Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Last Liberal Standing - Left Coast Edition





This little erratic stream of my rants and raves does not feel especially significant or prescient most of the time, but what joy I experienced yesterday when my analyses were confirmed on two subjects I have dealt with in recent memory.

The first was that the hapless Globe and Mail decided to go forward and commit suicide with its paywall (ironic and touching, really, after its bungling of the Margaret Wente plagiarism fiasco last month).  2500 commenters confirmed in a variety of hilarious and deadpan messages what I hypothesised some months back - that you'd have to be out of your mind to pay $20 a month to read that corporate rag online.  My guess is that that many people can't be wrong (average Globe article: 150-350 comments).  So peace out Globe, and good riddance.

The second way better, ultra juicy piece of news that didn't shock me was the resignation of Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, which I called for less than one month ago.  The official spin for people who hate themselves a lot less than me and thus, follow Ontario politics much less closely, was that it was "shocking".  Not so.  Anyone who has been following the gas plant cancellation knows that it is a debacle that even a superorganism made of a hybrid of Brad Pitt, Bill Clinton, and several cult leaders' DNA couldn't bullshit his way out of.  Dalton did a very normal and very self-interested thing by showing himself the door before anyone else could.  There is just no folksy, dad-ish, aw-shucks way to look the people of a province in the eye, and admit something to the effect of "I personally ordered the cancellation of two badly-needed, natural-gas fired power plants at the cost of a quarter of a billion dollars at a time when the province is grappling with a structural 14 billion dollar deficit for purely political reasons".  And it was thus that Dalton fell on this sword, allowing himself one more hokey, cheesy, platitude filled speech about the best place in the world and looking Ontario families straight in the eye with no mention, of course, of the plants.  So who knows? Maybe that Lacking Credentials posting kept him up at night, the idea that there was just one person out there who saw through all his BS (and who wasn't a Hudak operative) and put it on the internet for all to see.

So Charest went down in flames in QC on September 4, Trudeau reached for the stars for the LPC on October 2, and Dalton did his own rendition of "My, my, hey, hey" on October 16. Where does this leave the amorphous, strange beast known as the Liberal brand of Canada?

In unknown territory.

The ongoing federal disaster is well-known and exhaustively documented.  Several media outlets, including this one, can't turn away from the non-stop train wreck of grisly carnage, sort of like the O.J. Simpson trial.  But I promise that I will after today, at least for a little while.  Because there is no point in writing about the three biggest Liberal parties in the country now that the leaders, and therefore the actions and orientations of these parties, are all punted into 2013 and AYTBD.

Oh, wait.

There's still British Columbia.

Thank god we have that far-flung, rain-soaked, utterly unconcerned Canadian province known as "B.C.", , to make things interesting.  Sitting on the other side of the Rockies in its very own time-zone and having a peculiar character and vibe that is all its own, B.C. is notorious for its wacky and iconoclast nature.  In no domain is this more evident than politics.  The provincial leader of the B.C. Liberals, Christy Clark, is (she swears) asking British Columbians for the party's fourth (or is it fifth) consecutive majority mandate some time in 2013.

Now this might seem like a somewhat aggressive stance, given that out here in "Central" or "Eastern" Canada, as Ontario and Quebec are lovingly referred to by their western friends, Liberals have undergone a series of very painful Waterloos (including a humiliating and poetic defeat in Waterloo itself).  And the early oddsmakers do not like the prospects for Ms. Clark and her government's survival.  Ms. Clark, an unelected ex-radio host, took over the party in 2011 after Gordon Campbell had to resign in disgrace after winning a majority.  Yes. Mr Campbell, although already quite reviled throughout the province, carried through with a majority in the dark days of the 2008 economic crash with that spooky "Trust me, it's the economy" type of speech that worked for the equally loathed yet somehow re-elected Jean Charest in Quebec at the same time.  But he was chased out of the province under a hailstorm of boos when he implemented a Harmonized Sales Tax immediately after being elected with a majority when he had explicitly promised not to in the campaign.

Couldn't he have hung on and weathered the storm, if elections weren't due until 2013? Well, no, because B.C. has crazy recall legislation procedures that are unique in Canada which allowed the tax to be overturned by a citizens referendum.  This of course left the status of a 3 billion dollar slush carrot Ottawa sent for the purpose of implementing the tax (and which we haven't heard about since) in limbo.  So Campbell, who did the whole thing for his buddy the Conservative Prime Minister in Ottawa, stands down and gets promoted to the plum post of Canadian High Commissioner in London, UK, by his same Conservative Prime Minister friend Harper.

Still with me? Isn't Harper a Conservative? I thought Conservatives and Liberals don't get along.

Well, in fact the B.C. Liberal Party is sort of like a Conservative Party except that there is also a B.C. Conservative party but it has no seats - well, it had one, but the member jumped ship for the Liberals...see? Confusing and complicated.  So Clark's been veering left in the absence of a meaningful right opposition, playing the environmental card by talking tough on the pipelines, but the NDP should carry the day because they're strong, they're organised, people actually vote for them over and over in BC (unlike in most other places, where they win once) and they've flat out opposed the pipeline from day one.

What is the economic outlook in B.C.? Because we know how important that is for determining the outcome of elections.

Here again B.C. is on a unique tangent, totally set apart from the commodity fuelled Hummers next door and the rusty aging sedans back east.  The lumber doesn't pay the bills like it used to and there is no oil or fertiliser bonanza to pick up the slack.  There is also no established industry like there is in Central Canada to pick up the slack.  As much as Quebec gets called a mismanaged economic basket case there is no shortage of big companies to work for, even recent TSX superstars like Lassonde juice (makers of the perpetually on sale Oasis brand) and Dollarama (or as I like to call it, Craparama, in the Crappy Tire tradition) and it's dirt cheap to live here.  I looked at the Business Section of the Vancouver Sun when I was in BC last week and saw exactly one type of company in the "B.C. Companies" section of the stock page, of which there numbered about ten or fifteen in total: Mining Companies.  How about that diversification.

So with the 2nd highest unionised workforce in Canada working everywhere from government-run liquor stores to government-run ferries to government-run hospitals to government-run auto insurance companies, and the richest man in the province owning most of the billboards, car dealerships, cable network, and largest grocery chain that are not part of that Victoria-controlled mothership, "The Best Place on Earth" is looking a little third world after nine (or thirteen) years of Liberal rule.  Especially when you consider that everyone has to live in co-ops because nobody can afford 2 million dollar teardowns on 60K family income.  There are some bright spots.  The punjabi renaissance and endless land in Surrey is ensuring it will become the province's largest city by 2030.  And of course, the Bible Belt that stretches from Vancouver's Eastern suburbs all the way out to Hope will continue to experience healthy birth rates and pickup sales.  But "Lotus Land" might be in just a little bit tougher than its counterparts in the Canadian federation come 2013 and that is why its population will not be inclined to buy what Ms. Clark is selling.  Don't get me wrong, I love to visit but I wouldn't want to live there even if it is the "best place on earth".  It is also the last place anyone is, or will want to be, a card-carrying Liberal for quite awhile.


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