Canada

B.C. bargain: double the fun

Thomas Hopkins April 30 1979
Canada

B.C. bargain: double the fun

Thomas Hopkins April 30 1979

B.C. bargain: double the fun

Thomas Hopkins

On the damp April evening that B.C. Premier Bill Bennett chose to make his televised election announcement, eight days after the federal call, one weary wag in the newsroom of the Victoria Daily Colonist grumbled, “Next guy that comes in here and wants to call an election will just have to get in line.”

With concurrent elections frantically on the go (the provincial is set for May 10), British Columbia has become an erratic cat’s cradle of intersecting candidates, conflicting strategies and clashing lawn signs. With less than three weeks left in the provincial campaign and the federal vote following 12 days later, it has become impossible to separate the two campaigns as more than 250 candidates ricochet back and forth 3 through dark mountain valleys and £ Vancouver back streets in 85 overlap| ping ridings.* 3

Provincial NDP forces, following an o initial flurry of hair-pulling and panic x after Bennett opportunely called for concurrent elections, have rallied their stretched troops and a Battle of Britain spirit has worked to unite an often fractious provincial party to the point where provincial and federal campaigns are being run by common campaign managers out of the same storefronts. They have also chosen to avoid the polarizing name-calling of earlier cam-

paigns, allowing no fuel to inflame the potent Socred fear tactic of “socialist hordes” used so successfully by Bennett in 1975 and by his father, the late W. A. C. Bennett, before him. Their other centrepiece tactic, however—a sure-win television debate between the improved but still wooden premier and their own joyful street-fighter Dave Barrett—was scuttled when Bennett cleverly countered with a challenge to debate with what he termed the true leadership of the provincial NDP: Barrett, B.C. Federation of Labor President Jim Kinnaird and former NDP cabinet

minister and ultimate symbol of clovenhooved socialism Bob Williams. Clearly a clever ploy to avoid Barrett, the challenge served to throw the NDP on the defensive. Certainly Barrett, humbled by losing not only the government but his own seat to a used-car dealer in 1975, and consequently viewed as a liability by some party members, has so far played a substantially less prominent role in the campaign—reportedly under firm orders from a cautious and sombre caucus.

Since more political passion on the West Coast is reserved for provincial politics, NDPers rub their hands in anticipation of slingshotting a 40-per-cent provincial vote into a dozen federal

*At dissolution the Conservatives held 13 federal seats in B.C., the Liberals eiyht and the NDP two; five more have been added under redistribution. Of 57 provincial seats, 3k are Social Credit, 18 NDP, one Conservative and two vacant—one of those previously Liberal and one Social Credit. Two new seats have been created provincially under redistribution.

seats 12 days later. But they also fear the confusion that may ensue when canvassers set out to sell two or three candidates in piggyback campaigns. As a result the NDP is slipping the federal campaign into neutral until May 10, then flooding the freshly blooded troops back into the field.

The erratic, often Byzantine nature of B.C. politics is perhaps best illustrated by the recent harrowing saga of provincial Conservative leader Vic Stephens. In early April, television cameras caught him trailing six paces behind his federal leader while Joe Clark told reporters that B.C. federal Tory voters “can work for the [provincial] party of their choice.” Clark clearly wanted to do nothing to risk the chance that provincial Socreds, who traditionally vote and work for the Tories federally, would stay home during the crucial last 12 days. A miffed Stephens claimed a deal had been made. Clark and Bennett depí nied it. Arcane and mysterious to non=i British Columbians, the scrap is vital in =? the effect it has on Stephens’ ability to

> play spoiler for Bennett’s Socreds in the

> provincial election. But the question re% mains whether his stand against what g insiders concede has been common, if 5 unofficial, practice in B.C. for 25 years £ has cost him valuable support. (He is

reported to be in trouble in his own patrician Oak Bay riding outside Victoria.)

Watching Stephens with nervous interest is Bill Bennett, who has the most to lose from a resurgent B.C. Tory party. For an assured re-election the premier is counting on, among other things, his popular giveaway scheme of five free shares, currently worth about $12 each in government-controlled B.C. Resources Investment Corporation and also on a perceived sense of well-being in the province—scarcely justified by an unemployment rate of 8.5 per cent. A politician of the Okanagan, knee-to-thegroin school, Bennett has used his office like a vote-generating musical instrument. Recent examples include his “sunshine” budget, a goody-choked document that has now become a well publicized piece of campaign literature although the legislature has been dissolved before it could be implemented, and a hurry-up mass mailing of a Socred-boosting government newspaper hours before the election writ was dropped. On the plus side, investment confidence is slowly returning to the province, the provincial budget is balanced and labor strife, thanks largely to the cooling effects of the Anti-Inflation Board, has been kept to acceptable levels.

Indeed, the campaign to date has presented no strong issues, which has resulted in a seeming contradiction in terms: a boring B.C. provincial election. With nine seats in 1975 decided by less than two per cent of the vote, most observers call it a mid-campaign toss-up.

Federally, the issue is the economy with leadership a persistent second. Although the detectable personal hatred for Pierre Trudeau that infected the period of the Oct. 16 byelections has moderated, his name remains a burden for B.C. Liberal candidates who excise or minimize mentions of their leader. One Liberal official identifies the West

Coast attitude toward Trudeau with sweet simplicity:

“People out here think he’s been in office too long and they think he’s arrogant.” The traditional Liberal planks of constitutional reform and national unity are as remote and theoretical in B.C. as the question of developing Atlantic tidal power. The Tories hope to maintain their 1974 strength and count on Western disaffection with the Liberals and suspicion of a union-backed NDP to add seats, but they remain hampered by continuing distrust of Joe Clark.

The NDP, claiming that 1974 was a political aberration, hope to reassert their traditional B.C. presence and recapture the long-standing NDP strongholds of Vancouver Kingsway (from erratic Liberal Simma Holt) and Vancouver East (from low-key Grit Art Lee). Their chances are considered good. Safe Liberal seats appear to include those of Environment Minister Len Marchand in Kamloops-Shuswap, former provincial Liberal leader Gordon Gibson in North Vancouver-Burnaby and, in what most observers see as a classic punchup in the sprawling former NDP stronghold

of Skeena, Fitness and Amateur Sport Minister Iona Campagnolo is fingered as a slight favorite. One of the most glamorous races is Vancouver Centre where former Vancouver mayor Art Phillips, along with photogenic helpmate Carole Taylor, are battling with economist and former journalist Patricia Carney. Phillips was given a dramatic boost by Carney’s pre-election resignation (claiming financial hardship) and last minute re-nomination. In

the shuffle she lost the services of the wizard Tory organizer Gary Anderson who came within a campaign sign of knocking off Liberal cabinet minister Ron Basford in 1974. Other hot races include Liberal Stu Leggatt’s redistributed old riding of New WestminsterCoquitlam, home of the riot-torn B.C. pen, which has the NDP’s abolishionist Pauline Jewett (former president of Simon Fraser University) in trouble against hard-line retentionist Tory

Marg Gregory, who nearly whipped Leggatt in 1974. A consensus of federal campaign seers picks Liberals with four seats, NDP with six, Tories with a dozen and the balance up for grabs in what appears increasingly to be a campaign between the Tories and the NDP.

To B.C. voters, however, the most appropriate adjective for the concurrent campaigns is confusing. Compounded by last-minute mix-ups with the provincial voters’ lists, drastic alterations to both provincial and federal riding boundaries and snakes-and-ladders tours by leaders, many observers fear the perplexed will simply stay at home on both polling days. “It’s no damn good, you know,” complains one angry voter in the Vancouver Island town of Courtenay. “People around here want to do their duty, but it seems like the politicians are doing everything to screw us up.”