BC Liberal leadership: is 3-party system in the wings for Canada’s Pacific coast?

Feb 25th, 2011 | By | Category: Canadian Provinces

Christy Clark, the daughter of a high-school teacher, is “the clear front-runner among BC Liberal Party members as they prepare to select a new leader this Saturday, an internal poll by the Clark campaign shows.” Photograph by: Ward Perrin, PNG files.

[UPDATED FEBRUARY 26, 6:50 PM PT]: For many in many parts of the world the Oscars this Sunday are the big event this weekend. But for hard-core Canadian political junkies it’s the BC Liberal leadership contest tomorrow.

An internal poll “conducted by Ontario-based Praxicus Public Strategies” gives Christy Clark, the one lady in the race, “a 16-point lead over second-place George Abbott.” Ms. Clark on this reading has 43% support among party members. Abbott has 27% ,  Kevin Falcon 20%, and Mike de Jong a mere 9%.

A recent report from Vaughn Palmer also raises the prospect that, if Christy Clark does win, it will only be the first step on the way to a three-party system for the province, not unlike what Ontario already has. (Not because Ontario is in any way worth emulating, of course, but … ?)

To grasp the logic here, we outsiders from other provinces have to understand that the current BC Liberal Party is not just the old BC Social Credit wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is a “coalition party,” as Mr. Palmer explains, which brings together those who support the federal Conservatives, as it were, and those who support the federal Liberals.

In the current leadership race the one clear Conservative is Kevin Falcon — also “No. 1 fundraiser among Liberal leadership candidates,” and the candidate with the most support in the current Liberal caucus of the BC Legislative Assembly. Both Christy Clark and Mike de Jong, on the other hand, have “roots in the Liberal side of the coalition party,” while George Abbott uniquely qualifies as an “ex-New Democratic Party member turned ‘liberal’ Liberal.”

Among other informative sources, Mr. Palmer has lately been talking with “another veteran of the BC political wars, John Reynolds, the ex-Socred MLA, ex-Reform and Conservative MP.” Not surprisingly, Mr. Reynolds is “supporting Falcon” in tomorrow’s provincial Liberal contest. And: “He’s already heard talk among his fellow Tories that a Clark win would split the coalition and spark a full-blown revival of the BC Conservatives as a serious alternative to the Liberals.”

BC Liberal leadership candidates at a recent debate. From left to right: Kevin Falcon, Christy Clark, Mike de Jong, and George Abbott. Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, PNG.

What you would have then is a BC provincial political system with serious enough Conservative, Liberal, and New Democratic parties — just like in Ontario: or even Nova Scotia today (or Manitoba?), for that matter. This is not necessarily a good thing in the abstract, no doubt. But it does suggest that, in the midst of much other evidence to the contrary, some kind of common enough Canadian political culture is continuing to evolve, coast to coast to coast?

And that is one more reason why hard-core Canadian political junkies will be watching what happens on Canada’s Pacific coast carefully tomorrow.  (Oh, and btw, Ms. Clark has just been awarded the highest grade by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation too!)

UPDATE … FEBRUARY 26, 10 AM PT: I have been somewhat remiss here in passing over how the BC Liberal party “has mismanaged its way to a major screw-up in its vaunted electronic voting system,” even before the Saturday action. See two Vaughn Palmer reports on this logistical snafu:: “ Major screw-up in Liberal leadership” and “Voting scheme was an issue in ’93 as well.”

6:50 PM PT: The Southern Ontario crowd I watched the results from Vancouver with were impressed by the single-ballot-multiple-count preferential voting system that decided this race, whatever the logistical problems in ensuring that voters in northern ridings received their qualifying identification or PIN numbers in time. And in the end — and nicely on time as promised — the final count had Ms. Clark (Liberal side of coalition) with 52% and Kevin Falcon (Conservative side) with 48%.  According to the early TV reports at least, Mr. Falcon was also saying that he intended to back Ms. Clark, and advise his supporters to do likewise. So, if this holds up, it may be a while before any serious three-party system starts to evolve. The next step in the evolution of BC provincial politics, at any rate, is an NDP leadership convention on April 17. Meanwhile, my own highly uninformed guess from afar, as an avid observer of Ontario provincial politics, is that in making Christy Clark BC’s new premier, the BC Liberals have probably done the smart thing. Like others, I’ll be staying tuned.

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