Columns

Watching the NDP die

Allan Fotheringham September 18 2000
Columns

Watching the NDP die

Allan Fotheringham September 18 2000

Watching the NDP die

Columns

Allan Fotheringham

It was Bruce Hutchison, the sage of Canadian journalism, who labelled the province beyond the mountains Lotusland. Hutch was the sage because he spent almost his whole career sitting in his garden in Victoria. At one stage, he was editor of the Winnipeg Free Press while sitting—he knew about those winters and those mosquitoes—in that Victoria garden. There was a wise man.

He got Lotusland, of course, from Greek mythology; the land of the lotus-eaters. Where else do you find a paradise where three recent premiers have not been allowed to finish their terms in office before resigning, and a fourth has ruined the family reputation with a sad scandal over insider trading that allowed millionaires to make more millions.

Your faithful agent, on his island in the Pacific for the annual brain transplant, finds—as usual—that the locals have gone crazy. The threat this season are those dreadful Jet Skis with youthful yahoos intent on ruining the eardrums of innocent cottagers. The revenge? The deadly potato gun.

Enraged islanders, with the help of a local handyman, are buying by the dozens the weapon to eradicate the Jet Ski plague. It resembles a bazooka, some five feet in length. Down the muzzle goes the potato (the Idaho specimen much favoured locally).

The blunderbuss is then ignited (I am not making this up) by putting a match to the aerosol from a can ofVidal Sassoon hairspray. The resulting explosion startles the deer on the hillsides and, with proper lead time and luck, drives off a now-deaf teenager.

This is just a minor sport in a jurisdiction where political calamity is as predictable as rain. The major sport is watching the death of a once-proud party. Political suicide, unfortunately, is a mesmerizing thing when done in public. The stumbling, fumbling government of rookie Premier Ujjal Dosanjh is twisting in the wind, its death rattles getting louder each week as it awaits a spring election it cannot avoid.

The coppers have just celebrated the first anniversary of the unhorsing of the supremely cocky Glen Clark, previous proprietor of the disaster, by announcing that they are extending their criminal investigation. Just to help the celebration along, the NDP government has finally announced that his proudest creation—now known as the Glendoggle —is even more of a farce than previously revealed.

These would be the now-famous “fast ferries” that were going to speed grateful tourists to Vancouver Island with the speed of light. The aluminum-hulled catamarans, designed to carry 1,000 passengers and 250 cars, were to be sold worldwide once their phenomenal new design had dazzled the world on the hot route to the Nanaimo bingo parlours.

Only problem, after the $210-million budget for the three prototypes ended up at $460 million, was that the PacifiCat ferries proved faster than Glens tongue. At a top speed of 37 knots—some 68 km/h—the wonder boats churned up a huge wake that sent the toffs, sipping their gins on island docks, into apoplexy. Dogs and cats were swept into the sea. A sheepish B.C. Ferry Corp. has now announced that the tamed PassyCats, now up for sale at $40 million apiece with no buyers, have been purposely slowed and make the jaunt across Georgia Strait at the same leisurely speed as the fat old ferries they were to replace.

Nothing seems to work for poor Dosanjh, a polite chap who seems to be swatting a swarm of hornets as Clark now swipes at him from deep in the back benches. The government, for some strange reason, announces it will raise the provincial minimum wage—already the highest in the land—to $8 an hour. This would seem puzzling, since those at the bottom of the economic scale are usually figured to be loyal NDP voters in the first place. How many additional votes are to be gained while further angering the business community?

Victoria proclaims that the number of welfare recipients is at its lowest percentage in two decades and is headed down, but no one pays any attention because no one believes any numbers that come out of Victoria anymore. The floundering government proudly announces that it has finally balanced its financial books. But after the celebrated Fudge-it Budget of Clarks reign—a source of wonder to accountants everywhere—the figures are regarded with the same degree of credibility as the fast ferries that are going nowhere except to the auctioneers block.

The doctors are threatening to go on strike. The native people are throwing up roadblocks, as is the current flavour of the season. Hutchison, in his grave, would regard the potato guns as the only proper weapon for the proceedings in his beloved province that is slightly mad.