BC FREE PRESS, MAY 2001 - There are two kinds of issues facing Gordon Campbell's Liberal government.
Operational or management issues represent the first kind. How will they deal with health care, failed fast ferries, aboriginal land claims, the NDP's bogus budgets, etc?
Perception issues are the second kind, stoked by BC's major media. The one that stands out right now is the perceived injustice of Gordon Campbell refusing to change the rules regarding official opposition status for the NDP.
BC's legislative rules require a party to have at least four elected MLAs before they receive the perks, money and status of an official opposition.
So far, the NDP has failed to meet the minimum requirements - the election of four members. They have two MLAs - Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan. They might elect two more if recounts in Victoria go their way. This would render Campbell's decision moot.
But let's assume the NDP are stuck with only MacPhail and Kwan. Should Campbell grant them official opposition status?
So far, most of BC's major media think he should. They argue it creates a more democratic and accountable system, allows critics of the government to vent without rioting in the streets, and more accurately reflects the popular vote. The Liberals walked off with 95 per cent of the seats, despite receiving under 60 per cent of the popular vote.
Still, this advantageous situation is not as unjust as the NDP losing the popular vote in 1996, yet running the province with a heavy hand. Former NDP Premier Glen Clark summed it up in his typical take-no-prisoners style. The NDP were winners and the Liberals were losers. End of story.
That's Canadian politics. First past the post. Winner take all. No quarter asked and none given.
The media are arguing a change is required. Dissipate the anger and bloodletting that dominates BC politics. Rise above it. Put aside grudges against the NDP, and grant them official opposition status. This act would elevate respect for the parliamentary system above BC's petty politics.
A nice sentiment, but there are equally good, more practical arguments against this approach. First, BC may need an opposition party, but the NDP ain't it. MacPhail and Kwan represent the same old rotten core that ran this province into the ground. Granting these two official party status does nothing to create an improved political environment. For that to happen there must be change, which will only occur if the NDP is forced to seriously negotiate with other political entities.
If the NDP receives official opposition status, why would they negotiate with the Green Party? The NDP would have funding, research resources, legislative representation, and media exposure during Question Period. Certainly the past ten years gave no indication the NDP is motivated by altruism toward the Greens or anyone else. Just ask the victims of the NCHS bingo scandal.
If the Liberals grant special status to the NDP, they must treat the Green Party similarly. This ensures the Greens and NDP remain on reasonably equal footing. But then, where does it stop? Perhaps we should invite the Unity, Marijuana and Rhino parties to set up in the legislature.
It turns out there are good reasons for a party to elect four MLAs before achieving special status.
No, the best course of action is to leave the NDP, Greens and others to their own devices. Let them work it out, and earn the public's trust. Only through compromise and hard work will a legitimate new party emerge from the existing shambles created in part by MacPhail and Kwan.
Of course, the major media will continue to rant. That's their job. In our parliamentary system, the media are the unofficial opposition, and they carry a big stick. In fact, BC's media are some of the most combative and tenacious in the country. That's the way it should be.
The Liberals should realize the media are not going away. And due to the Liberals' huge majority, the honeymoon traditionally bestowed on a new government ended the day after the election. The media will pick their issues, and hammer away.
The trick is separating the smoke from the substance.
And staying focused on good governance.
Nurse Shark - latin name: Strikus maximus.
Travels in large numbers, leader is usually significantly better fed.
Normally docile but will strike if provoked, prefers sick and injured prey.
Approach with caution: appears friendly but known to bite the hand that feeds it.
Sun May 22 02:06:58 2005 PDT