Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Liberals’ star candidates bring big changes

VICTORIA - It’s tricky bringing star candidates like Wally Oppal and Carole Taylor into the Liberal ranks.
Take one issue. All those new stars shining so brightly - Oppal, and Taylor and Virginia Greene and even Daniel Igali - are from the Lower Mainland. If they end up in cabinet, as they all expect, then the government focus inevitably shifts further towards Vancouver and its sprawl. It’s not something anyone intended, but it’s the reality. After all, Gordon Campbell hasn’t shown up to welcome new high-profile Liberal candidates in the North, or the Kootenays so far.
Star candidates can add value. Oppal’s decision to run for the Liberals in Vancouver-Fairview generated a week’s worth of speculative news stories, and drew a pack of reporters and TV crews to the big announcement. He’s seen as bright and fair and the kind of person who can make things better - and he can get on the evening news.
Star candidates can also bring needed freshness and independence. It is easy for any group of people who work together - a union executive, or corporate management group, a cabinet or even journalists - to slide into ‘groupthink,’ a shared vision of the world and the way it works. (And it is especially easy when power is concentrated in the hands of a strong leader.)
But a new person, with stature conveyed by recruitment as a star candidate, can safely challenge the common view, and propose new responses or solutions. They bring fresh ideas, a different background and independence. Those are critical elements if groups are to reach the best decisions.
For the Liberals, the benefits are even greater. The party needs to look a little more moderate, not mean, or too far right. Oppal is a socially progressive judge; Taylor the ex-chair of the CBC; Igali an Olympian who cares about kids. They are made-to-order.
Still, the arrival of the chosen has to rankle, and brings some problems for the leader who has done the recruiting. Chilliwack MLA Barry Penner, a lawyer and hard-worker, had been mentioned in reports as a potential attorney general. Oppal is now on track for that job. Taylor, Green and Igali may all dash someone’s hopes for a cabinet post.
A lot of MLAs have worked hard for the last four years, and believe they deserve a chance to be in cabinet. The odds are still good - if some 50 Liberals are elected, more than half will get cabinet positions - but some of the best jobs are going to the new stars.
The arrival of ambitious people who have not been part of the long Liberal march to power also changes the group dynamic. This government has been noteworthy for its unity. Only two MLAs out of 77 - Paul Nettleton and Elayne Brenzinger - have walked away, and there’s been no public bickering. One factor is a shared history. These people saw Campbell build the party, and lead it to a huge victory, and remain grateful.
But the newcomers don’t have that experience. Instead, they have a vague sense that perhaps they could do a better job of leading the party. Given the chance, they may be quick to offer their ideas for the government.
And suddenly things get much more complicated. Because then the people already in cabinet who think they might be good leaders decide that maybe they should be working a bit harder to get into the right place to challenge - just in case. The willingness to stay in the message box begins to slide.
All of which are good things for the public. The best cabinet, or caucus, would be one with a wide range of experience and expertise, with each person prepared to speak their mind. Bringing in independent newcomers helps any government move closer to that ideal.
But for the party, and the leader, things can get bumpier along the way.
Footnote: The prospect of Oppal as attorney general, working alongside Solicitor General Rich Coleman, is intriguing. Oppal is seen as more interested in the social roots of crime; Coleman in enforcement and punishment. The two - an ex-Mountie and ex-judge - may well be be sharing responsibility for law and order in B.C.

1 comment:

BC Mary said...

Why does Paul Wilcox make me start looking for a fly swatter. Crikey.

This isn't political analysis, it's groveling at the feet of (he thinks) power.