In the weeks leading up to last month’s provincial election I had conversations with several local Liberal supporters. Like me, they assumed the Christy Clark-led party was doomed, and that the next few years would lead to a major shakeup for a party that, despite its surprise win at the polls, is overdue for a major makeover.
Even supporters must have been taken aback at Clark’s announcement of a bloated cabinet, quickly followed by word that the premier’s chief of staff and other ministerial assistants, most of of them Liberal party supporters, were getting pay raises. Not little inflation-pace bumps, but leaps of the sort that union employees wouldn’t dare to dream of.
Back to pre-election chats. Often, they focused on the need to deep-six Clark, who does not have the Conservative roots that many of the misnamed provincial Liberals were looking for. To some she is more of a federal Liberal, to others a charlatan, an opportunist who never looked more at home than she did when she was out of politics and behind a radio talk show microphone.
The party needs to be rebranded with a new vision and leader, and it needs to refocus its catchall approach that sees it trying to shepherd the disparate right and centre interests into an uneasy alliance whose greatest commonality is that they dislike and fear the NDP. That was the gist of our conversations.
And those same conversations were going on all around the province at the same time, to the extent that now-irrelevant 801 group was formed in the lead-up to what its members assumed would be a resounding defeat at the polls.
801? An informal group consisting of business people and Liberal supporters had arisen on the pretext that a re-invention of the party would begin at 8:01 p.m. on the night of the election. Clark would have to go and the Liberal party would move to the right, preferably under a new name.
I don’t support any political party, but I have never been happy with the Liberal name being used by a party that arose from the ashes of the old Social Credit party. The party is proof that politics makes strange bedfellows, but many of its key players have been decidedly conservative.
Immediately following the election, my conversations with those same Liberal supporters acknowledged that any chance to reform the party was now lost, that Clark would — and who in her position wouldn’t? — simply take the party’s success as a mandate for the same old same old.
Now, with the oversized cabinet and big salary increases for party hacks, it looks for all the world that the Liberals will continue to be what they always have been. My mind keeps drifting back to the Paul Simon lyric, “A loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires.” Not that all Liberals are wealthy, but economic opportunism is without a doubt a driving force. Clark is on relatively safe ground with her superficial opposition to the Enbridge pipeline, for instance, because it won’t leave an economic legacy for the province, and B.C. pretty much turned over the final decision for the pipeline to the federal government a few years ago, anyway.
Fracking, the controversial process to extract natural gas from the earth’s bowels, is now going to go full steam ahead, pun intended. The process is already draining regions of surface water and it is polluting underground sources, like aquifers, at a spectacular rate. The world is awash in natural gas, with enormous supplies much closer to the biggest users than Canada is, but B.C. is going full-tilt boogie into the business, to the extent that Deputy Premier Rich Coleman is also Minister for Natural Gas Development.
B.C. is hardly unique among governments where the need to create jobs is approaching panic mode. The world has embraced digital technology and we are in a parallel to the industrial revolution, when the elimination of the need for traditional manpower left generations of workers in the lurch. As leaders desperately scramble to put people to work, send them to war or suffer the consequences, the environment is taking a back seat. As a premier, Clark doesn’t have an awful lot of power to make huge changes, but she does seem to know what the key issue is.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.