Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Recall plans fading as reality sinks in
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - Recall is looking more and more like one of those ships that sink before they leave the dock.
There are some enthusiastic backers out there, anxious to send a message to the Liberals, and some ridings where work is already under way.
But the key individuals and organizations needed to make recall work - NDP supporters and unions - are backing away from the whole idea.
Recall doesn't come cheap. The people who launched the first recall effort against former NDP finance minister Paul Ramsey spent more than $35,000 on the campaign; his defenders spent about the same. Even a half-a-dozen serious efforts would cost around $250,000.
That's a big sum to raise, especially with no organization ready to foot the bills or take over the fund-raising. The union movement doesn't have the money and isn't convinced it would be well-spent. And New Democrats fear that donations to recall campaigns wil take away from the party's own fund-raising efforts. (Donors are already going to be facing plenty of pleas, with a federal election likely in late 2004 and a provincial vote in May 2005.)
That's not the New Democrats' only concern.
Many party members never did like the recall legislation. Former cabinet minister Corky Evans spoke for them this month when he wrote his hometown Nelson Daily News and argued against a recall effort aimed at Liberal MLA Blair Suffredine.
Recall is an "abomination," Evans said. "No individual, including our MLA, deserves that kind of character assassination in the guise of democratic activity." If an MLA does a poor job, voters can toss him out at the next election, Mr. Evans argues.
There are plenty of pragmatic concerns too.
To recall an MLA and force a byelection campaigners have to get signatures from 40 per cent of the eligible voters from the last election. That's 11,700 names in Suffredine's riding, more than half the people who actually voted last year, all to be gathered in 60 days. That's a huge challenge.
And if recall fails - the most likely outcome - some Liberal opponents worry the campaigners will have spent enthusiasm better saved until the general election.
NDP supporters see one major benefit to successful recall bids (although the party pledges to stay firmly on the sidelines). Two successful campaigns, followed by NDP byelection wins, would bring the party up to four seats, enough to guarantee official opposition status. That would mean an extra $150,000 a year for the caucus, allowing them to hire badly needed staff. And the new MLAs - especially ones without ties to the old government - would help share the daunting workload.
But before any of that can happen, not only does recall have to succeed but the NDP has to win the resulting byelections, and that's far from certain.
The Liberals could well retain the seats, given their popularity, people's discomfort with recall and the likelihood of a vote split on the left. An independent candidate could win, or even a high-profile Green Party candidate (likely the NDP's worst nightmare).
Add the negatives up, and recall looks like a dubious enterprise.
Recall bids can be launched 18 months after an election, meaning campaigns could start in November. But municipal elections are coming, preoccupying many activists, and then we're into holidays and winter. A realistic date is next spring - barely two years before the next election.
Some efforts will likely go ahead, with the ones driven by strong local issues likely to come closest to success. Suffredine is a potential target for Nelson residents angry about health care cuts; Val Roddick may draw fire from Delta voters angry about threats to hospital services; Jeff Bray, who barely won in Victoria-Beacon Hill, faces criticism over public service job cuts.
But it's unlikely that many serious campaigns will be launched, or that any will succeed.

Paul Willcocks can be reached at

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