A B.C. election like no other with huge issues at stake too

The following are my personal opinions and not necessarily also those of the Conservative Party of B.C. for whom I am a candidate in the North Island constituency in tomorrow’s provincial election.

In my 71 years of life I have been involved in dozens of elections but I have never seen anything close to the strangeness of the election about to be concluded in British Columbia, my dear home province of multiple generations on both sides of my family – including more than a few of whom were politicians!

My involvement in elections began more than 60 years ago when as a youngster I was intrigued by the “Follow John . . . ” signs that I saw had been painted on some construction hordings in downtown Vancouver, which my father explained were a promotion for a fellow named John Diefenbaker who was running in something called an election to try to become Prime Minister of Canada, which he did succeed in doing for the Progressive Conservative Party in 1957. (The name “Progressive” by the way derives partly from the name of a populist Prairie party of the 1920-30s as well as for the political meaning of redistributing wealth and growing economies.)

My experience in electoral politics peaked in 1972 when I was instrumental in helping to get B.C. New Democratic Party MLA Dave Barrett elected as Premier of British Columbia (I was his prescient press secretary), and its nadir (bottom) was in 1975 when we lost a prematurely-called provincial election for which I share blame too (though probably less than I was subsequently blamed for).

Before then I had participated in Trudeaumania for the federal Liberals in about 1967-68 and later in life I was at a founding meeting of the Reform Party of Canada, I was a local campaign manager in Burnaby for a Canadian Alliance candidate and provincially I ran as a candidate in North Island first as an Independent then for the B.C. First Party (which had been founded by a friend) and now I am running for the B.C. Conservatives (who are officially not aligned with the federal Conservatives who are unoffically prefering to support the B.C. Liberals as a means of opposing the supposedly too-anti-business B.C. NDP).

And that’s only the short list! I also have participated in numerous other federal, provincial, civic and other election campaigns (most recently for a successful aldermanic candidate in Vancouver) – which is all to say that when I say I have never seen any election close to the strangeness of what we are going through now in this B.C. provincial election it is something I can say from a lot of experience. (I also witnessed close-up the departure of Premier Bill Bennett and the arrival and departure of Premier Bill Vander Zalm, about whom I helped write a book, and I also was involved in some interesting federal and provincial elections in Saskatchewan where I worked for 10 years as a financial journalist.)

Notably, I also helped strategize the campaign in Comox in the previous B.C. election for Leah Catherine McCulloch who ran for the B.C. Conservatives and whose 2,000 votes deprived the Liberals of winning the seat there (as Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer recently noted but without mentioning my role in it) and that changed the outcome of the entire provincial election – preventing the B.C. Liberals from gaining a bare majority and thereby enabling the John Horgan New Democrats and the Andrew Weaver Greens to form a confidence-and-supply-agreement (CASA) and thereby govern B.C. as a coalition for the last 3.5 years – apparently quite successfully according to opinion polls – until Premier Horgan’s snap election call about 27 days ago (which may or may not have unfairly broken the CASA, partly because signatory Weaver had departed as leader due to a family health crisis and relations had chilled between the NDP and the two remaining Green MLAs with the Greens perhaps beginning to make some extremist policy demands).

Holding an election in the midst of a pandemic was unthinkable to many observers, especially Liberals, but four weeks later there has not been a single COVID case publicly cited as due to attending a partisan political event, which may have been due to luck or providence and in part due to Provinclal Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s prudent rules regarding crowd sizes, social distancing, mask-wearing and exposure tracing, which rules also have enabled schools to resume (with so far only two small outbreaks) and most commerce to continue (apart from nightclubs) – and it has allowed political campaigning to happen too but without crowds.

Thus here in Campbell River I participated in an all-candidates debate sponsored as usual by the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce in the cavernous Tidemark theatre but this time without an audience who instead had to listen to and/or watch a live stream or a recording posted online, which was okay because it was the same for all four parties but it was not ideal because there was no interaction with a live audience.

I particularly missed hearing the audience reaction when I asked the Liberal candidate why he felt okay running for a party that had turned a blind eye to money-laundering through B.C. casinos, but perhaps that shot still scored. The fact is the B.C. Liberals under Premiers Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark had records too much stained by friends-and-insiders kickback favours and since Andrew Wilkinson took over as leader there has been no sign of a change in that pattern.

Similar on-line events by Skype and/or Zoom were held from Port McNeill, Port Hardy and Cortes Island, which were less than ideal but still better than nothing and may have been flawed by certain interest groups leaking their loaded questions in advance to their favoured candidate, which I deduce happened at least once in our North Island campaign because different candidates two or three times sounded in their answers like they knew what query was coming.

That’s politics, and I’m not whining, but I AM saying that this present B.C. election campaign has been radically unlike anything seen before in B.C. or perhaps anywhere, though the current U.S. Presidential election has some similarities, strangely enough.

Recent polls suggest the Horgan New Democrats will win a modest majority, the Green Party of B.C. will make some modest gains thanks in large part to the talent and hard work of newly-elected leader Sonia Furstenau, and the B.C. Liberals will lose seats due perhaps mainly to the weak appeal of Wilkinson, a non-praticing medical doctor and lawyer who also served as a deputy minister and then a cabinet minister in the B.C. Liberal regimes of the unpopular and now-discredited former premier Gordon Campbell.

Polls show support for BC Conservatives

The good news is that the Burger Heaven poll in New Westminster and a phone-in poll on CKNW’s Mike Smyth Show this morning both revealed surprisingly substantial support for the B.C. Conservatives, apparently concentrated in a handful of ridings in the Fraser Valley but perhaps also elsewhere in the province where the Conservative Party of B.C. (which is NOT allied with the similarly-named federal party) has 19 candidates running, such as myself in North Island and Don Purdey in Parksville-Qualicum – the only two CPBC candidates on the island.

The B.C. Conservatives’ best chances to win seats are in the Fraser Valley, where they are competitive in about four ridings, and in North Peace River where newly-installed party leader Trevor Bolin, a 41-year-old owner of several businesses, also is a popular 12-year veteran of Fort St. John city council.

Bolin is no neophyte, having been active in the Union of B.C. Municipalities, and now he is pushing a populist platform that features removing the unpopular carbon tax. He is for example well aware of the financial binds facing local governments like Port Hardy and Port Alice which have been fighting through the Union of B.C. Municipalities to get a share of taxes levied on insurance policies for use in things like funding their fire departments.

“It’s always been about the people,” says Bolin, pushing “people-first” priorities and made-in-B.C. solutions to the province’s problems and including changes in the way its politics are done.

“The days of an ‘Us vs. Them’ old party system will come to end with B.C. Conservatives in the legislature who are listening to the real needs and concerns of the people they represent,” says Bolin, which is notable because obtaining Official Party Status in the B.C. Legislature now requires having only two sitting MLAs, which was lowered from four by the Horgan New Democrats’ majority to the aid of the Greens and now perhaps to the aid of the B.C. Tories too.

Key issues at stake

There also are lots of important issues at stake in this strange campaign, including the future of the Insurance Corporation of B.C. with pressure to open it up to competition (which I think should be done only carefully if at all though it does need better management), the future of the carbon tax (the Bolin Conservatives want it removed, which I support because it doesn’t really affect climate change but it does harm economic activity), whether there should be a tunnel or bridge across the South Fraser River (we need more information to say either way) and whether the damn Site C dam project should be cancelled or continued (even Horgan admits there is not enough information on the underground tectonics problems) – among other big-ticket issues like what should be done with the Vancouver Island railway line (I think it should be re-purposed for a new generation of elevated rapid transit riding on an air-pressurized low-friction tube) and whether the Trans Mountain pipeline should be expanded (mark me down as a Yes!).

Should we adopt a radical green agenda and go crash-course off oil and into clean electric vehicles or should we keep our options open until we see whether the Maunder Minimum (a natural solar cycle) puts an end to “global warming” (which by the way is NOT due mainly to humanity’s carbon emissions)?

Those are just a few among dozens of important issues at stake in this election such as the futures of the forest industries and fish farming (I favour both if done with more care for the environment), financial support or lack thereof for family incomes (I favour more, especially for child care), the urgent need to do more to address drug addictions, homelessness and street crimes that are plaguing too many of B.C.’s communities (to which I favour a new system of tiny homes combined with security, counselling, skills training and work experience), better financial supports and care homes for seniors, and more.

In general I strongly urge a transition to a self-sufficiency strategy for all of the things most important to the well-being of British Columbia, beginning with food (we have lots of good land and cheap and clean energy for greenhouses), certainly including policing and security (I favour reviving the B.C. Provincial Police force to work in parallel with the RCMP) and reviving a government-owned Bank of B.C. and empowering it to issue a made-in-B.C. currency (which was done by Governor James Douglas in the mid-late 1800s and again by Premier W.A.C. Bennett for B.C.’s centennary in 1958) which would work alongside the Canadian and U.S. dollars.

A prime example of what I would push for if elected as MLA for North Island would be to re-purpose the shut-down pulp mill at Port Alice, which I recently wrote about in some detail and spoke about a bit in the Port Hardy virtual all-candidates meeting; there are numerous potential new uses for that 100-year-old mill site including cottage industries, work-experience and training activities perhaps for ex-prisoners on probation (of course with proper security and counselling), perhaps bottling and/or bulk-exporting fresh water (the mill site has its own water and power supplies) or perhaps something new like collecting waste plastic that is polluting the world’s oceans and remanufacturing it into useful products like park benches or packaging or prosthetics – among many other options.

I also would like to push for some educational reforms, such as enabling more parent-run charter schools that could involve curriculums favoured by parents such as with a range and variety of religious or cultural themes – more choices for better outcomes. And there should be a better respect for those people who choose to follow Christian and Biblical family values, not to force those values onto others but to enable those who want them to do them without encountering discrimination against them.

So there are many good things that could and should be done to make British Columbia a better place but unfortunately due in part to Covid and due in part to other factors like the limited space in the commercial news media there has not really been a full and fair airing of these, those and other policy options in this election.

Maybe the next election campaign will be better, especially if there is some positive electoral reform to raise the level of citizen participation and empowerment, such as say by more online referendums between elections and/or using new online technologies, maybe even a citizen vote in Legislature proceedings. Direct democracy eh – what a concept!

Yes it certainly has been one of the strangest elections in B.C. political history, called on short notice about two years before an election was scheduled and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that uncertainty may continue to be the case for weeks to come because the huge increase in voting-by-mail and advance voting (to minimize Covid risks) could mean that the final result won’t be known until weeks afterward.

Polls will still be open as normal in the usual type of locales (e.g. community centres) but about a million people have already voted in advance polls and perhaps some 800,000 more votes will be filed by mail and not counted until a week or two later, which further makes this election one of the strangest ever.

If you’re reading this and haven’t voted yet, please try to do so.

Thanks to everyone involved.