Friday, January 21, 2005

Random notes: Chinese bonanza; a new party; and Nettleton

VICTORIA - Random notes: Great economic news, a new party rises and Paul Nettleton jumps ridings.
First, the best economic news for B.C. in ages came from Beijing Friday, where federal Industry Minister David Emerson announced that China has recognized Canada as an approved tourist destination. Sounds like a small thing, but it's a huge breakthrough. Chinese tourists can visit about 30 approved countries - which up until now have not included Canada - fairly easily. If the country isn't on the list, it's far more difficult to leap through an official approval process that can take months - and still end in refusal.
Even more importantly, tour companies are effectively barred from organizing group excursions - the most likely way Chinese would visit Canada - to non-approved countries.
The potential is enormous. Australia doubled its number of visitors from China once it was approved, and Canada has the potential to be a much larger draw for China's new rich and slowly emerging middle class. A 2002 survey found that 1.9 million newly affluent Chinese were interested in visiting Canada. That translates into about $1 billion per year in new tourism revenue, with B.C. in a position to grab a large share of the business.
Canada has been trying to get approval for five years, and has immediately announced plans to open a tourism office in Beijing. The provincial government could wisely set aside part of this year's surplus for a one-time marketing program aimed at China.
Second, yet another new political party for B.C., one that starts with an MLA sitting in the legislature.
The new party is Democratic Reform BC - or DRBC, which they hope you'll pronounce as Doctor BC. The leader is Tom Morino, a lawyer, Vancouver Island town councillor and former Liberal candidate. The MLA is Elayne Brenzinger, the Surrey MLA who quit the Liberal caucus last year.
The party claims a socially progressive, fiscally conservative approach, although its platform seems to have more ideas about spending money than raising it. And the presence of a large number of former Reform BC members will make some people nervous about the socially progressive claim.
I don't give the group much chance. Brenzinger has problems over her ugly allegation of sexual harassment by a colleague in the Liberal caucus, which she later retracted. The party has no money, and at best 2,000 members. And with four months to go it is hard to believe that any fledgling party can insert itself into the fray.
But it will be a factor in Brenzinger's riding of Surrey-Whalley and Morino's home riding of Malahat-Juan de Fuca.
The NDP was already the likely winner Brenzinger's riding; if she draws significant support from the Liberal candidate a New Democrat win becomes a sure thing.
Morino, who barely lost in his riding in 1991 as a Liberal, could play a similar role in his Victoria-area riding.
Third, the other independent MLA, Paul Nettleton, revealed his election plans this week, and they are going to affect two Prince George races.
Nettleton, who quit the Liberals over what he saw as a threat to BC Hydro (and who, like Brenzinger, blames Gordon Campbell for the party's problems) is leaving his old riding of Prince George-Omineca and running against Health Minister Shirley Bond in Prince George-Robson.
Nettleton is going to attract votes, and given his overall approach - he broke with the federal Liberals because he's opposed to same sex marriage - more of those votes are going to come from the Liberal candidates.
That means the Liberal in Omineca - a candidate hasn't been selected yet - is now the favorite.
But Bond's campaign has become much tougher. She won a big victory in 2001, and her profile should help. But it was an NDP riding in the previous two elections, and if Nettleton provides an option for disgruntled potential Liberal voters then Bond could be in trouble.
And there's still four months to go.
Footnote: The polls have convinced both parties that every seat may matter in this election. The Liberals hope to slide MLA Tony Bhullar into Surrey-Panorama Ridge, hoping he put up a good fight against new NDP MLA Jagrup Brar. Olympic gold-winning wrestler Daniel Igali is being courted to run for the Liberals in Bhullar's old riding of Surrey-Newton.

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