Incredible! A government killed by bingo

Allan Fotheringham May 18 1998

Incredible! A government killed by bingo

Allan Fotheringham May 18 1998

Incredible! A government killed by bingo

Allan Fotheringham

We are out on the Left Coast, British California, where politics is on the wild and woolly side and the losers are thrown over the side quickly. The next one due for the Dumpster, now for certain, is the NDP government. Hang out the black crape.

It has been a slow death, but the executioner arrived swiftly. The news that the fuzz, after an agonizingly long wait, have laid more than 100 charges over such a stupid thing as bingo has finished off what remains of Premier Glen Clark’s tattered raiments.

The mounted horsemen in the scarlet tunics have charged that Dave Stupich—a former finance minister and federal MP—along with his family and certain colleagues stole from Nanaimo charities for almost 20 years. The soul of socialist sanctity wept in its grave.

When the CCF, mother to the NDP, was birthed in Regina, the essential ethos of the movement was that it was not a political party like the others. Let them—the despicable old Grits and old Tories—rely on bagmen and nudge-nudge winkwink alliances with the corporations that feed their slush funds.

The socialists who founded the CCF were led by poets and preachers. Frank Scott, the Montreal law professor and aphorist, helped write the founding principles. J. S. Woodsworth was a man of the cloth, as was the saintly Tommy Douglas, the first leader when the CCF morphed into the NDP in an alliance with the (then) somewhat saintly Canadian labor unions.

There was always that aura of being “above politics”—the socialists of course not wanting to get their hands dirty in the sordid dayto-day business of wheeling and dealing and compromising and getting mixed up with raising party funds. Mr. Stupich, or so the RCMP charge, apparently found an innocent way to get around this messy business called pecuniary needs. It was that staple of the blue-rinse ladies in the dull little lumber town of Nanaimo: bingo.

There have been governments around the globe that have been brought down by fraud, by broads, by incompetence and by hidden presidential tapes. This is a Guinness Book of Records entry— the first government destroyed by bingo. Under the D: disaster.

The man responsible for this fiasco in fact is another very nice kindly man. His name is Mike Harcourt, the previous NDP pre mier. Son of an ordinary middle-class family, he as luck would have it was turned into a socialist by Rev. Tommy Douglas.

Working during university summers as a waiter on the CPR’s national run, he encountered a new passenger in Regina—in the dining car. Douglas took a liking to the bright lad, talked to him seriously and by the time the train hit Vancouver the socialism movement had a convert.

The problem was that Harcourt was never really a socialist. The

romance of the cause appealed to him, but he always remained a smallliberal. As the first storefront lawyes in Vancouver, then eventually as mayor, he never met—as with Will Rogers—a man he didn’t like.

And so, as premier in Victoria, he couldn't believe the long-festering allegations that money destined for charities in Nanaimo—the Stupich home turf—had somehow found its way into NDP coffers.

To be a successful political leader,a wise man once said, you have to be a good butcher. Maggie Thatcher was a good butcher, chopping the head of cabinet ministers before they knew in was gone. Mackenzie King, history tells us, required from every minister on their appointment a letter of resignation—to be hauled out of his bottom drawer the instant it was needed

Bill Clinton, for all that winsome twinkle and Arkansas drawl, is a deceptively good butcher. Washington insiders and journalists marvel—and despise him for it—how without a blink he abandons close friends and

colleagues who are no longer useful to him.

Nicely Mikey Harcourt was not a good butcher. He could never get to the bottom of the Bingogate mess because he didn’t want to. One suspects he didn’t want to know whether British Columbia’s first NDP premier, Dave Barrett, was involved. (And he wasn’t, even though Stupich was his finance minister.)

But Harcourt wouldn’t bring down the hammer, couldn’t wield the axe to get to the bottom of the dung heap, and so had to resign because he got tired of the heat. He learned too well Harry Truman's maxim: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Glen Clark is a good butcher. He’s a ruthless product of Vancouver’s gritty East End. He sacked his erudite finance minister mere weeks before the poor sucker was to present his budget to the legislature. Clark can read. He knows his polling figures put his party in the basement behind a Liberal party led by a weak leader, Gordon Campbell, whose wife has confessed that her husband likes to govern but he doesn’t like campaigning.

The problem is that it is too late for Butcher Clark. The Asian flu meltdown—with 34 per cent of B.C. exports going to the Pacific Rim in 1996-1997—is giving his province a serious sickness called recession. But bingo has finished him off. Under the B: gonzo.