Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Nominations creating problems for NDP and Liberals

VICTORIA - I bet the Liberals did a little dance when they heard Adrian Dix had won the NDP nomination in Vancouver-Kingsway.
For Gordon Campbell, it’s like Christmas came three weeks early. Figure the Dix nomination is good for a few Liberal wins in close seats, as well as big laugh lines in campaign speeches.
I’ve nothing against Dix, who seems a decent enough person.
But he’s got two huge strikes against him.
Dix is best known as a powerful figure in the former NDP government, generally seen as Glen Clark’s closest political advisor.
That’s not a real strong resume item. The Clark government stumbled from crisis to crisis, lacked clear political focus and managed to fall to astonishingly low approval ratings. It’s like going out on a job interview and telling people you were responsible for Enron’s financial strategies.
And then there’s the famous memo to file. Right after police raided Clark’s home he produced a memo, written by Dix. Look, Clark said, this shows that I had nothing to do with the casino application of his friend Dimitrios Pilarinos.
Clark said the memo proved that he had spoken about the issue with Dix almost a year earlier. “The premier asked me to ensure that he take no part in any aspect of the decision on Burnaby casinos,” Dix wrote in a memo, dated July 17, 1998, which he then filed away.
It was an important piece of evidence. But it was, in one critical way, fake. Dix didn’t write the memo in July; he wrote it months later, got the office date stamp from a secretary’s desk, and rolled the date back.
That’s no crime. But it shows remarkably bad judgment.
Dix’s candidacy is a gift to the Liberals. NDP leader Carole James faces the critical task of assuring voters that the New Democrats have changed if the party is to do well at the polls next May.
Now every Liberal campaign speech can remind voters that Clark’s top advisor could end up in an NDP cabinet, and to talk about the famous memo-to-file and the casino scandal.
Dix has a right to run, and the active New Democrats in his riding picked him over three other candidates.
But that’s no consolation for James. (And it is interesting that she chose not to, or wasn’t able, to persuade Dix not to run for the sake of the party’s overall prospects.)
The Liberals have their own nomination worries.
Less than two months ago Gordon Campbell put a brave face on the party’s defeat in the Surrey byelection, and vowed that candidate Mary Polak would win the riding in the election next May.
Polak apparently isn’t so sure. She’s decided to try and get the Liberal nomination in Langley, where former cabinet minister Lynn Stephens isn’t going to run again.
It’s hardly a vote of confidence in the Liberals’ prospects in Surrey, where Polak has been a high-profile and controversial school board chair, responsible for an expensive legal battle over children’s books that depict gay parents.
Polak’s move has also exposed the divide within the provincial Liberals.
She’s seen as a social conservative, the kind of person who would find a home in the federal Conservative party (or even more comfortably in the old Canadian Alliance).
Stephens represents of the wing of the Campbell party that would be more comfortable in the federal Liberals. She says Polak is too right wing to represent Langley and should stay in her own riding.
A similar spat is shaping up in North Vancouver, where MLA Dan Jarvis - who has been critical of the government - faces a challenge from school trustee Cindy Silver, a lawyer and staunch social conservative who has argued against same sex marriages.
It is, as the federal Conservatives painfully found out, risky business to have candidates seen as conservative ideologues.
The process has barely begun, and both parties have reasons to worry.
Footnote: One plus for the NDP is that people actually want the nominations. In 2001 it took arm-twisting to get sacrificial victims to be battered by voters. A minus is gender equity; only three of 16 nominated candidates are women.

No comments: