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How Grits Can Win

Ignatieff's road to victory leads through BC. Here's a map.

By Rafe Mair 15 Jun 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. Read previous columns by Rafe Mair here. He also acts as a spokesperson for the Save Our Rivers Society.

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Popular west of the West?

The election is dead! Long live the election!

I believe that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will go to the people this autumn, mainly because he doesn't want to have to bring down a budget in early 2010 knowing that it will be chock-a-block full of bad news.

We in B.C. always think that our votes are critical but that's not always so. If a party can get either Ontario with a reasonable number of MPs from Quebec or vice versa it's a slam dunk. I don't believe that Harper can get that combo, however, so he will be heavily reliant on the Atlantic Provinces, the Prairies and B.C.

Likewise Ignatieff will need votes outside the "golden triangle" if he's to become prime minister and he knows it.

It's nice to be popular

High on Mr. Harper's never-to-be-mentioned concerns is that Ignatieff already is and will be more popular than he. A good part of this is because the PM has the personality of a discarded Barbie Doll and really is a hard person to like much less love. Unloved politicians can win -- as Bill Bennett showed Dave Barrett in their times at each others' throats -- but it's better to be liked. It's sort of like Damon Runyan's statement that "the race is not always to the swift, nor the contest to the strong -- but that's the way to bet."

Ignatieff has that "something" that Pierre Trudeau had. It's hard to define. Some people can, through force of intellect, or perhaps a better way of connecting with people, develop charisma. A good example is the speeches at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863 where two men spoke, long time Senator and Harvard president, the respected Edward Everett, and Abraham Lincoln.

As the most prominent orator of his day, Everett gave the keynote address at the dedication of the new national cemetery and connected the heroic struggle for freedom in the classical and modern worlds with the valor and sacrifice demonstrated on America's battlefields justifying the Union cause. He predicted a reconciliation that would lead to a restored and stronger Union. Everett's speech lasted two hours and was much praised in the newspapers of the day.

Abraham Lincoln, using two minutes and 272 words, said in part, "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here" -- a world class false prediction! -- finishing with the memorable words "...we here highly resolve... that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

The press excoriated his brief effort but we all know which speech stood the test of time.

Though Harper is no Edward Everett and Ignatieff certainly no Lincoln the comparison is apt because it demonstrates that charisma and large concepts compressed into compact phrases can win the day.

How to win BC

Let us suppose that there is a Fall election and that things stay much as they are except Harper makes up some ground in Quebec, meaning that both parties are competitive. (I leave out the NDP because except in a few seats they are irrelevant). British Columbia's seats will be important -- even, perhaps, the difference between election or not, majority or not.

Michael Ignatieff must do three things and if he does them he will carry this province.

1.  Get his political geography straight. He has to understand that B.C. is not part of "the West" but is properly described by the title of Jean Barman's wonderful book, The West Beyond The West. Any who doubt the truth in this should hearken back to December 1995 when then Prime Minister Chretien in coming up with a constitutional amendment formula, included B.C. with the Prairie provinces and learned plainly and graphically what British Columbians thought of that idea!

2.  Defend our iconic salmon. He must promise to beef up Fisheries enforcement by taking back authority over salmon as mandated by the Alexandra Morton case, ordering all fish farms to be self contained, giving a reasonable but not a long time for those in existence to convert. He will revive Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), moribund since the days of the Mulroney government, and his distinctly un-environmental (O.K., Merriam-Webster, so I made the word up myself) Fisheries Minister, Tom Siddon. This is long overdue and despite British Columbian distaste for Ottawa and its rules, most here would welcome with enthusiasm a return to enthusiastic protection of our fish and their rivers.

3. Return a voice to local citizens. Ignatieff should do this by insisting, under the federal environmental jurisdiction, that all policies meaning a disruption of any river must be preceded by a public hearing process that allows citizens the right to debate the need for such a project; in short the merits of the project itself, as well as the environmental concerns.

Ignatieff will look at the provincial election results in B.C. and see that where these concerns were very real, the NDP won. He should know that NDP seats will go Liberal if their issues are recognized. (Those of a certain age will remember when Vancouver East went Liberal.)

A last chance for voters

There are risks involved to be sure. If Ignatieff wins, he must deal with Premier Gordon Campbell and many powerful provincial Liberals are also federal Liberals. He will have to choose between promising what British Columbians want and peaceful relations with Campbell. The first choice wins him 24 Sussex Drive, the second doesn't.

Mr. Ignatieff is a smart man and can do elementary number work.

It's been said (attributed to many) that in politics six weeks is an eternity. We can, however, narrow the federal election down to two possibilities with the nuisance value of the federal NDP in the mix. The next election will be the last chance. Those of us who want to save our rivers and our fish will have to save the province from the evil face of Campbell-style capitalism.

Evidently, British Columbians were unwilling to vote NDP to win this fight and stayed at home rather than voting. This time there will be no specter of a NDP government and true environmentalists, not those who've traded their principles for other considerations, will be able to begin the slow restoration of our province to what it once was and can be again.

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