Opinion

Step Right Up! The BC Liberal Leadership Circus Is Coming to Town!

Freak show ideas, and a good chance of brawl in the big top.

By Bill Tieleman 26 Sep 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Email him at weststar@telus.net see Twitter @BillTieleman or visit his blog.

“Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.” — Comedian George Carlin

The BC Liberal leadership three-ring circus has come to town, complete with clowns and a freak show of bizarre and hard-to-watch policy ideas.

And it doesn’t promise to be the greatest show on earth since many of the candidates’ proposed policies are more politically dangerous than a high-wire act without a net.

Bring back the hated Harmonized Sales Tax under a different name, with the same negative consumer impact and tax break to big business. Privatize health care and liquor sales. Create controversial “charter schools.”

These all come from Sam Sullivan, the Liberal MLA for Vancouver-False Creek and former Vancouver mayor intent on running a scary hard-right campaign.

Then there are freaky ideas from Chilliwack-Hope B.C. Liberal MLA Laurie Throness, who won’t run but wants his plans considered by the next leader. Throness wants a BC Liberal government to build our own Mount Rushmore — but with a humongous pair of cupped hands in prayer carved in stone

Throness would also “Teach children to accept and cherish their body shape and biological characteristics just as they are, no matter their gender expression.” Take that transgender defenders!

And Throness says the party must “Ensure that all art purchased at public expense ‘demonstrates unusual skill,’ as judged by a broad-based committee of distinguished artists.” Take that artsy avant gardists!

And to satisfy red meat conservatives, Throness would also scrap corporate taxes; sell one per cent of Crown land — 878,000 hectares — to pay down debt and promote privatized health care and child care.

More worrisome for BC Liberals, some veteran circus performers are already angry with potential ringmaster Dianne Watts, the Conservative MP for South Surrey-White Rock and ex-Surrey mayor who launched her leadership campaign Sunday.

“Where was Dianne Watts when we were fighting for our political lives?” asked Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong, the ex-finance minister and likely leadership contestant. He feels Watts did little to help in the May election when the Christy Clark crew blew it in Surrey and the suburbs, while other Conservative MPs pitched in.

And Watts’ choice of campaign strategists won’t inspire confidence with the federal Liberal wing of the BC Liberals — or those who like to win. She’s picked veteran BC Liberal and federal Conservative operative and lobbyist Patrick Kinsella and top Tory organizer Norman Stowe.

Kinsella was reputedly responsible for key decisions in the party’s disastrous Surrey campaign where BC Liberal cabinet ministers Peter Fassbender and Amrik Virk lost their seats, while Stowe managed the failed Kevin Falcon leadership campaign that lost to Christy Clark in 2011, despite significant caucus support for Falcon and one lone MLA backing Clark.

Kinsella also got himself in trouble for violating B.C.’s lobbying disclosure legislation, being fined $1,500 in 2014.

Their influence will also stir dissension and rancour among the federal Liberals in the BC Liberal coalition, encouraging a rallying of support around leadership contenders Andrew Wilkinson, the dour Vancouver-Quilchena MLA and ex-advanced education minister who announced his candidacy Monday, and Todd Stone, the Kamloops-South Thompson MLA and ex-transportation minister who is expected to enter the race.

Wilkinson was involved in the federal Liberals under Michael Ignatieff while Stone is a former federal Liberal riding president.

Mike Bernier, Peace River South MLA and former education minister, also announced his candidacy Monday and Michael Lee, the Vancouver-Langara MLA, is also expected to jump in this week.

Yes, the circus is in town and there may be more contenders than the number of clowns who pile out of a little clown car..

Insiders see a showdown between Watts and Wilkinson, Conservative versus Liberal, in the circus’s final act — one that may send half the crowd home unhappy.

As one veteran BC Liberal organizer said to me privately: “The elevator has not stopped going down yet for the party. It’s got a few floors left to hit bottom.”  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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