Relax – It’s Only $5 million A Year

A few desultory small-minded shots were fired when would-be BC Liberal Party leaders gathered recently to entertain the masses. It sounded like a bunch of teenagers with nothing else to do but strafe empty cans off the garden fence.

The shots did not sound threatening or enlightening, but their target was interesting and indicative of a possible uniting of old forces against new to preserve the continuity of true Liberal blood.

Six candidates graced the stage:
• Andrew Wilkinson QC, lawyer, former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Minister of Advanced Education, and Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services. He also served as deputy minister for Intergovernmental Relations in the Premier’s Office for two years from 2001-2003.
• Sam Sullivan, currently serving as the MLA for Vancouver-False Creek. Previously, he served as the Minister of Communities, Sport and Cultural Development, Minister Responsible for TransLink, and also as the 38th mayor of Vancouver. Sullivan has been invested with the Order of Canada for his work to improve the lives of people with severe disabilities. He has been quadriplegic since breaking his neck in a skiing accident at the age of 19.
• Mike de Jong, lawyer, who served for varying periods as Attorney General and Minister of Finance, as well as minister in the portfolios of Health, Labour and Citizen Services, Forests, Public Safety and Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. He has also been House Leader.
• Michael “Mike” Lee, lawyer, and a relative newcomer on the provincial political scene, but a political activist for many years.
• Todd Stone, former Minister of Transport, who regards himself as a “new look” Liberal.
• Dianne Watts, former mayor of Surrey and a Conservative MP who, for years, resisted requests to take a run for the Liberal leadership and now feels ready to reach for the brass ring.

Watt’s opponents during the sparse leadership debates have focused on her attempts to capitalize on her “Liberal newcomer” status. The very fact that old guard heavy hitters like de Jong, Stone and Wilkinson appear to be concentrating on Watts is a sure indicator that she is the one they fear most as the finish line of Feb. 3 looms. She was first choice of many to replace Gordon Campbell years ago, but she didn’t feel ready for the task.

Back in 2010, Watts was described in a Globe & Mail article as “unscripted, unguarded – and unlike any other politician in BC … (she) has transformed the City of Surrey from a butt of jokes to a thriving and increasingly sophisticated metropolitan centre …”

The final debate in the less than inspiring series is scheduled for Jan. 30 in Vancouver – the city where the Liberals took heavy losses last May.

To date, only one candidate – Andrew Wilkinson – has made meaningful reference to the latest gift handed the Liberals by the NDP government in early January as promised in last summer’s Election Amendment Act. He has suggested a taxpayers’ gift-wrapped million-dollar cheque to the Liberal Party be earmarked to finance the coming fight against proportional representation. Wilkinson is not being touted as a leadership winner.

Ms. Watts is and should pick up the challenge to the new system of public financing of political parties. The NDP, of course, also cashed a cheque for a million. Well, maybe not quite a million according to Les Leyne writing recently in the local newspaper.

The Liberals (remember they did get more popular votes than the NDP) got a cheque for $995,965, the NDP picked up $994,882.50 and the starveling Green Party trio a piddling $418,383.75.

Leyne reminded us that’s just half the annual cash transfer from your pockets to the bank accounts of three political parties. The second half is due July 1 – about a month after the day in June when, economists tell us, we should have cleared away our annual income tax indebtedness to governments and get to spend our paycheques on ourselves.

Think how the political landscape will look if we listen to election system reform proponents and vote for a proportional representation system that could spawn more three or four-seat-parties all with their Oliver Twist hands out asking for more than the $5 million in public subsidies already guaranteed.

A vote on change to the voting system is still months away, but it will come with a success threshold of 50 per cent plus one which is easier to achieve than the 60 per cent thresholds when system change was rejected in 2005 and 2009.

We can only hope the electorate keeps its head and, with or without the help of a new Liberal leader, again deep-sixes the threat of minority governments spawned by proportional representation – and demands a return to strictly controlled political party funding.

If we can’t afford massive financially achievable housing projects and other urgently-needed social programs, we certainly can’t afford $5 millions a year to provide political parties with public funds to play their often vain-glory games.

One comment

  1. This takes democracy beyond the pale. Proportional representation not only presents the risk of perpetual ineffective minority governments, as you point out, but brings a huge fiscal burden for the citizen.

    Proportional representation is advocated as being more fair and reasonable than the traditional first-past-the -post system. But will it make things better?

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