FOULDS: Clark should emulate Harcourt and fall on political sword
Like a plague of locusts that returns on a regular basis to wreak havoc, politics in B.C. have been, in the last generation, cursed with the implosion of parties in power.
This self-destruction happens every decade or so and is accompanied by scandals of varying degree.
In 1991, we saw the mighty Social Credit dynasty of 36 years destroyed in a few turns of the calendar by Bill Vander Zalm, a lady fond of hats, a hotel room and much other sordidness.
In 2001, we saw the Gordon Campbell-led B.C. Liberals almost render the B.C. NDP extinct, leaving only Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan as NDP MLAs the morning after the election.
And, this year, we are seeing the stunning dessication of those same B.C. Liberals, being ripped apart by scandals while their leader, Christy Clark, perfects the art of doing all the wrong things in response.
The latest scandal to hit the governing Liberals is the one that will seal victory for the NDP in the May 14 election.
The Multicultural Ethnic Outreach Plan is a 17-page document obtained by the NDP. It documents a B.C. Liberal plan to use taxpayer funds and staff to secure ethnic voting support.
The document is brazen and insulting, citing apologies for past wrongs as “quick wins” with ethnic voters.
There is more, much more, and it is so bad even Liberal stalwarts recognized no amount of spin could help.
Deputy Leader Rich Coleman read Clark’s apology in the legislature. Clark apparently felt it more important to meet with the Vancouver Sun’s editorial board.
“The language in this draft document and some of the recommendations are absolutely inappropriate,” Coleman said.
After failing to face the heat in person, Clark flew to Prince George to do some ribbon-cuttings and attend a luncheon. There, she noted the person who drafted the obscene document, her deputy chief of staff and longtime friend Kim Haakstad, had resigned.
(Haakstad emailed the plan to a number of taxpayer-funded staffers, including Pamela Martin, who gets tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars as outreach director for Clark’s office, a fancy name invented to reward the former TV newsreader for helping with Clark’s leadership campaign and subsequent byelection win. If Martin and others received and read those emails in the past year and did not alert Clark and others, should they not be sacked forthwith?)
Clark claimed she knew nothing of the plan and seemed to believe Haakstad’s resignation was appropriate closure.
Not even close.
As we say in the media, this story has legs and the B.C. Liberals are the ones pumping those limbs.
Had the NDP not been given the document, this immoral (and possibly illegal) venture would still be in the works.
If Clark had a shred of integrity, she would resign now. She may not have known about the scandalous plan, but it happened on her watch, in her office.
Would her resignation help the party’s fortunes at the polls?
It might, though the Liberals will be clobbered in any event.
Think back to 1995.
In November of that year, the governing New Democrats were not unlike the current Liberals — a party with a majority with a major scandal making headlines day after day.
The scandal involved former NDP MLA Dave Stupich eventually pleading guilty to fraud for using the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society to take money raised for charity via bingo and send it back to the NDP.
Premier Mike Harcourt was not involved and had no clue this was happening in the society, which had been created in the 1950s
Yet, the premier resigned out of principle.
Among those who gave Harcourt kudos for falling on his political sword was then-Liberal leader Campbell, who told Maclean’s magazine: “Mr. Harcourt has done the right thing.”
As Harcourt was stepping down, the prevailing wisdom among pundits and politicians was that the NDP of the early 1990s would emulate the province’s first NDP government — led by Dave Barrett in 1972 — and be a one-term wonder.
Indeed, Jack Weisgerber, the former Socred MLA who became the leader of the fledgling B.C. Reform Party, all but dismissed the New Democrats.
“The NDP is done like dinner,” he told Maclean’s.
“The next election is going to be a two-way contest between us and the Liberals to determine who forms the government and who forms the opposition.”
Kreskin he wasn’t as, only six months after Harcourt stepped down, the NDP, led by the young and brash Glen Clark, won a second successive majority, leaving the Liberals as opposition again and wiping Reform from the political map.
Should Clark resign, would a new leader change party fortunes, with the election two months away?
Not a chance, but a new face, perhaps someone as respected and likeable as George Abbott, could mean a few seats here or there.
And, while Clark emerged from the weekend’s emergency cabinet meeting claiming cabinet and caucus is united behind her and pointed to today’s budget vote as offering proof, happenings among riding associations would indicate anything but global support for the leader.
If, as expected, all Liberal MLAs vote today in favour of the budget, it means they support the government, not necessarily their leader.
After all, Harry Bloy stands alone among those who backed Clark in her leadership bid.
Several riding-association presidents are disgusted enough with party shenanigans to have quit.
“My experience with the B.C. Liberal Party is that the people that are involved in the local riding associations are nothing more than procedure,” Cory Cassel, who stepped down as president of the Abbotsford-Mission Liberal riding association, told the CBC.
James Plett quit as vice-president of the Surrey-Tynehead Liberal riding association and terminated his membership, citing the ethnic-voters scandal as the last straw.
“What makes it so repugnant is that the government misused taxpayer dollars to put together a document explaining how the government could misuse taxpayer dollars further and to offer apologies for absolutely horrible things all for a bump in the polls,” Plett wrote on his blog.
“Not to actually apologize for the events, but with the end goal of winning popularity points.”
The fact is, this latest scandal involving a plan to use government resources for partisan purposes is not the first.
Last year, the Province revealed an anti-Adrian Dix website was being worked on by taxpayer-paid government workers.
It really is overwhelming how a political party can plumb such depths of desperation when the end is nigh.
It is overwhelming, but not surprising. Not in B.C.
If Dix and the NDP manage to win re-election in 2017, look for another implosion of government about a decade from now.