The last week before Labour Day was extremely eventful for B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark — and not in a good way for her government. These developments prompted me to share some thoughts on the longer-term political prospects in B.C. in this column, which was orginally published in The Source newspaper.
For Christy Clark, it looks like it’s all over except for the voting. The sinking ship metaphor has now saturated coverage of politics in British Columbia, as many key Liberal cabinet ministers have chosen the lifeboats instead of a mutiny against captain Clark.
The week before Labour Day saw the resignation of Finance Minister Kevin Falcon, followed the next day by similar announcements by Education Minister George Abbott, as well as Children’s Minister Mary McNeil and parliamentary secretary John Les. The spate of resignations represents a heavy blow against a premier already trailing the NDP badly in the polls.
Falcon and Abbott placed second and third to Clark in the race to replace Gordon Campbell as Liberal leader and premier. Falcon, for one, had promised that he would run again if he didn’t win; that promise is now out the door and so too are any realistic chances of Clark turning her fortunes around.
Big business, for the most part, backed Falcon in the leadership race; his endorsers list read like the membership rolls at the Chamber of Commerce and the Vancouver Club. Falcon’s exit, however much he claims it’s in order to spend more time with his growing family, makes it look a lot like B.C.’s elite have basically given up on the Liberals holding onto power in the next election coming up in May 2013.
In other words, Adrian Dix looks a lot like a premier-in-waiting.
There is always the danger, of course, that the mainstream media could really turn on Dix and rally support for Clark. But I don’t see that happening. Even amongst pundits and columnists on the right of the political spectrum, I read between the lines a level of respect for Dix’s seriousness and competence.
The greater danger may in fact be that Adrian Dix has too easy of a time between now and next May. Given their commanding lead, the NDP will be reluctant to make any sweeping promises of change or even to attack the Liberals’ record too hard. In short, there is a risk that this will feel like an election about nothing, a fait accompli.
There needs to be a concerted effort to push a future NDP government not just to stop the bleeding, but to restore what was lost, to undo the damage.
The mainstream media always puts pressure on governments seen as closer to the left and to labour to trim their sails and keep their agenda “moderate.”
So the labour movement and social activists in this province have a big role to play in putting some fundamental issues in the spotlight, and to remind the public of the awful record of the Liberals in government when it comes to workers rights and the environment.
We need some immoderate voices saying loud and clear that real change is required. The forces of untrammelled capitalism — neo-liberalism — have had too long of a run. It is time for people in B.C. to push back.
Here are three good places to start:
1. Challenge B.C.’s dependence on fossil fuel exports. Yes, it’s true that Dix and the NDP have come out strongly against the unpopular Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal. The same vigour needs to be applied to stopping the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion plans. And then there’s the Pacific Trails natural gas pipeline in the North, which covers much the same route as Enbridge. Pacific Trails is getting under construction soon, and has met with little opposition — from elected politicians, anyway. Yet it locks the province into dependence on natural gas exports, much of it extracted by the harmful and dangerous method of ‘fracking.’ The provincial government needs to use every tool it can to invest in alternative energy and in post-secondary training to create jobs that help maintain ecological integrity.
2. Bring BC Rail back into B.C.’s hands. This would be a de-privatization, more than a nationalization. The 2003 privatization of BC Rail blatantly broke campaign promises by Gordon Campbell, and the sale itself was marred by association with the bribery and influence-peddling scandal and criminal case that involved BC Liberal officials. The Crown corporation never should have been privatized. There has as yet been no serious discussion of getting this crucial transportation infrastructure back into public hands.
3. End child labour in the province. The Liberals brought in some of the most dangerous legislation around children at work in all of North America. Kids as young as 12 have been brought into work at all kinds of dangerous job sites, and the rate of child labour workers compensation claims has mushroomed. No kid should be getting hurt on the job. Childhood should be for play and learning. At the very least, the NDP needs to repeal the Liberals’ changes to the Employment Standards Act.
We have had more than three decades of rampant neo-liberalism across North America, more than a decade of BC Liberal deregulation and privatization, and, globally, we now see new signs every week of an ecological and climate catastrophe underway.
This is no time for moderation. This is the time for change that is real and even systemic. If we fail to get it done, we may all be going down with the ship.
Photo: taminator / Flickr
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