Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Campbell bruised, public well-served by election

VICTORIA - Heave a sigh of relief. You have an opposition.
Left or right or in-between, you're better served by a legislature that includes an effective opposition, with representatives from all regions.
And that's what voters delivered. Recounts in a half-dozen close races could change the outcome, but right now it looks like the Liberals won a strong majority, with about 46 seats of the 79 seats.
But they will face about 33 opposition MLAs, not just two, with an adequately funded research and support staff. It will make the legislature a very different place.
And a more difficult one for Gordon Campbell, who has had no experience in facing an opposition across the chamber's red carpet. The election campaign - when the premier chose only to meet Liberal supporters, in closed settings - reinforced the public impression that Campbell is not much interested in people with different views.
That's only one of several headaches Campbell faces.
For starters, he has to put together a new cabinet, never an easy task. There's room for new faces, since eight cabinet ministers went down to defeat. (An alarming development for the Liberals, with Graham Bruce and Roger Harris both serious losses.) But some of the best jobs are likely already committed to new stars like Wally Oppal and Carole Taylor. Some will have to be allocated based on the need for regional representation (good news for Bill Bennett, the only Liberal from the southeast). And some of the people left out of the new cabinet will be unhappy.
Campbell may face much bigger problems, depending on how Liberals assess his performance in this campaign. In some ways you can't fault the outcome. The Liberals have a comfortable majority, and Campbell is the first B.C. premier re-elected in more than two decades.
But Campbell's campaign was criticized for its slow pace and defensive approach. He was generally seen as losing the televised leaders' debate, although he did better in the radio encounter. And despite some major advantages - a strong economy, popular budget, and the machinery of government - the Liberals lost some 30 seats, the NDP surged to within a few points of its record high popular support of 46 per cent and the Liberal lead shrunk during the four-week campaign.
All of that - combined with memories of Campbell's losing 1996 campaign - will raise questions about whether he should lead the party into what could be a much closer election in 2009. Once those questions have been raised, potential leadership candidates begin thinking about their prospects and plans, a problem for any party.
Campbell has to show that he can learn from the election, moderate his approach and govern in a way that acknowledges fewer than half of the voters backed the party.
Carole James comes out of the campaign having gained important ground. She proved an effective campaigner, and convinced voters that the party has moved to the middle. Not all New Democrats think that's a good idea, but James' performance has given her greater ability to shut down internal attacks.
James - like Campbell - also saw some of key candidates elected. For the NDP, it was Gregor Robertson, Corky Evans, Rob Fleming and Nicholas Simons.
The big winners are the voters, who gain a legislature with a real opposition.
Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan made a valiant effort, despite being hampered by the Liberal refusal to recognize the existence of an official Opposition. But for the last four years we haven't really had an opposition.
That's especially true in terms of regional issues. Liberal MLAs didn't vigorously raise concerns from their community, so they just never made it on to the agenda. (Surrey Memorial Hospital has been under pressure for at least five years. Until Jagrup Brar was elected, the issue was not a political priority. His efforts helped get him re-elected, along with three other New Democrats in Surrey ridings.)
The public has been well-served by this election.
Footnote: STV will get a separate column, but it appears the referendum has created a problem for Campbell. Ninety- per cent of ridings voted for change, but the provincial total vote will fall just short of the 60-per-cent support required. It leaves the government open to criticism whichever course of action it chooses.

7 comments:

Simon Pole said...

As Paul has hit all the main points, I'd like to comment briefly on the future for electorial reform.

I voted no on STV, though I think we need to get rid of FPTP. There are just better systems than STV out there.

With the vote on STV (majority of ridings in favour, but less than 60% overall), its clear BC wants reform. We just need the right system, which is probably Mixed Member PR.

Perhaps a royal commission or judge-led process is in order now. The public suport is certainly there.

Andrea Reimer said...

I'm with you Simon. When you design a voting system to take to the public you want to do it by consultation not committee.

It would be doubly fantastic if the consultation included the ancillary parts of the CA report including campaign finance reform and governance reforms that allow for more free votes.

Gazetteer said...

Me, I stepped off the ledge.

And I'm glad I did.

But if Mr. Campbell was to now follow the recommendations of Mr. Pole and Ms. Reimer that would be a very positive result for everyone.

And why wouldn't he do it?

It won't cost him any political or economic capital and it would be a sign that he does want to work with all British Columbians.

Cheryl said...

I voted Yes because I think reform is important and because I felt this was our one chance to say that, not because I thought STV was our best option.

I would be delighted if Mr. Campbell revisited the reform issue. I think rather than being criticized no matter what were decided, he could be commended for correctly interpreting the results: electoral reform YES; STV, not so much.

Anonymous said...

Paul wrote: "The big winners are the voters, who gain a legislature with a real opposition."

Umm... No. The BC Libs changed the rules of Question Period and there is no longer a place for the opposition to be heard.

Ted Hayes said...

I find the idea of PR or STV rather interesting. Its main proponents seem to be those on the left. And the Greens want it because they think it will give them more influence.

And it will.

But look at Hawthorne and Barrett's piece. The NDP only win on a vote that splits the right. With true PR, the Greens would usually take up the slack. That means that, to govern, the NDP would need the Greens.

But the Greens aren't Left. Adrienne Carr says so and she's right and she's Right.

Check Hawthorne and Barrett's piece again. The Greens take votes from the Liberals, too. So we have a little Green Party that is no friend to the Left, now calling the shots to an NDP government. They will be able to do so with only 10% of the vote. Meanwhile, the Liberals - who will have gained something like 45% of the vote - will be the real Opposition and will be completely shut out. Now that seems to me very much like the kind of problem that we already experience.

With one exception.

The NDP cannot be held accountable for not performing according to their mandate. They have to bow the wishes to the Greens who - remember - represent only a small rump of the total vote.

So who will be accountable and for what?

But we are talking about pretty remote possibilities here.

Why?

Well, it's because, with PR, the NDP will not likely see government again in the next century. The total Right always outvotes the NDP. It will be the Liberals, not the NDP, which will be asked to form one government after another. It will be WAC Bennett all over again . . . except it will last 100 years instead of 25.

If I were a Liberal, I would be salivating for PR or its poor cousin, STV. And the beauty of it is that the Liberals don't have to reform a thing. The NDP will do it for them.

Give your head a shake.

Ted Hayes said...

I find the idea of PR or STV rather interesting. Its main proponents seem to be those on the left. And the Greens want it because they think it will give them more influence.

And it will.

But look at Hawthorne and Barrett's piece. The NDP only win on a vote that splits the right. With true PR, the Greens would usually take up the slack. That means that, to govern, the NDP would need the Greens.

But the Greens aren't Left. Adrienne Carr says so and she's right and she's Right.

Check Hawthorne and Barrett's piece again. The Greens take votes from the Liberals, too. So we have a little Green Party that is no friend to the Left, now calling the shots to an NDP government. They will be able to do so with only 10% of the vote. Meanwhile, the Liberals - who will have gained something like 45% of the vote - will be the real Opposition and will be completely shut out. Now that seems to me very much like the kind of problem that we already experience.

With one exception.

The NDP cannot be held accountable for not performing according to their mandate. They have to bow the wishes to the Greens who - remember - represent only a small rump of the total vote.

So who will be accountable and for what?

But we are talking about pretty remote possibilities here.

Why?

Well, it's because, with PR, the NDP will not likely see government again in the next century. The total Right always outvotes the NDP. It will be the Liberals, not the NDP, which will be asked to form one government after another. It will be WAC Bennett all over again . . . except it will last 100 years instead of 25.

If I were a Liberal, I would be salivating for PR or its poor cousin, STV. And the beauty of it is that the Liberals don't have to reform a thing. The NDP will do it for them.

Give your head a shake.