Monday, September 26, 2011

Rise of BC Conservatives makes NDP win in 2013 likely

I recently had the opportunity to attend the BC Conservative Annual General meeting in Nanaimo. Joining me in observing the gathering of provincial Tories were long time political columnists Les Leyne of the Victoria Times-Colonist and Vaughn Palmer of the Vancouver Sun. Their presence spoke volumes about how after decades in the political wilderness the BC Conservatives seemed poised to make a historic come back.

The party’s new leader former federal M.P. John Cummins, has noted that they “are holding steady at 20% in the polls.” With such support a win by the BC NDP becomes extremely likely in 2013. This is because the NDP are likely to have at least 40% support while the Greens and other also ran parties collecting 10%. This would leave at most only 30% for the BC Liberals.

A non united right has always resulted in a BC NDP win. In 1972 when the non-socialist vote was split between Social Credit the Liberals and the Conservatives all three parties elected MLAs but the NDP with only 38% of the vote won a landslide majority. When the right re-coalesced under Social Credit the NDP was once again reduced to opposition status for the remainder of the 1970s and 80s.

In 1991 Social Credit which had imploded under the leadership of Bill Vander Zalm saw it go from government to just 7 MLAs. The NDP won a solid majority with 40% of the vote while an upstart Liberal party led by Gordon Wilson took the party to official opposition status.

In 1996 the BC NDP edged out the BC Liberals in part because the BC Reform Party took just enough votes to ensure an NDP win. Under the leadership of Gordon Campbell the BC Liberals were able to maintain the right wing coalition. But Campbell’s mishandling of the HST and the introduction of new carbon taxes had many wondering if the governing BC Liberals were any less tax and spend than the BC NDP.

Campbell resigned over the HST debacle and the party elected a new leader Christy Clark who is a federal Liberal. The federal Conservatives made no secret of the fact they would have preferred one of their own such as Kevin Falcon to have been the leader. But sour grapes aside, there is also a genuine desire by the Harper Conservatives to see the Liberals disappear as a viable political brand name in Canada.

During the recent federal election Stephen Harper was delighted to not only secure a majority government but seeing the Liberals (Canada’s naturally governing party of the 20th century) reduced to third party status. By facing an NDP opposition the Conservatives are in an ideal position to be Canada’s naturally governing party of the 21st century.

Contrary to popular belief a win by the BC NDP would not be that upsetting to them either. Every time the NDP have won power in BC provincially, support for the NDP has fallen in the next federal election. Some Conservative strategists are quite willing to see the NDP win the next provincial election in 2013 because they are confident that would result in the NDP losing seats to the Conservatives in the next federal election.

Finally a BC Liberal loss could potentially create a situation where the right re-coalesces under the BC Conservative banner, once again relegating the BC Liberals to the political wilderness.
So don’t be surprised if you see the BC Conservatives fielding a full slate of candidates in the next provincial election and Adrian Dix emerging as the next Premier of B.C. You read it here first.

Michael Geoghegan is a government relations consultant based in Victoria, BC be sure to visit my website at and follow me on twitter @BCLobbyist

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Christy Clark triumphant

After three dramatic rounds of vote counting Christy Clark emerged as the new Premier elect of B.C. Her swearing in by the Lieutenant Governor of B.C. is but a formality. Her immediate challenge is two-fold to get elected in a by-election to the legislature and to keep the BC Liberal coalition united.

Complicating matters still further is the fact that Premier Clark and many of her key supporters are staunch federal Liberals while the candidate she narrowly defeated Kevin Falcon is very much a federal Conservative.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office made no secret of the fact that they would have much preferred to have seen Kevin rather than Christy win. This in part is due to the fact that Christy Clark’s ex-husband, Mark Marissen was then Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin’s right hand man in British Columbia.

But Prime Minister Harper and Premier Clark need each other. A federal election this April is likely and it will be British Columbia that will determine whether or not Harper is finally able to achieve a majority government. Harper thus needs to quickly mend fences with Premier Clark in order to ensure she does not do anything implicit or otherwise that is seen as endorsing the federal Liberals.

Any such move by Premier Clark would of course cause huge dissension within the BC Liberal caucus, which despite its name is made up of a majority of federal Conservative Party supporters. Clark already has her work cut out for her as prior to winning she had only received the endorsement of one sitting MLA. The rest had been fairly evenly divided between cabinet ministers Kevin Falcon and George Abbott.

But having known Christy Clark since she was 18 years old, I can tell you that few have ever prospered by underestimating the tenacity of this life long political warrior. The political left first felt threatened by her when she was elected President of the Simon Fraser Students’ Society back in the mid 1980s. This was a campus where historically the political divisions ran between the left (the NDP) and the extreme left (various forms of Communist sympathizers). To have a Liberal elected President was all but unheard of.

But elected she was and then when the BC Liberals emerged from political obscurity under the leadership of Gordon Wilson, she went to work at the legislature as a research officer. A few years later she then ran as an MLA under the leadership of Gordon Campbell and eventually served as Education Minister and Deputy Premier.

But as many people, especially women, found working for Premier Campbell was not an easy task. If you did too well and took too much attention away from him you could incur his wrath. But if you didn’t do well enough or made a mistake that also would put you in the political doghouse. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t is not a very tenable political situation to be in and so five years ago Christy bowed out of provincial politics.

Christy Clark was soon back in the spot light seeking the nomination from the NPA to be the candidate for Mayor of Vancouver. Both Mike Harcourt and Gordon Campbell had served first as Mayor of Vancouver before becoming Premier of B.C. and as most people surmised Christy was intent on following the same path.

In that instance she came up short in terms of support and it was Sam Sullivan who would instead win the nomination and go on to be a one term Mayor of Vancouver. Christy then landed on her feet as a radio talk show host at CKNW. It was there she not only remained in the public spotlight but more importantly was able to be in an environment where she was inundated on a daily basis with the concerns of British Columbians.

And nothing concerned British Columbians more after the last provincial election than the sudden and wholly unexpected imposition of a 12 per cent HST by Gordon Campbell. Although the HST has some benefits to it, the complete lack of consultation thoroughly alienated voters. In the end Premier Campbell resigned and called for a leadership vote.

During her time at CKNW Christy had not only become much more attuned to the concerns of voters she had also earned the respect of many long serving journalists. Pamela Martin who had for years served as a nightly news anchor actively campaigned on Christy’s behalf while other scribes wrote glowingly about her.

But the biggest ace that Christy Clark had up her sleeve was that she had not been in government when the much hated HST was rammed through by Premier Gordon Campbell. Kevin Falcon, George Abbott or Mike deJong had all been in cabinet when that fateful decision was made and although it is doubtful that they had much input on Premier Campbell’s decision, they all had to answer for it.

Unless another MLA volunteers to step aside, the most likely constituency that Christy Clark will run in will be Premier Campbell’s Vancouver Point Grey riding. Assuming as is likely that she wins that by-election her triumphant return to the legislature in Victoria will be complete.

Michael Geoghegan is a government relations consultant based in Victoria, BC He has known Christy Clark since they were both 18 years old.