Tuesday, September 03, 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 will 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 email@example.com
Clark earned his trial, and his acquittal - let's move on
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - Glen Clark isn't a criminal. He was still a bad premier.
I'm pleased Clark wasn't convicted. He had his faults as premier, but I wouldn't have pegged him as someone interested in personal financial gain.
Poor judgment, sloppiness, questionable honesty in dealing with the public, self-delusion - it's hard not to see all those things in Glen Clark after reading the court judgment, and after watching him in action. But something so petty as greed? I don't think so.
There seems to be some rush to find a moral in this saga, something beyond Virgil's "beware of Greeks bearing gifts."
But strip away all the hype, and you've got suspect behaviour and sufficient evidence to justify charges and a trial - according to the judge - and an acquittal based on the evidence. No Liberal-RCMP-media conspiracies or criminal-NDP conspiracies or unexplained forces conspiracies. Just a premier with bad judgment, a government desperate for some gambling money and some small-time operators sniffing out a big score.
Clark comes out looking fairly dismal. His most trusted aide thought it was OK to create a phoney memo covering his tracks; Clark misled the public about his friendship with Dimitrios Pilarinos and about the renovations. (Clark always talked about the deck added on his house, when really Pilarinos also added a dormer, installed a gas fireplace, moved a window, replaced the roof and put in new floors and closets. People who aren't ashamed don't mislead you about things like that.) And he stuck gambling minister Mike Farnworth in a wretched position.
But he's not guilty, a finding which should allow him to move into the next stage in his life.
Conspiracy buffs should move on to their next issue too. Supreme Court Justice Justice Elizabeth Bennett was clear that the charges were justified, based on the evidence. Defence attacks on the integrity of RCMP Staff Sergeant Peter Montague, a potential Liberal candidate, were bogus and offensive, she said. This trial wasn't about left versus right, or Liberals versus New Democrats. It was about whether laws were broken.
Clark seemed to realize that from the day the RCMP searched his home, quickly taking on the role of criminal defendant. Consider his first public statement about Pilarinos, after the search of his home "He is a neighbour of mine. We see each other occasionally, our children attend the same school and they play together." No mention of frequent meetings and phone calls, or time at the cottage. Not dishonest, but far from candid.
"As a result, I gave explicit instructions to my staff last summer to ensure that I was insulated from the decision-making process for this licence application," Clark went on. "I am sharing with you a copy of the memorandum to file prepared by my staff confirming this fact.'' Except the memorandum was a fake, written months after the fact and filed with a phoney date.
What's the ultimate lesson? Bad judgment manifests itself in a wide and disturbing variety of ways.
What's the long-term significance? Not much.
NDP leader Joy MacPhail was invited in several interviews to blame Clark's legal problems for her party's thumping defeat. To her credit, she said the bigger problems were the voters' belief that the New Democrats were "dishonest, fiscally irresponsible and not good managers."
Consider it another bizarre, embarrassing and ultimately irrelevant episode in B.C. politics.
And then let it slide. Clark can make his own way in the world, taxpayers can write the cheques, the lawyers can find new clients, and we can quit worrying about this sideshow.
The system, in its lumbering way, worked. Serious charges, against the powerful, were taken to the justice system. The court heard the evidence and ruled in a way that seemed pretty fair.
And that, out of this whole sordid affair, is something to celebrate.
Paul Willcocks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by paul at 8:06 AM