What has been happening in BC politics in recent days has been bewildering for many of us who follow it. This morning the BC Liberals had their first candidate declare, Dr. Moira Stilwell, the new MLA for Vancouver-Langara, who announced her intentions this morning on the Bill Good Show. Although virtually unknown in her party let alone the province, Stilwell is an exceedingly bright woman and probably one of the sharpest knives in the BC Liberal drawer. She has stepped down from cabinet, and thrown everyone for a loop with her announcement.
What has been happening with the BC NDP in recent weeks makes the fracas faced by the BC Liberal party look like a friendly game of croquet. It is not just wishful thinking when I say that the BC NDP is clearly imploding. A multi-member revolt took place over the weekend, with one-third of their caucus determining that they will not support their leader.
The BC Liberals by comparison, with an even larger caucus, managed to keep their dispute with their leader to only one person – Kootenay-East MLA Bill Bennett. There may be more within the BC Liberal caucus who agitated for a leadership change, but to their credit they managed to keep out of the spotlight and inside the caucus boardroom.
It's worth looking more closely at who's behind the fractiousness facing the BC NDP and where their loyalties exist.
You have to go no further than my 24 Hours colleague Bill Tieleman to see someone who appears to be one of the main operators on this move to unseat NDP leader Carole James. Bill is a top organizer of the Fight HST campaign, and not only does he have his column in a 250,000 circulation paper, he is provided 30 minutes free and clear on CKNW's The World Today Weekend with host Sean Leslie. Bill wears the hat of a pundit and a political organizer, and he is having a big influence on BC politics.
From what I've seen Bill is also a realist when it comes to politics. And like many in the New Democratic Party he's surmised that the BC NDP cannot take power with Carole James at the helm. The plummeting popularity of Gordon Campbell bought James some time, but with the BC Liberals looking to revitalize around a new leader, many NDP must see the writing on the wall.
Is the unhappiness among many BC NDP supporters going to lead to a split on the left like we've seen in Vancouver? Will a Vision BC party rise up from the ashes of the BC NDP? Will the old NDP wind up marginalized and begging for bread crumbs like COPE is today? Let's look at how this might happen.
COPE used to be a powerhouse political brand in Vancouver politics. Born in the late sixties as a response to a rising New Left ideology, the party produced some very effective political leaders in its time such as Bruce Eriksen, Jenny Kwan and Libby Davies. COPE was also home to one of Vancouver's great politicians Harry Rankin. Whether you agreed with anything he said or not, you couldn't dispute Rankin's effectiveness.
Today COPE is Vision Vancouver's handmaiden. With the exception of veteran Park Board commissioner Loretta Woodcock, the party appears to have abandoned its principles and is doing little but uphold the wishes of Mike Magee & the BCTF.
Whereas Vision Vancouver are a powerful, well-financed and disciplined political organization. They use populist politicking and poll-tested policy ideas in their attempts to keep voters happy. They are what the BC NDP would give their right pinky to become – young, green and flush with cash. They also give the appearance of being one step removed from Big Labour, unlike the BC NDP.
When it comes to political brands, the BC NDP carry a lot of baggage. Whereas Vision BC has a nice ring to it. It also has the telegenic and pleasingly empty mug of Gregor Robertson attached to it. Whereas after nearly a decade of trying, James has not caught on as a trusted leadership alternative.
We know that the backchatter on Vision is that they are extremely ambitious, and motivated to get out on the provincial political stage because they have much larger goals than a chicken in every backyard and separated bike lanes criss-crossing the city. They have a 500-year plan for systemic social change that with Robertson's cooperation they'd like to crank up and kick into gear.
With so many direct links between Vision Vancouver and the BC NDP it's not hard to imagine that the Vision BC machinery is steadily building itself to take power in 2013. There's Tieleman himself, Geoff Meggs and his wife Jan O'Brien, the BC NDP Provincial Secretary. There are anti-Carole James dissidents like Jenny Kwan & Bob Simpson who are Vision friendlies.
The Vision brand carries not just a GQ image, but it successfully masks who's pulling the levers in behind. Under Vision BC you don't have to fret over whether Jim Sinclair is calling the shots. And who the heck knows the name of the Tennessean pulling the strings in Vision anyway?
These are indeed tumultuous times in BC politics, and there is a sense that something big is going to go down before May 2013. Is it the rise of Vision BC? Is it the collapse of the BC NDP? Oh, Christmas has certainly come early for those of us who watch politics!
Another recent column touching upon a similar topic and worth a look is from The Province's Michael Smyth, and it's titled NDP leader's enemies not sheathing knives.
- post by Mike