Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bill Bennett has it right

Cut Bill Bennett’s claims about life inside the Liberal government in half and it’s still ugly.
Reject them entirely and you still face the reality that Bennett is right when he says that each day Gordon Campbell stays as leader is one more blow to the Liberals’ chances for recovery.
The East Kootenay MLA was fired as energy minister Wednesday for saying Campbell should step down now for the good of the party. Next step is expulsion from caucus.
The firing wasn’t unexpected. Bennett noted he had broken the “no surprises” rule by not warning the premier¹s office.
But what happened next was surprising.
Finance Minister Colin Hansen maintained the cabinet had fired Bennett. They might have approved, but only the premier can hire and fire cabinet ministers.
And Hansen and others said Bennett had broken his cabinet oath. That’s not true. Ministers promise to maintain confidentiality about cabinet discussions, not to shut up about everything.
Bennett left the meeting and came to Victoria to face the media.
The scrum was about 35 minutes and, by the end, Bennett had carpet-bombed Campbell. The premier was a bully and autocrat who ignored cabinet, caucus and stakeholders. He had reduced MLAs to tears in meetings. One shouting incident had left Bennett wiping the premier¹s spit from his face, he said.
“He¹s lost the public entirely,” Bennett said. “He should just leave. Every day that Premier Campbell stays around is one less day we have to start a renewal.”
A lineup of ministers denied Bennett’s charges, as did Campbell. Health Minister Kevin Falcon said he had been in shouting matches with the premier, but that was just the way things were done in cabinet.
So who should you believe?
MLAs and ex-MLAs have complained, usually quietly, about Campbell’s bullying. The HST introduction, dropped on a surprised caucus with no discussion or consultation, confirms the tendency to one-man rule.
And Bennett, in my experience, has been a straight shooter.
Maybe he exaggerated or his perceptions were skewed. But if he sees the problems, they exist.
Certainly he’s right that Campbell’s long goodbye is doing great damage to the Liberals.
Campbell acknowledged the public doesn’t trust him. That’s why he’s leaving.
But by staying on until a new leader is in place, likely in March, he’s condemning the party to months of growing unpopularity and tainting the leadership selection process. Cabinet ministers considering a leadership run should be focused on demonstrating they offer a new vision and direction for the party and the government.
Instead, Falcon and George Abbott, both possible candidates, responded to Bennett’s comments by defending Campbell’s leadership and achievements. They stepped forward as apologists for a terribly unpopular premier, as ministers and MLAs have since the HST was introduced to such anger.
Bennett’s concerns about political life need to be addressed, no matter what people think about his criticism of Campbell.
Power has increasingly been concentrated in the leader’s office. MLAs have had little role in shaping policy; if they had, the HST debacle might have been avoided.
And cabinet ministers are often out of the loop. Bennett noted that the sweeping reorganization of resource ministries announced by Campbell was done without the involvement of the ministers responsible for those areas. The deputy ministers working on it were told not to let their ministers know what was going on.
Bennett spoke highly of most of his cabinet colleagues and the people working in government.
But his frustration came through in almost every sentence. And it was based, I’d argue, not on anger at being fired from cabinet but on years of disappointment. MLAs start their time in Victoria with great hopes of making a difference. Those hopes are often replaced by bitterness and disappointment.
“I¹m tired of the bullshit going on in politics,” Bennett said.
He speaks for many British Columbians.
Footnote: Bennett recounted his first-term interest in starting an outdoor caucus - MLAs from both parties interested in hunting, fishing, hiking and snowmobiling issues that are often neglected. Campbell tried to bully him out of the idea, Bennett said, especially rejecting the idea that New Democrat MLAs could be involved. Bennett went ahead anyway.


Anonymous said...

Paul, you've been deceived.

He's not a straight shooter. He's impulsive, insecure and emotional --and worst of all, paranoid. He's liking the attention right now, but let's go back to why he is where he is.

First, he's always wanted the Mines portfolio. He never got it because of various gaffes over the years starting with allegedly trying to get a no competition contract for a helicopter company supporter right in his first term. He made various other boo-boos along the way, culminating in an election ad that stated "he pays his taxes". Odd thing to put in an ad --unless you are running against a first nations candidate, that is.

So let's look at what Campbell did and why Bill is on a soapbox. Along comes to HST. You've just lost Lekstrom. Rumour is other MLAs might be thinking the same thing. You have a MLA from Kootenay East who has consistently felt the heat from communities in his constituency along the Alberta border to get rid of the PST, and he was probably grumbling about it in cabinet. What to do? Don't want another MLA pulling the plug. So you give him the Mines portfolio to keep him quiet. When the heat seems to be cooling off, you yank the portfolio from him because, after all, it's just a matter of time before Bennett puts his foot in his mouth and embarasses your government again.

This, and only this, is what sets Bennett off. The loss of what he's coveted for ten years. The rest of the crap about principles and truth and so on does not fit with the MLA we all know out here. He had many, many opportunities to stand on his hindlegs and say what he said today. It's not courage; it's petulance.

Norm Farrell said...

An interesting man, Mr. Bennett. Perhaps the surprise should be that he stayed this long.

If more backbenchers would exercise their constitutional authorities, a leader could not run roughshod over his own party.

How do we convince the politicians? Ask them before and election, they'll tell you what you want to hear. But like Campbell's pledge to "not sell" BC Rail, the promises lose power as soon as the voting is finalized.

Effective recall, even the real threat of recall, seems the only way.

Norm Farrell said...

I suppose the slander and libel campaign is well under way. Thanks Mr. Anonymous for your brave contribution.

North Van's Grumps said...

"Health Minister Kevin Falcon said he had been in shouting matches with the premier, but that was just the way things were done in cabinet."

So he who yells the loudest is the winner?

Or are there two bullies in the BC Liberal cabinet?

Leah said...

"He's not a straight shooter. He's impulsive, insecure and emotional --and worst of all, paranoid. He's liking the attention right now, but let's go back to why he is where he is."

Anon...We're talking about Bennett here...not Campbell,and the above is a perfect description of your illustrious leader these days. If you're going to write something giving the impression as you have, that you know both men personally...own it. Try a name.

DPL said...

Bennett was on Voice of BC last evening and in my view is not some raving lunatic but some guy who believed a caucus was supposed to be able to listen to each other not just listen to El supremo Gordo

Kim said...

Yes, but we might want to remember that Mr. Bennett thinks that enviromentalists are eco-terrorists. That is dangerous thinking.

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