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Martin's Strange 'Dream'

The Liberals' hand-picked team for B.C. is proving, like a lot of dreams, confusingly incoherent.

By Tom Hawthorn 14 Jun 2004 | TheTyee.ca
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TheTyee.caThey fell from the skies as gift-wrapped parcels from the gods.Plop! A party honcho for Burnaby-Douglas. Splat! A union leader for New Westminster-Coquitlam.Thud! Thunk! Thump! An ex-premier for Vancouver South, a boardroom sharpie for Vancouver East, a captain of industry for Vancouver Kingsway.The British Columbia skies were so dotted with parachutists it looked like a D-Day re-enactment.B.C. is a Liberal wasteland except for enclaves in Victoria and Vancouver. This province has long been resistant to the party's charms. But this year was supposed to be different. The parachutes delivered to a handful of B.C. ridings the latest star recruits to Team Paul Martin.

Dosanjh, Emerson, Haggard and the rest: this was the election to show British Columbians they mattered in Ottawa.But this far into the campaign, members of Martin's hand-picked "dream team" seem to be tangling the lines as they plummet to earth.Consider the fact that the current most powerful B.C. Liberal MP in Ottawa, David Anderson, has staked his reputation on protecting B.C.'s environment. But Anderson more and more appears at odds with two of the most high profile "dream team" members, former timber company honcho David Emerson, and former timber union honcho Dave Haggard, tag team partners in exploiting the forests.Oil in the familyConfusion over which B.C. candidates, if elected, would likely gain Martin's ear deepened last week with the unveiling of the Liberals vaunted "made-in-B.C. agenda" Among boilerplate promises in the glossy, 16-page pamphlet are provocative words about an untapped natural resource beneath the seabed.Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas tea.A moratorium on the exploration for offshore oil and natural gas was imposed by the Liberals in Ottawa, a ban for which David Anderson takes credit. The environment minister is seeking re-election in Victoria. Conservative leader Stephen Harper stopped by Anderson's riding this week, tweaking the minister by telling reporters the Trudeau-era, made-in-Ottawa moratorium was holding back the province's economic development.The minister defended his handiwork to reporter Cindy E. Harnett. "It's not Ottawa that has put this ban on, it's David Anderson," he told the Victoria Times Colonist, speaking of himself in the imperious third person. "It's a West Coast decision and a West Coast person made that decision."The problem for Anderson - and confusing for B.C. voters - is that these days, so many other politicians want to find a gusher off the coast. Some provincial government ministers are so eager they've all but donned hardhats and leather gloves to start drilling. As the senior Liberal minister in Ottawa, Anderson has been a sometimes lonely governing voice in demanding environmental hazards be identified before the moratorium ends.With a federal review panel stacked with industry insiders, the bubbling crude may be flowing sooner rather than later.Another hint can be found on Page 3 of the Liberals' made-in-B.C. agenda. "We all recognize the challenges associated with developing B.C.'s offshore oil and gas resource. To proceed, we must have confidence that the environmental effects are known and that our coastal communities will benefit."That reads more like a When than an If. It's certainly far removed from Anderson's Not Now, Maybe Later.Dream team scorecardThe back cover of the agenda includes a statement by Paul Martin: "We have an unprecedented roster of candidates from British Columbia who will make your voice heard in Ottawa." It could also be described as a list of people to whom he's willing to listen, what with having appointed them and all.The Liberal Dream Team features, on right-wing, David Emerson, a slick CEO for whom Team Liberal has great hopes; at centre, Ujjal Dosanjh, amiable former captain of Team NDP, recently picked up as a free agent; at left-wing, Dave Haggard, blessed with a goon's build and not afraid to mix it up in the corners.Other star recruits make up a second line: ex-NDPer and Mike Harcourt assistant Shirley Chan (Vancouver East), Liberal party muckymuck Bill Cunningham (Burnaby-Douglas) and veteran Haida leader Miles Richardson (Skeena-Bulkley Valley), who at least had to win his place on the squad by actually winning a contested nomination meeting.Add Conservative defector Dr. Keith Martin (Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca) and incumbent Stephen Owen (Vancouver-Quadra) to the mix and the Liberals would seem to have their strongest B.C. lineup in years.Austin's powersAs a concept, selecting a Dream Team made sense when polls indicated the Liberals were guaranteed an easy path to victory. The party could count on several hand-picked candidates to be at caucus in preparation for grooming for a future cabinet post. Those that didn't make it this time would be offered a reward for their efforts.The strategy's potential downside, however, seems steeper every new day of the campaign. The emerging hodge-podge of imposed personalities and positions may well reinforce an image of the party as more arrogant than coherent in its political vision.The scout for the Liberals has been Sen. Jack Austin, a Martin loyalist reprising the role played by fellow Liberal Sen. Ross Fitzpatrick on behalf of Jean Chrétien. While recruiting former NDP premier Dosanjh is a coup, the heavy-hitter among the stars is Emerson, the former president and chief executive officer of Canfor Forest Products and the Vancouver International Airport Authority.The mistake is that the Liberals targeted his parachute for an eastside riding. Emerson's background leaves the impression that his only familiarity with Kingsway is to have visited the riding to dine at an ethnic restaurant or to hire a nanny. A CKNW report from an all-candidates' meeting this week that he urged immigrants to lose their accents through language training did little to lessen an image of noblesse oblige in bringing enlightenment to the teeming masses.Class conflictsEmerson would have been a natural candidate in Centre (claimed by Fry) or silk-stocking Quadra (by Owen). Instead, he faces an uphill slog against the NDP's Ian Waddell, an ex-MP and ex-MLA back on the hustings, and the Conservative's Jesse Johl. In a twist of political culture, Johl's Web site notes Emerson's salary last year of $624,000 with a bonus of $532,821, before asking, "Does David Emerson represent your family?"The candidacy of Industrial Wood and Allied Workers Union president Haggard was set in February when he met with the prime minister in Ottawa. A half-hour meeting scheduled for the end of the day lasted 90 minutes. Haggard was soon unsuccessfully trying to retain his provincial NDP membership while running for the federal Liberals.He won nomination in New Westminster-Coquitlam by acclamation - after convincing two would-be rivals (one a local businesswoman, the other an advocate for leaky condo owners) that he had the strength to win a showdown.Haggard has recently dismissed rumours about an untimely departure, although a faltering national campaign will do little to help him in a riding where the Liberals took just 28.71 percent of the vote in 2000.Green doubts play to NDPHaggard's departure makes it easier for the federal NDP to play up its green credentials at a time when some polls show the Green Party garnering one in 10 votes in the province. Besides, the IWA's undercutting of hospital workers with "rat contracts" has not endeared it to the labour movement.Dosanjh is running in the most Liberal riding in the province and should cruise to victory, as indicated by a recent COMPAS poll. The lawyer has made a remarkable transition in his career, from a flirtation with Maoism as a young immigrant working on a greenchain to NDP premier to potential federal Liberal cabinet minister. Also on the Vancouver South ballot is Charles Boylan of the Marxist-Leninists, who remembers Dosanjh from meetings in the late 1960s.(Dosanjh is not the only B.C. candidate with a problematic political entry on his resume. Conservative Ted White, the incumbent in North Vancouver, was a recent immigrant from New Zealand when he ran for Doug Christie's separatist Western Canada Concept in the 1983 provincial election.)The NDP does not have a history of treating apostates well. Hazen Argue was never forgiven for bolting to the Liberals after he lost the NDP leadership to Tommy Douglas. Dosanjh faces a similar shunning. Wearing the C of captaincy on a political sweater brings with it certain expectations, even if one's ardour for the party wanes: Bite your lip, step away from the fray, pay your annual membership, and await your federal sinecure. Just ask Roy Romanow.I'm 'Nobody'As well, the game of musical chairs that has seen so many switch parties leaves unanswered some biting questions. How could Dosanjh and Haggard have supported Alexa McDonough over Jean Chretien, but not Jack Layton over Paul Martin? How can Keith Martin reject Harper for Martin after remaining loyal to Stockwell Day against Chrétien?Tony Kuo is a businessman and would-be Liberal candidate whose dreams of democracy were quashed by the appointment of one of the star candidates. "I am Tony Kuo," he tearfully told reporters, "but now I call myself Tony Nobody."Bill Cunningham, who was named the candidate by the prime minister, is not expected to win a riding in which his party finished third in 2000. On the morning after the June 28 election, he will likely find himself as Bill Nobody. Call it the Liberals' new Status Kuo.Tom Hawthorn is a Victoria reporter who says that no matter who you vote for, the government always gets in.  [Tyee]

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