A focus on real enterprise would do a lot
By Bruce A Stewart
Back as the 1990s dawned, British Columbia politics was in roughly the same place it is today.
An old, tired government that had been in power for years. A premier forced to step down. A successor seen as failing the party because the opposition was in the lead.
Oh, and an upstart party siphoning off votes.
Back then it was Social Credit that was long in the tooth, Bill vander Zalm in retirement, Rita Johnston struggling, and the BC Liberals making a new beginning.
Today, it’s those same BC Liberals that the public views as well past their best before date, Gordon Campbell enjoying a new career, Christy Clark struggling, and the BC Conservatives busy carving out space for themselves.
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The adage in BC politics is that when the centre-right divides the left wins. That’s not quite true — Dave Barrett’s 1972 NDP government was more a matter of “enough, already, let’s have a change” (as indeed was Mike Harcourt’s win, and a good deal of Adrian Dix’s current high ride in the polls) — but it is true that BC politics fell into a left-vs-right play a long time ago, and the leading party on either side can ill afford anyone flanking them for their voters.
The BC Conservatives don’t exist, though, just to tick off Clark and her BC Liberals. But the party still has a ways to go to carve out a unique proposition for itself — one that attracts more than the disaffected.
One of the big ways they could do it is to be serious about the mantra both the Conservatives and Liberals use about being a “party of free enterprise”.
The Liberals — like Social Credit before it — has been captured by large corporate interests. A fish farming corporation can’t be bothered to observe the rules? Let’s look the other way. A major timber company decides its American mills should process wood rather than keep mills in BC operational? Sure, no problem.
You’ve got a company in one of the five pillars of the province’s technological future? Great! You’ve got a start up in a sector they didn’t think of? Too bad, so sad, you’re on your own. Level playing fields are not welcomed when the Premier’s Office has decided the future.
How are those fuel cells doing? Or the hydrogen highway?
John Cummins — like Gordon Wilson, who revitalized the BC Liberals as Social Credit hit the wall — is unlikely to be more than Moses, bringing his BC Conservatives to the gateway of the promised land, but with a new, fresh face to carry them across to victory. Still, just as Gordon Campbell capitalized on Wilson’s moves, Cummins has the opportunity to define his party now for leadership of the province down the road.
The vehicle that would play well in most ridings is to be for truly free enterprise.
No special favourites. No special treatment. No nod-and-wink “adjustments” to suit some large corporation’s bottom line over communities. At the same time, no favouring of one sector over another in trying to build new companies.
Closing Victoria’s doors to the gamesmanship of Vancouver’s tall towers — the pleaders in the investment community, and the “headquarters” of subsidiaries and big guns alike — and simply defending the provincial economy as a whole, regardless of how many different directions different communities head in, would work wonders for coastal and interior communities alike.
Perhaps they may wish to deploy differential royalties depending on how much work is done in BC: there’s nothing wrong with making it clear what your general direction is (much like the Liberals’ carbon tax was designed to do).
But a party that serves not the corporations (the Liberals) or the unions (the NDP) but the people would resonate across the spectrum in the province.
Let’s see if the BC Conservatives can figure it out — and hold the line when the Liberals’ “key clients” start to come a-calling.