How BC’s leadership races are stacking up

Being a B.C. politics junkie and living in Ontario is no easy thing. That’s one reason why I spend an awful lot of time on Twitter – in class, at work, on my BlackBerry throughout the day – usually glued to the stream of tweets tagged #bcpoli. It’s a wild and crazy place at the best of times, reflecting the best traditions of B.C. electoral politics – but never more so than during the current BC Liberal and BC NDP leadership races.

On Twitter, on TV and radio, and in the papers, it seems that every single day sharpens the contrast between the cultures of B.C.’s two major parties. The BC Liberals seemed set for a few weeks of turmoil after the nastiness surrounding Premier Campbell’s resignation announcement, with Bill Bennett’s unexpected outburst marking a low point. And yet, the governing party has so far enjoyed a largely smooth, collegial, and positive leadership race. There’s been some good back-and-forth between the candidates, but the tone has generally been respectful. The media are reconsidering their early consensus that the free-enterprise coalition is in danger of fracture or implosion. Things look pretty good for the BC Liberals.

Then there’s the BC NDP, a party that narrowly lost two consecutive elections, then dumped their relatively reasonable, middle-of-the-road leader rather than give her another chance. This would be all well and good, if they had somebody more promising waiting in the wings to replace her. But front-runner status, rightly or wrongly, has been assigned to Adrian Dix – a Glen Clark-era backroom boy whom Charlie Smith of the Georgia Straight pinpointed as the godfather of the “Kingsway NDP Mafia.” Smith didn’t mean to imply wrongdoing by Dix or his large, union-oriented following – but the public can only gaze in horror at reports of last-minute deliveries of boxes of membership forms and bags of cash to NDP headquarters, Public Eye Online’s reports of suspect memberships quarantined behind sealed doors, or CTV’s grainy cell phone footage of controversial MLA Mable Elmore frantically stapling ten-dollar bills to forms as the membership deadline loomed. Worse yet are the optics of the suspect pro-Dix memberships being quickly ruled in order by NDP provincial secretary Jan O’Brian, who is married to prominent Dix backer and “Kingsway NDP mafia” member Geoff Meggs. The icing on the cake is gadfly MLA Harry Lali, an Indo-Canadian MLA who has accused the Dix camp of mass sign-ups in the South Asian and other ethnic communities, and indeed threatened to take his own party to court over the disputed memberships. The race has barely begun, and it already threatens to deepen the rifts in the BC NDP that were first exposed by the nasty, knives-out coup against Carole James.

As political pundit and former NDP MLA David Schreck wrote recently, the BC Liberals have their own potential liabilities – their leadership race is the opposite of the NDP’s in that most disagreements seem to be worked out behind closed doors, contribution rules are relatively loose, and most candidates are unlikely to disclose their donor lists until after the race is over. But, more important to public opinion and confidence, the BC Liberal leadership contest (so far) lacks public accusations of wrongdoing, or allegations that party staff are intimately linked with one candidate to the detriment of others.

We can write this contrast off by noting that the BC Liberals enjoy the discipline of a governing party, while the BC NDP suffer from the kind of internecine conflict characteristic of most parties that have spent ten years in opposition. But it’s important to note that the BC NDP seem completely unprepared to face up to their greatest challenge: building themselves an image as a party of competent, reasonable people who, if given the chance to govern, will act according to the public interest – not to ideology, the narrow interest of factions within the party, or the wishes of the BC Federation of Labour.

I want a good fight in the next election, and I think British Columbians do, too. We deserve a contest between big ideas, a showdown between talented, imaginative people who offer coherent visions of how to build a better B.C. Even as I enjoy the drama unfolding on Twitter, I’ll be hoping the BC NDP get their act together in time.

Emile Scheffel studies political science at Carleton University in Ottawa. Born and raised in Kamloops, he is a member of the BC Liberal Party. Emile tweets at twitter.com/emilescheffel.


About the author

Emile Scheffel is a BC Liberal Party activist and a former Parliament Hill staffer. Coming from Kamloops, BC, he recently completed an honours degree in political science at Carleton University, and will begin his studies at UBC Law in September. Emile is the incoming Vice President External of the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students (CFJS), and a Fellow of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC). You can follow him at http://twitter.com/emilescheffel.

One Comment

  1. Scheffel’s neglect to separate her opinion from mine by not having a paragraph break when she goes on to claim libs have no accusations of wrong doing makes it look like I might have said such nonsense. Christy Clark is being attacked for her connection with the sale of BC Rail. The executive director of the BC Liberals suddenly resigned, and their candidates claim to support a new weighted voting system but have signed up over 10,000 members in just 4 Surrey ridings. The Libs have as many or more internal problems as the NDP.

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