and so he should. He doesn’t want maverick candidates blowing the election by saying stupid things. Campbell has thrown out a few clues about what his party would do, such as the proposed referendum on Native land claims.
But this referendum is not going to happen. Campbell will drop this contentious proposal to have British Columbians decide the fate of B.C.’s minority Native peoples. Most members of his party understand that such a referendum would be divisive. Also, a referendum would delay the settlement of land claims that cost $1 billion a year in lost investment.
Campbell must bring together the factions of his party. To please the liberal faction, he plans to proceed with the NDP plan to increase the minimum wage to $8.00 per hour, the highest in Canada. This will not endear him to his business lobby. To please the reformers, he plans to allow private insurers to take profits from the public insurance company, ICBC.
The problems start for the B.C. Liberals the day after his government is sworn in. Then approximately 70 Liberal MLAs will want to have their voice heard in legislature. When you have a party formed out of discontent with the current government, guess what you have after gaining power? Discontent.
I’d like to offer Premier-apparent Campbell some free advice. Learn from the experience of the Canadian Alliance. They were forged on discontent with just about everything: federal politics, western alienation, government intervention, and ex-leader Manning.
Forget about the notoriously fickle grassroots. They want contradictory things. The grassroots want reduced taxes and increased spending for health care. They want less government red tape and strict regulations for polluters of our air and water. The grassroots want cheap goods and services and well paying jobs. They want the government to get out of the way of free enterprise and a publicly owned hydro utility. In short, voters want less government and the protection that government should provide.
Stockwell Day learned the hard way that you can’t depend on the grassroots. If you live by the grassroots, you die by the grassroots. Party discipline is the key. Keep a lid on dissension and stick to party principles. Of course, with the diverse political constituents of the B.C. Liberals, a set of coherent party principles are going to be tough to establish.
The B.C. Liberals can’t be complacent about tomorrow’s vote. There is the danger that voters will think that the Liberal win is a done-deal and not show up at the polls. On the other hand, supporters of the NDP and the Green party are motivated. The NDP is fighting to form opposition party status and the Green party is riding a surging crest of popularity. All of these factors will reduce the popular vote for the Liberals from the current 70 per cent to about 50 percent. It’s still enough for a sweeping majority, leaving the NDP with a core from which they can rebuild. The Green party will elect the first member to legislature in North America.
Four years from now, there will be calls for the parties on the left to unite to defeat the Liberals. One thing is for certain, B.C. politics will never be dull.