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B.C. Liberals get toxic
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Author:  Gunnair [ Thu Nov 18, 2010 8:56 pm ]
Post subject:  B.C. Liberals get toxic

VICTORIA — Gordon Campbell will be honoured Thursday night with an inaugural “Builder of the Decade” award, handed to him by a group of grateful construction industry associations. Such a brutal irony, given the combusted state of his governing Liberal party.

British Columbians have witnessed political firestorms before, a lot of them. But perhaps none this spectacular, this apocalyptic; it’s like a giant mushroom cloud has settled over the capital’s legislative buildings.

The day before accepting his “Builder of the Decade” award, Mr. Campbell scuttled his October Surprise, a 15% income tax cut. The one he announced during a rare televised address three weeks ago and that seemed intended to save his foundering leadership. It failed; British Columbians saw it for a cynical, Hail Mary bribe.

A week later, Mr. Campbell announced that he would resign. It has since been determined by party executives that he’ll remain in office until Feb. 26, when a new Liberal leader — who instantly will become B.C. premier — is chosen.

So while he stays on, his tax cut is gone. So is Bill Bennett, fired from cabinet the same day.

Messrs. Campbell and Bennett had longstanding issues but the extent of their animosity was not publicly known until Wednesday, when Mr. Bennett was stripped of his energy portfolio, by dint of a cabinet order signed by one G. Campbell.

Mr. Bennett went ballistic. The mushroom cloud billowed. “I’m tired of the bull—- that goes on in politics,” he snapped at reporters, minutes after his dismissal. “And I’m really tired of the way Gordon Campbell thinks he can just run on people.” He accused the premier of intimidation tactics and said the Liberal caucus and cabinet showed signs of “battered wife syndrome.”

He recalled one of his own unpleasant encounters with the premier, back in 2001, after the two had disagreed over caucus strategy.

“He took me behind the barn and started to shout at me and got right up in my face and he was so upset that spittle came out of his mouth and got on my face,” Mr. Bennett alleged.

The Liberal party, he added, is “going down the toilet.”

Mr. Bennett is a notorious hothead. Three years ago he sent one of his constituents a profanity-laced email; this year he called a group of environmentalists “eco-terrorists.” So his latest tirade may be discounted. But it cannot be ignored. In its present combination, the Liberal party is toxic.

A campaign to recall certain Liberal MLAs launches next week, first in the Vancouver Island riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head. It then moves to other targeted ridings in the New Year. Mr. Campbell won’t be of much help beating back the citizen armies. He’d best stay away.

The recall campaign was born of anger over his government’s sneaky introduction last year of a harmonized sales tax. A binding, province-wide HST referendum is to be held next September and British Columbians will have an opportunity to reject the tax. By then, the Liberals will have a new leader, and the province a new premier. But that person will be HST-damaged.

It’s no wonder that two people whom polls suggested British Columbians thought could clean up the mess and rebuild the party work outside provincial politics.

But neither Carole Taylor, B.C.’s former finance minister and Chancellor of Simon Fraser University starting next June, nor Dianne Watts, popular mayor of Surrey, want the role. Both women have firmly, recently, said ‘‘no.’’

A current caucus member will likely win the party leadership in February. The task will be to mend internal divisions and to restore public confidence in the party. And to accomplish all this over the course of what will be yet another unprecedented, tumultuous period in B.C. politics: Through an MLA recall campaign and an HST referendum, and toward a provincial election, fixed-dated for May 2013.

That’s not a job. That’s being strapped to a cruise missile and being shot into space. Betting starts now on when the next Liberal leadership crisis explodes.

Watching events unfold with modest satisfaction is Carole James, B.C.’s provincial NDP leader. Ms. James is not a charismatic politician but she is a person of sound character, compassion and determination. She led her party back from its brink since taking the leadership in 2003.

And her NDP is now way out front in public polls. What seemed unthinkable last year– when Mr. Campbell won his third successive provincial election with his centre-right coalition–is now for serious consideration: The possibility of a left-leaning B.C. government, led by Ms. James.

She offers a compelling message. The Liberals have “lied” again and again since 2001. On their promise to not expand gambling in the province. On their pledge to not sell B.C. Rail. On their budgets. Ms. James can campaign into the next election claiming she represents honesty and trust.

That is, if she isn’t done in by her own enemies. Knives have been drawn inside her own caucus and in some ridings. Ms. James may herself face an internal revolt.

She acknowledged that this week, in an interview conducted inside her legislative office suite. “There are always critics,” she said. The current ones represent just “a small group.” She called them “a distraction,” adding that NDPers are “better than anyone at in-fighting.”

Well, almost.

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