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Can NDP Tiptoe to Victory?

Polls show BC's Liberals are wounded. Carole James had better not assume they are dead.

Rafe Mair 19 Jul

Rafe Mair's column runs every second Monday on The Tyee. Find his previous Tyee columns here and more of his writings on The Common Sense Canadian.

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NDP leader James: the tiger's bite?

The latest polls put Gordon (Pinocchio) Campbell in deep doo-doo at 23 points behind the NDP.

First, let's talk about what this means for the NDP. As Carole James looks at the numbers she will note that while the Liberals are way down, neither she nor her party have much benefited in the new numbers. In fact, the Green Party and the moribund Conservatives get more than one fifth of the action and though neither of them shows any ability to win seats, they can split the vote.

It also shows a remarkable opportunity for a new party of the centre. In spite of the idiotic blatherings of former Tory MP Randy White, the Conservatives are not going to get heaps of support because those angry voters won't vote NDP thus rocketing some as yet unnamed Conservative into the Premier's office.

Because Mr. White evidently doesn't understand B.C. politics, here are some reasons why the local branch of Mr. Harper's party is not even in the picture.

1. As Gordon Wilson understood and acted upon when he became leader of the BC Liberals, he immediately shed all connections to the federal party. British Columbians don't like federal parties in their provincial elections. This doesn't apply to the NDP because they have no chance of forming a federal government.

2. As emphasis to number one, a provincial Conservative party will forever be blamed for what Stephen Harper is doing and has done.

3. The political vacuum is at the centre, not the far right. British Columbia is not a right-wing province. Though we have elected lots of Conservatives and before them Reform Party MPs, that's because we wanted reform and, given the stark choices, the Tories seemed a better bet than either of the other parties. Rafe's Axiom II applied -- "You don't have to be a 10 in politics, you can be a 3 if everyone else is a 2."

Campbell will not be the opponent

Back to James. What does she do?

Her present policy, evidently, is to avoid the arena but to tiptoe around the spectators, telling chambers of commerce that she and her party are safe to vote for. I believe that's a naïve approach.

She must judge the next election with the realistic strategy that since the Liberals will have a new leader, probably Carole Taylor, Diane Watts or Mike DeJong, she must govern herself accordingly. As long as James evades the issues of this day (more on issues in a moment), she's really no better off than a Carole Taylor or Diane Watts who will be able to say "I wasn't part of the past; let us deal with the future of this great province, blah, blah, blah" In essence their position will be "new pitcher, new strikes."

Since most Liberal candidates will not have been in the present caucus, the Campbell baggage will be reduced, leaving James to face a newly branded Liberal party. She should prepare with that in mind.

Here's the important part for the NDP. Either they take a stand against the James strategy or they get rid of her. They must make this decision before the end of this year. The NDP have a glorious history of eating their whelp in the manner of a frightened mother mink, a habit they must break now by either support for James' policy or get it over with and install Adrian Dix or Mike Farnworth.

NDP's great opportunity

Assuming the NDP does get its act together, why will a Liberal comeback be difficult if not impossible?

The answer is contained in what will hereafter be called "Rafe's Axiom III," namely, "never create an unpopular issue that will still be around at election time."

To do so, is tantamount to suicide.

When I was in government an eon ago, we had an example of Rafe's Axiom III. We had just been elected and had to clean up an NDP mess. The finance minister, the late Evan Wolfe, brought his proposed budget to cabinet, which called for raises in the price of rye, scotch, vodka, gin and beer.

Premier Bill Bennett gave one of his famous black scowls and said "don't tax the workingman's beer -- do you want every voter in his watering hole reminded, every day from now until voting day, of our unpopular 1976 budget, which they otherwise would have forgotten?"

Lousy logic but great politics.

Let's look at Premier Campbell's violations of Axiom III:

1. Thanks to the Basi-Virk trial, the offloading of BC Rail to CN will still be an issue in 2013 -- so will the fact that he had sworn in two elections that he wouldn't do it.

2. Because of his spectacular election falsehoods about the huge deficit B.C. had, relying on ancient but much more digestible numbers, the Liberals will not be able to rely upon the myth that they know best how to manage our financial affairs.

3. The Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) will be a constant reminder, as beer would have been in Bill Bennett's day, of this hated tax, an issue spliced with election untruths about it. In this latter regard, let me tell you that no deal like this with Ottawa can happen suddenly. In my experience, to put this whole deal together would required at least three months, perhaps longer.

4. One can only guess at what consequences will flow from Bill Vander Zalm and Chris Delaney's successful campaign against the HST but, sure as God made little green apples, they won't help the government!

5. As I predicted back in 2002, the destruction of wild salmon by lice emanating from fish farms will be very much in play in 2013 and, rightly, the Liberals will wear it. It's now clear that Pinocchio and his minions knew about the sea lice problem before they removed the moratorium on increasing the number or capacity of fish cages and that they then hid the scientific evidence about that problem from the public while maintaining that all the science was on their side.

6. Pinocchio's unbelievable rivers policy, where large international companies are destroying our rivers to create power at a time when BC Hydro doesn't need it, forcing Hydro to export it for half or less than what they paid for it, will be front and centre -- especially if, as I suspect, it results in civil disobedience.

7. More and more the Campbell decision to destroy wild habitat and farmland with his idiotic Gateway decision will be seen not only as environmentally destructive but lousy economics as it becomes obvious to all that Deltaport will not need to expand now that the Northwest Passage is open and the huge Panama Canal upgrades are finished.

8. A very antsy bunch of voters will, every day it pays a large toll on the new Highway 1, be reminded of why it hates the Campbell government.

9. Above all, Campbell and his government will be seen as serial tellers of blatant falsehoods.

Pussycat politics won't win

Does all of this bode so evil for the Liberals that they will be facing a 2002-like wipeout?

On the merits it should, but merit doesn't always count in politics. However they face this dilemma -- if Campbell goes, the leadership contest will serve, as did the NDP convention that elected Ujjal Dosanjh, a public display of very soiled linen indeed.

On the other hand, if they do not replace Campbell, the next election could be a wipeout, especially if a new version of the old Social Credit Party with a credible leader (John Cummins and Vicki Huntington come to mind) appears on the scene.

Finally (no saying thank God!) all of this makes the issue of NDP leadership and policy the deciding factor.

Can pussycat politics prevail in this province? Or does winning require a snarling tiger? It's one or the other, folks.

The New Democratic Party must answer that question soon.

Very soon.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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