B.C. voters gave Gordon Campbell a broken nose on May 17, but for working people and the poor, the bleeding will continue for another four years. The B.C. Liberals lost 12 per cent of the popular vote and 31 seats, and required blanket advertising and a big helping hand from the corporate media to hold off a resurgent NDP.
Wide areas of British Columbia threw out their Liberal MLAs, as most of Vancouver Island returned NDP members to the legislature. East Vancouver and the more working-class suburbs tossed out a host of (neo-)Liberals. Bastions of privilege and social conservatism, like West and Westside Vancouver and the Fraser and Okanagan Valleys, respectively, delivered a narrow majority to Campbell.
Despite high commodity prices and a 74-seat head-start, the B.C. Liberals needed a shameless media blitz over the last weekend of the campaign to hold their narrow margin of victory. First, on Friday May 13, The Globe & Mail released poll results that showed the Liberals an insurmountable 13 points ahead. The poll has since been exposed as a notorious push poll, as respondents were fed a series of leading questions demonizing the NDP and mirroring Liberal messaging down the campaign stretch.
Then, over the campaign’s final weekend, The Province and The Sun, Vancouver’s two largest dailies (both owned by CanWest-Global) each put out their own equally shameless endorsements of Gordon Campbell’s regime. The Province‘s “editorial” was particularly despicable, as it featured a full page “ballot” with a check through the Liberals’ box. In their written explanation, the tabloid’s editors urged readers to give Campbell another four years, adding that they would help to keep him accountable over his second term.
Rounding out this final weekend of manufacturing British Columbians’ consent, the Liberals blanketed the airways Monday night with campaign ads boasting of The Sun, The Province and The Globe and Mail endorsements. One wonders if these radio spots weren’t recorded weeks earlier.
All of this, of course, was pretty predictable stuff for progressives who have watched the big corporate media and a tiny group of pundits dictate the political discourse in this province for decades. Yet the fact is that the overwhelming majority of the public is unaware of the blatant links.
For all of the hysteria over “big labour’s control of the NDP,” few are aware that CanWest-Global has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the B.C. Liberals. Any and all demands for campaign finance reform should begin with the basic demand that media be banned from contributing to political parties.
So, considering the barrage of free and paid propaganda boosting the Liberals’ record, the election results are an impressive rejection of Campbell’s four years of cuts and attacks against the province’s most vulnerable. In many ways, the relatively close margin signals the likely exit of Campbell as party leader before the 2009 election. In addition to the possibility of a new leader to shore up the image of the Liberals, we should also anticipate an intensification of the campaign to further defang the NDP of any program that impedes on the prerogatives of big business.
The ubiquitous Michael Smythe and Vaughn Palmer of The Province and The Sun have been relentlessly harping on the links between organized labour and the NDP, and urging Carole James forward to further moderate, “modernize” and “balance” the party. George Heyman, the BCGEU President and the leading labour voice for cutting ties with the NDP, beamed in a television interview that the election results proved that British Columbians wanted “moderate, centrist” government.
The results do indicate that hundreds of thousands tuned out the barrage of propaganda and voted based on their own hard experience of suffering under the Liberals. But platitudes about moderation and centrism — sure to be echoed by a premier posing as “kinder and gentler” — won’t undo the cuts and attacks of the past four years, nor the privatization now bound to continue.
The same forces who handed the Liberals this election are already trying to shape and confine the 2009 campaign, and create an “opposition” in their image.
We’d be very ill-advised to let CanWest-Global and their ilk shape the alternative to Gordon Campbell.