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'Liberals Left Me, I Didn't Leave Them'

Tom Morino tries to position Democratic Reform B.C. as a centrist party.

Scott Deveau 6 Apr 2005TheTyee.ca
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Democratic Reform BC leader Tom Morino

Leave it to B.C. to have a Liberal party on the right and a Reform party on the left, but that’s where the cards lay heading into the May 17th provincial election.

Canadian voters have a historical strong affinity for socially democratic parties, explaining the federal Liberal’s 12-year strangle-hold on Ottawa. But the B.C. Liberal party has demonstrated that the only thing it shares in common with its federal counterpart is a name. With an agenda of privatization and cuts to social services, a hole has formed in the centre of the province’s political landscape.

The last Ipsos-Reid poll exploring specific voter opinion of B.C.’s political parties showed more than 60 per cent of those surveyed believed “Gordon Campbell balanced the budget on the backs of the poor and vulnerable.” Forty per cent of those polled felt Campbell and his BC Liberals were “mean spirited.”

Neither the New Democratic Party nor the Green Party has thus far managed to position itself in the centre-left position, where traditionally Canadians look to cast their votes.

More than 60 per cent of those surveyed in the December poll said the NDP was “too closely tied” the labour movement for their liking. Half of those polled agreed “British Columbia can’t afford another NDP government” and the same amount said it can’t afford another four years under the B.C. Liberals.

Yet, in March 46 per cent of those surveyed by Ipsos-Reid said they would vote for the Liberals in the next election, 39 would go NDP, and 12 would go Green.

A mish-mash of misfits

The Democratic Reform B.C. – aka Doctor BC – hopes to become the party of choice for the centre-left voter with its self-proclaimed “moderate, fiscally accountable and socially responsible agenda.”

DR BC’s platform focuses on a broad range of issues from supporting the single transferable vote reforms to creating First Nations’ constituencies, equitable funding for schools across the province, stable taxes, debt reduction, and continuing the moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration.

DR BC is a mish-mash of disenfranchised misfits from unelected parties across the political spectrum that changed its name several times before settling on its eponym.

DR BC includes former members of the BC Democratic Alliance and moderate conservatives who jumped ship from the Reform Party of BC after it was taken over by “extremists” from the Family Coalition and BC Unityparties.

Likewise, the All Nations Party of BC has joined the party after being alienated from the political process in the past by registering less than two per cent of the popular vote in the 2001 election.

Excluded form televised leadership debate

The DR BC originally hoped to have a candidate in each of the province’s 79 ridings. However, with less than a month to go until the writ is dropped, party leader Tom Morino has moderated his expectation to having roughly 50 “good hard working, worthy candidates” running in the May 17 election.

Another question is whether DR BC will be able to get its message out with its non-existent resources. Compared to the B.C. Liberals’ rumored $25 million war chest, Morino said he is currently contemplating blowing the entire $1 his party has allocated for television ads on a Speaker’s Corner message for his party. “The good news is we don’t have any debt,” Morino said. “The bad news is that we don’t have a lot of resources.”

The consortium of television outlets that is co-producing a leadership debate has indicated it will include Green Party leader Adriane Carr but exclude Morino. Speaking for the consortium, which includes unlikely bedfellows CBC, BCTV/Global, CHUM, CTV, Channel M and Fairchild, CBC producer Wayne Williams explained to The Sun that in order to participate, a party had to receive at least 10 per cent of the vote in the last election.

Morino called the rule exclusionary. Since DRBC didn’t exist in 2001, there’s no way his party could meet the criteria. Promising to protest the decision, Morino said he is not daunted by the odds.

“If I’m relegated to be a voice in the wilderness for the remainder of my political career, so be it. At least I know what I’m saying, I truly and genuinely believe in. Am I naïve? Absolutely not. Am I frightened? Absolutely not.”

Backbencher “eaten alive”

Morino said his party is the only “real” third party in the province, despite the Greens polling at 12 per cent of the vote. He added, unlike the Greens, DR BC actually has someone in the house, though she wasn’t elected under its banner.

Elayne Brenzinger, a former Liberal backbencher, joined the DR BC earlier this year.

The Liberal MLA, who received among the lowest number of votes out of any elected Liberal in the 2001 election, made headlines last year when she went kicking and screaming out of the BC Liberal party.

Brenzinger was accused of being abusive to her staff and when she quit the party, she fired accusations back at the premier saying he was pressing ahead with his own “secret mandate.”

Brenzinger also accused one of her party colleagues of groping her. She then retracted that accusation with one of the most confounding statements in recent B.C political history. She said after consulting with her staff, she no longer felt that she had been assaulted.

“Ms. Brenzinger will be the first to admit, she, like so many first time politicians are exceedingly naive, and her particularly so. She was eaten alive by the sharks, vultures, and parasites down at the leg. But I’m satisfied she’s a well meaning caring compassionate individual,” Morino said.

However, Brenzinger may have seen the last of the legislature. In her Surrey-Whalley riding she will be up against Surrey city councilor and Liberal nominee Barbara Steele and former BC NDP president Bruce Ralston.

( Battleground B.C. columnist Will McMartin predicts Ralston will walk away with the riding because prior to 2001, Surrey-Whalley was a traditional NDP stronghold.)

Poaching from both left and right

The DR BC leader Tom Morino is a bit of misfit himself. The Vancouver Island criminal lawyer is a former founding member of the BC Liberal party and twice-failed Liberal candidate. He defines himself as “true Liberal” who understands the electorate’s sense of abandonment.

“The Liberals left me. I didn’t leave the Liberals,” Morino said. “Their movement to the right, and to an ideologically driven agenda, privatization and business alike, it’s just simply an unhealthy way of approaching it.”

Also unhealthy is the two-party system precipitated by the B.C. Liberals’ move to right, Morino said. “The two-party system is an anathema to political ascendancy and the two consequences are the extreme polarization with each subsequent election, which is what has happened in this province, or alternatively, just look south of the border to see water finding its own level when you have the country literally ripped down the middle.

“Neither of those consequences is healthy. What we need is at least another voice and hopefully one of moderation,” he said. “The third party traditionally takes the moral high road, because they can afford to do so, because, one would argue, they are not going to form power,” Morino said.

A third party in the centre can also poach ideas from both the left and the right, Morino admits. “What we’re trying to do is remain broad-based as long as we remain moderate,’ Morino said. “There are no definitive answers. There are merely solutions, and those solutions can only be arrived at by a distillation of all of the different views. And yeah, we’re poaching from the left and from the right. If we do more of that we have a better chance of solving some of the issues that need to be solved.”

Seeking the middle path

UBC political scientist Gerald Baier said DR BC has the right idea about how to draw votes, though he had no opinion of the party itself.

"The average voter in B.C. is the type of person who likes “to climb mountains and drive an SUV,” Baier said. These voters are put off by the narrow ideology of the Greens, the labour affiliation of the NDP and the bottom-line politics of the B.C. Liberals, Baier said.

“One of the truisms in electoral studies, political science, and in particular Canadian party politics that there is a notion of brokerage and a middle road that has been quite successful,” Baier said. “Parties in the centre attract more voters.”

In B.C., the polarity between the two major parties has formed because, in a province with resource-based economy, the labour unions have garnered considerable support, Baier said.

“Reaction to that has been equally strong – you had the Social Credit and now the provincial BC Liberals playing the other side,” he added.

One of the reasons Baier argues the B.C. Liberals did so well in the last election is that they were able to position themselves in the middle of the Social Credit/Conservatives and the NDP.

In the 2001 election, the B.C. Liberals were able to capture more of the average vote. They were also able to capitalize on their name by capturing voters who normally vote for the federal Liberal party.

Scott Deveau is a staff reporter for The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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