Friday, November 05, 2010

Gordon Campbell Can't Leave Fast Enough

Recently resigned B.C. premier Gordon Campbell should not wait for the Liberals to pick a new leader before he leaves his post. Sticking around would be a disservice to his party and his province.

On Aug. 20, 2010, I predicted the fall of Gordon Campbell. On Nov. 3, Campbell formally announced that he had asked the B.C. Liberal Party executive “to hold a leadership convention at the earliest possible date to select a new leader for [their] party.” Thus ends Campbell’s career as premier of British Columbia.

What wasn’t announced is whether Campbell intends to stick around as a lame duck or whether an interim leader will be appointed. A regular B.C. Liberal convention has been scheduled for Nov. 19 and 20, so an actual leadership convention would likely not be held until spring 2011 at the earliest.

Staying on until then would be a strategic blunder for Campbell, something he has made a habit of since his 2009 re-election. After imposing HST after the last election with no warning to the public, Campbell saw his approval rating plummet to nine per cent. He then essentially lectured British Columbians about the HST in a televised address last week. Buried within his speech was a major income tax cut – yet the lecture was not well received, and Campbell’s approval ratings stayed locked in the single digits.

More worrying still for the premier was a leadership review vote that was due to be held at the November convention. Although there has been some speculation about the growing dissension within his own caucus, others have speculated that it may have been the possibility of getting a less-than-glowing endorsement vote from the party faithful that may have finally persuaded Campbell to announce his intention to resign.

Whatever his motivation, Campbell’s decision does create an opportunity for the B.C. Liberals to rebuild their relationship with the voters of British Columbia. The fact is that the Campbell era did generally provide sound fiscal and economic management.

The other thing the B.C. Liberals have going for them is that the only opposition party they face in the legislature is the NDP. Their leader, Carole James, has lost two elections in a row against the B.C. Liberals, and her approval rating stands at only about 27 per cent.

Right now, the B.C. NDP is at 49 per cent in the polls, while the B.C. Liberals are at about half that. Campbell’s successor faces the daunting challenge of winning back their traditional supporters while at the same time attempting to convince British Columbians that the HST is good for the economic growth of the province. A referendum on the future of the HST has been set for October 2011.

Rather than an income-tax cut, it would likely have been smarter for Campbell to announce his intention to lower the HST from 12 per cent to 11 per cent the next fiscal year and to lock it in at 10 per cent the year after that. At least that way B.C. voters would be choosing between an eventual HST of 10 per cent versus a return to a GST of five per cent and a PST of seven per cent.

The B.C. NDP, which has been delighted by the HST backlash, also has a reputation as a tax-and-spend party to contend with. It also doesn’t help that the NDP government in Nova Scotia earlier this year raised their HST from 12 per cent to 15 per cent.

A new leader not only gives the B.C. Liberals a chance to successfully contend with the B.C. NDP in the 2013 provincial election, but will likely forestall the rise of any third parties that would serve to split the anti-NDP vote. The B.C. Liberals are in fact a coalition of people who are federal Liberals and federal Conservatives. Keeping that coalition intact will make the matter of succession an especially tricky one.

This article was initially published by The Mark News