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BC Politics - The Lull Before The Storm

By Peter Ewart

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 03:44 AM

Often before a storm hits, a curious lull or calm comes over the land. But even in the midst of that lull, things are developing, even if imperceptibly – a slight breeze in the trees, a certain heaviness in the air, a flock of birds flitting nervously from lawn to branch, and back again.
On the surface, BC politics appears to be relatively calm these days. Sure, there’s a ruffle here and there. But for BC politics, it’s still pretty low key.
Indeed, a recent poll showed the opposition NDP far ahead of the Christy Clark Liberals (39% to 26%). Even the recently re-constituted provincial Conservatives, led by John Cummins, appear poised to match or overtake the Liberals, polling 22% of voters. But not much noise about it all.
The provincial election is only a little more than a year away. Will the BC Liberals, after more than a decade, be removed from office so easily and so quietly? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe that this upcoming election could be one of the most bitterly fought in BC history. And we are already seeing some of the signs that a major storm is brewing.
Why do I think that? Mainly because of the powerful forces, both usual and not-so-usual, that will be making it their business to get involved in this pivotal election. It is true that the big business establishment will, on certain occasions, “allow” a social democratic party to take the reins of government, as has happened before in British Columbia, and which frequently happens in Europe. This may be because the traditional establishment party has lost credibility or, not infrequently, because big business wants to use the social democrats to bring in an austerity program of some kind, as happened recently in Greece, Spain and other countries. 
However, the upcoming provincial election in BC is not one of those times. It seems clear that BC’s big business establishment does not want a change in government this time around, and will fight hard to maintain the status quo. So far, this would just mean another normal election by BC standards.
But there are additional factors that ramp up the usual array of forces in this election. One of these is the keen interest that the federal Conservative government of Stephen Harper has in propping up and maintaining the Clark Liberals in power in BC at all costs.
On the surface, it seems a bit strange. After all, Christy Clark has longstanding connections with the federal Liberals who are opposed to Harper. And, for his part, John Cummins, leader of the provincial Conservatives, was until recently an MP in Harper’s government and is much more closely aligned ideologically and politically with the prime minister.
Nonetheless, when Harper came to BC recently, he made it a point to sit with Clark through an entire hockey game in which her son, Hamish, was playing. Many interpreted this “photo op” as a message to conservatives in BC to get behind Clark, not Cummins. Prominent federal Conservatives, including Stockwell Day, Chuck Strahl, and Jay Hill, have spoken out to reinforce the Prime Minister’s message, calling for “unity” under the “big tent” of the BC Liberal Party, which traditionally has been a coalition that includes both federal Conservatives and Liberals.
In addition, Ken Boessenkool, senior policy adviser and strategist for Prime Minister Harper, has joined Christy Clark’s Liberal team as “chief of staff”, a secondment that surely would not have happened without the assent, if not the bidding, of Harper. Boessenkool claims to have been born “out of the womb” as a “right-winger”, and, according to a confidential memo, is supporting Clark to keep the NDP away “from the reins of power in B.C.” (Vancouver Sun, Jan. 14).   Thus, in the upcoming provincial election, it will not be surprising to see the same kind of “hard ball” tactics that the Harperites used against their opponents in recent federal campaigns.
But much more will be going on behind the scenes than listed above. The B.C. provincial election promises to be a crucial one for the federal Conservative government. To ram through his agenda, Harper wants to make sure that the provincial governments in place are compliant and will not resist in any serious sort of way. A key part of that agenda is Enbridge’s “Northern Gateway pipeline”, which the NDP has made clear that it “strongly opposes”.
Besides the Harperites, there are other powerful forces behind the building of this pipeline, not the least of which is the Alberta government, various Asian interests, and, of course, the multinational oil sector. In that regard, not a few big oil companies are known for interfering in elections around the world, and some are even connected with the overthrow of governments. All of these forces will be at work behind the scenes in the lead up to the provincial election.
Of course, these days the Clark government is saying that, for the time being, it is taking a neutral attitude towards the pipeline, and will “wait and see” until the Review Board completes its hearings and makes its recommendations in late 2013.
But the Clark government’s “neutral attitude” is hard to swallow. For one thing, Ken Boessenkool, Clark’s new chief of staff, was a lobbyist for Enbridge back in 2008 and 2009. For another, Clark is indebted to Harper for not pulling the rug out of her “coalition” by swinging his support to John Cummins. Indeed, the continued existence of her governing coalition is dependent on the good will of Harper.
In addition, the Harper government has given the Clark government some slack in paying back the federal HST funding, as well as other “favours” such as granting a portion of the recent multi-billion dollar federal shipbuilding contracts to Vancouver Shipyards.   There are those in the establishment press who tried to float the idea that the federal government had a “hands off” policy in choosing the various shipyard locations across the country. But that seems like a fairy tale, especially given that Harper’s office is notorious for the extreme control it exerts over even minor decisions of the various branches of the federal government. 
One thing for sure – Harper wouldn’t be doing all of this for Clark unless there was something in return, such as, for example, an eventual full endorsement of the pipeline, as well as other key components of his federal agenda. Make no mistake - like Rumpelstiltskin, the gnarled imp in that old tale by the brothers Grimm - the prime minister will return to collect his due from Premier Clark. 
(In Part 2 of these series we will discuss the forces arrayed on the other side against the governing Liberals in BC and some of the issues facing them)

Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at:

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Peter Ewart:-"It is true that the big business establishment will, on certain occasions, “allow” a social democratic party to take the reins of government, as has happened before in British Columbia, and which frequently happens in Europe. This may be because the traditional establishment party has lost credibility or, not infrequently, because big business wants to use the social democrats to bring in an austerity program of some kind, as happened recently in Greece, Spain and other countries. "

Oh, really? Why don't we wake up and realise there isn't ANY real difference between the BC Liberals and the BC NDP when it comes to Finance. Nor would there be if the BC Liberal moniker on the right-wing side of the political spectrum were replaced with a BC Conservative one.

You've as much as admitted it in your statement above, but you don't seem capable of realising the implications.

They ALL dance to the tunes of Finance, and if the real powers-that-be, the ones who create and control our money, want a program of austerity that's what will be delivered. Why? Because they view money as THEIR 'commodity', and anything that enhances the scarcity of that commodity makes it more valuable to those who have a monopoly over its creation.

Which one of those Parties is willing to suggest that austerity is the LAST thing needed in any country that can produce more than it consumes?

Which one of them is willing to show that if anyone's continued 'production' can't be of any benefit to himself and his fellow man, then how can that person's continued 'consumption' be any detriment to himself and his fellow man?

Which one of those Parties proposes that the economy exists, any economy exists, PRIMARILY to provide goods and services to everyone within it, and that "jobs" and "profits" are only MEANS to that end ~ NOT 'ENDS' in themselves?

People vote governments "out". Generally with little widespread enthusiasm for what they're voting "in". We get a change of personalities, but no substantive change of policies in any area that would restore Finance to being our servant, instead of our master.
Great commentary. It's clear that Christy Clark doens't have the leadership qualities to win this election on her own. She'll ride Harper's coat tails all the way to the ballot box. Not a great way to assert BC unique and independent needs to Ottawa. Get ready to swallow anything the Feds throw our way for the next 3 years.
Harper is not a Conservative. He is a Reformer from his, very shady Northern Foundation Party, back in 1989.

Campbell works for Harper. The Campbell/Clark BC Liberals, are not Liberals, they too are Reformers of, Harper's Northern Foundation Party. Boessenkool, who worked for Harper, and lobbied for Enbridge, is taking Christy over, is another Reformer. All I do know is, watch out for the dirty tactics, lies, deceit and cheating.

I think the only party that isn't flying under, a false political flag, is the NDP. I'm not certain about, the BC Conservatives. Harper has blackened the Conservative Party name so badly, I don't know what the BC people are going to think.
Great and such a truthful commentary, people need to know the facts and to see just how underhanded these politicians are going to be, just to fulfill their personal agendas. Thank you, Peter.

....... ....... .......

There is indeed a huge difference when it come to the BC Liberal Government and the BC NDP. Just so that you stop spreading misinformation...

The BC NDP left office with a surplus in the Provincial coffers....ten years later the BC Liberal Government has done so much damage to us, to fulfill their own personal agendas and have us currently in the hole at 50 billion dollars+ and the tally of the run of the river projects are, so far, an uncalculated, increased, massive liability, to say the least.

If you cant count, then at least get someone to explain the difference, between surplus and deficit to you.

freedomisyours wrote: "The BC NDP left office with a surplus in the Provincial coffers"

Maybe before you go any further, we need to discuss some terms.

"coffers" = A strongbox or small chest for holding valuables. The funds or reserves of a group or institution.

When one has no money, then the coffers are empty. Not only that, but when one has borrowed money, it will take the paying back of that money before any additional money can start to fill up those coffers.

For the record, the total provincial debt stood at $33.6 billion when the B.C. Liberals took office in 2001.

For the record, BC entered confederation to get rid of its debt which was incurred to build the Cariboo road. So, as a new province in 1871, it was debt free. Within a few years, it started piling up debt and has not stopped since, except for a few times, it was rolled back a smidgen.

Here is the assets balance sheet from 2000/01 at the time of the NDP to 2010/11 the last info I have available. The figures are given per person in BC. The dollars are those current at the time of the entry, thus do not account for inflation.

The info is available at this link

2000/01 $5,777 debt + $5,259 asset = ($518)

2010/11 $6,762 debt + $7,828 asset = $1,066

So, over the 10 year period debt increased by 17% and assets increased by 49% ...
These days we account for assets, unlike in 1871. Well, at least some of us do. :-)

So, why are you spreading misinformation?

BTW, in case you wish to calculate the Candian rate of inflation over that same time period, you can go to the above link.

I get 23.41% while the debt rose 17%, which is less than the rate of inlfation.

Or, to put it in another way, applying that rate of inflation to the $5,777 2001 debt it would be the euqivalent of $7,129 dollars in 2011.

Go for it, freedomisyours, over to you! ;-)

Thank you, Gus. Freedonisyours is quite likely confusing a yearly budget surplus, which I believe the NDP may have had the last year it was in office, with the growth of debt over the entire ten year period the NDP was in office. The overall Provincial debt doubled in that period. It's increased still further under the BC Liberals.

I believe the last time a government in BC left office with a surplus in the provincial coffers was when WAC Bennett's BC Socreds were defeated by the NDP in 1972.

At that time the BC government was DIRECT debt free, though the Province did have an increase in what are known as 'contingent liabilities' all throughout the WAC Bennett years.

These were debts incurred in the name of government owned Crown corporations and Authorities, like BC Hydro, BC Ferries, BC Rail (PGE), etc., which were GUARANTEED by the Province of British Columbia in the (highly unlikely) event that any of those agencies went into default.

('Highly unlikely' if they were managed properly, which they could then be, because the accounting systems they used were the same as those used by any other business. Unlike that of the government, had it been operating these entities as a part of the government.)

A 'contingent liability' is somewhat analogous to your co-signing a loan where there is an agreement between you and the other signatory, perhaps a close relative, that he is to make all the repayments ~ the debt is HIS, not yours. And the only time you would be affected by it would be 'contingent' on his NOT making the payments, when the creditors would then expect YOU to.

The BC government was DIRECT debt free seven years after Social Credit took office in 1952, and though it may seem like this is sleight of hand bookkeeping since the government's debt guarantees were continually rising, the entities incurring those debts all had the internal potential to be able to fully liquidate them. (Augmented to a degree by government grants, in some cases. Such as was received by BC Ferries, for instance, to account for what would have been likely spent if there had been a 'road' over the routes they served.)

Debt is simply a financial tool, and an essential to physical progress. The key is to manage it properly, which the WAC Bennett government was long able to do.

(It could NOT likely have done so indefinitely, though, because there is a cumulative flaw in the way the overall financial system operates in every modern industrial economy, and Bennett's 'Social Credit' government, by the time they went out of office, had forgotten the 'social credit' prescription for its correction.)
gus: "So, why are you spreading misinformation?"

Likely because there are people out there who actually believe the NDP wasn't that bad in the 90's and would be an improvement over the Liberals. They will soon be in for a(nother) rude awakening. You thought the HST was bad... lol.
Johnny, if the Liberals were so good in comparison we wouldn't soon be in for a(nother) rude awakening. Fact is, they haven't been.

And when it comes down to a simple choice of personalities, the HST has tainted the Liberals credibility so badly they really don't deserve anyone's support. And it does come down to that because NEITHER Party has got its priorities right in regards to POLICY.

ANY government that is prepared to increasingly tax your spending from "borrowing" money you don't even have, as well as the money from "earnings" you do, in the face of an economy where ever increasing numbers of people are HAVING to borrow to just to continue to live, is NOT a government that works for US.

"And it does come down to that because NEITHER Party has got its priorities right in regards to POLICY."

Great. So for someone who falls to the centre-right of the political spectrum, who are they supposed to vote for? Certainly not the NDP.

All this talk means nothing. The NDP will win the next election because the 'right' vote will be split between the Conservatives and the Liberals.

The only thing that might make the next provincial election interesting is if the Libs and the Conservatives merge. Otherwise, it's a done deal.
Tell the pollsters you're not going to vote for anyone.

As long as the current politicians are sure people are going to troupe off to the polls on election day in the belief that they're doing their civic duty, there'll never be any incentive for any center-right Party to offer anything fundamentally different from what we'd get under the NDP.

Where center-right Parties should be advancing ideas that lead to greater Prosperity for ALL individuals, the best the current crop can come up with are ones that just further induce Inflation. And bump those already low on the economic ladder further down a few rungs, or off the end of it completely.

Inflation is something they should have learned by now always comes first under the guise of Prosperity, but is all too soon revealed as a pernicious tax on your purchasing power. It's what beat WAC Bennett in the end, and what lessons should've been learned from that still haven't been. The NDP is just as inane in their approach to things as they've always been, but we'll truly deserve them if the center-right can't do anything different.

"Tell the pollsters you're not going to vote for anyone. "

Not gonna happen.
No, probably not, Johnny. But what WILL happen will be a continual decline in the number of people who actually DO go and vote on Election Day.

They'll simply refuse to take part in a process where no matter how they vote there'll be no difference in the outcome.

What those of who identify with the center-right will end up with, assuming the current manifestation of the BC Liberals survives as government, or even if they're replaced by the BC Conservatives, (who are essentially the same thing, only under a different moniker and with less tainted personalities in charge), will be a continuing retreat towards the same things the NDP would do if it becomes government.

The reason for this is because the current choices ALL serve the interests of Finance in priority to serving the interests of the People. And all that we're really being asked to do, in voting for any of the current choices, is to sanctify the continuance of that.

It won't change until those politicians on the center-right feel their support just vanishing. Not going somewhere else, to the same thing they're offering only under a different name, but just withdrawn completely.
"The reason for this is because the current choices ALL serve the interests of Finance in priority to serving the interests of the People."

Which people are you referring to? You can't please everyone all of the time.

"They'll simply refuse to take part in a process where no matter how they vote there'll be no difference in the outcome. "

Good for them. While they're sitting at home on their principles, the people who show up will in essence have more power on a per vote basis.

Personally, I take voting as a responsibility. People have fought and died for it. If you don't bother to vote, don't complain.