Appeared in North Shore News – November 26, 2010
Inspired by Bill Bennett’s candour, I confess the words under the photo of the handsome dog at right are false.
“This Just In” — ha.
British Columbia politics are moving with such Biblical speed that this screed could be leapfrogged by events 15 minutes after it’s written.
(Here’s a test of how fast: Quick, do you remember the Basi-Virk trial?)
It’s a Barnum & Bailey world in Victoria. The bearded lady and the two-headed calf are next up.
Were it a novel, the story would be jeeringly rejected as stretching reader credulity to the snapping point.
But the centre of the plot is: If it walks like a lame duck, and squawks like a lame duck, it’s a lame duck.
Soon to be a dead duck.
That’s the fate of Gordon Campbell, who is vastly losing respect by struggling to hold on to it.
In the most jaw-dropping press conference the Victoria media corps has ever witnessed, former cabinet minister and now former Liberal MLA Bill (The Other) Bennett alleged that behind cabinet and caucus doors, Campbell is a bully, an abuser akin to a wife-abuser. Once, Bennett claimed, Campbell even spat on him.
Bennett concluded with words that may resonate in B.C. history: “He’s not a nice man.” He repeated the phrase for slow learners.
Don’t bother telling us what you really think, Mr. Bennett. We’ll assume this was close enough.
Campbell is losing all the chips he won in 17 years in the capital, as Opposition leader and through his first two terms as premier.
Leadership requires a man — typically a man — who looks like a leader and talks like a leader and acts like a leader. This always persuades large numbers of the rubes — er, sovereign people — who, in their private hearts, lack confidence themselves and need official reassurance to fill in the gap, that there is a totally reliable pilot in the wheelhouse of the ship of state.
And let’s expand that oceanic metaphor while it’s fresh. Even more gripping than Campbell’s erratic steering is the New Democrats’ fumbling failure to seize their heaven-sent golden opportunity to allow the Liberals to crash so hard on the shoals of public displeasure that their own mommas won’t vote for them, to steal lines from a radio commercial.
But the dissident New Democrats squandered the chance. They’re like shipwrecked sailors who set fire to the rescue boat.
Incredibly, almost a third of the NDP caucus sat on their hands when Carole James got 84 per cent approval from the party’s provincial council — which in times past was more radically left than its leader. Bob Simpson, a chief fomenter of this rebellion, is the classic new-face New Democrat who enchants the left’s petty intelligentsia and the eager media — always suckers for promised change — and then boldly leads the march over the cliff. Think Tom Berger. Try to remember the NDP leader who burst into tears.
This is more eye-popping than the shredding of a nine-year-old-plus government, an old and predictable story in democracy. Especially in B.C., where every premier in living memory has left the stage after years as star of the show trailed by volleys of elderly fruit and vegetables thrown from the cheap seats.
It is a sports truism that the coach of a team is hired to be fired. This applies in spades to anyone so imprudent as to attain the premiership (ridiculously underpaid at $186,000) of this province.
New Democrat Dave Barrett at least, at last, got generous recognition last week from the Liberal government, to the latter’s credit. Don’t be surprised if in the fullness of time Gordon Campbell’s present travail is a footnote and his accomplishments are honoured — as Bill Bennett himself predicted only days before his volcanic eruption.
Case in point: W.A.C. Bennett. For this observer, a naïf who landed in B.C. roughly in the middle of W.A.C.’s reign (1952-1972), it is a marvel of rehabilitation — as if Stalin statues began to reappear around the Kremlin — that W.A.C., seen as a clownish embarrassment, has soared to the reputational skies (beginning with Dave Barrett’s own admiring appraisal of super-builder W.A.C.’s record soon after he defeated the old man).
Speaking of spit, W.A.C. would have beaten Campbell spitless on the spitometer. West Vancouver’s Frank Rutter, retired Vancouver Sun editorial page editor and Victoria (and Washington and London) correspondent, remembers him showering spittle far and wide in impassioned oratorical moments in the legislature. Presumably this was the unintended consequence of Campbell’s face-to-face dressing-down of Bill Bennett, unpleasant but not deliberate.
This is a justifiable stroll down memory crescent, because, as they used to say, what’s past is prologue.
Carole James has put a foot or two wrong, as you and I do, but she’s incrementally won non-partisan respect as a firm leader. She’s also perceived to be of good character, and nice — no Campbell parallel there. Nice can sway the decisive middle ground, as Mike Harcourt did. What torpedoed Harcourt was precisely the rigid back-room NDP leftists, and the disgusting thief Dave Stupich.
The NDP rebels are doing a large favour for the Liberals: Reminding the electorate that, fronted by NDP nice guys like Harcourt and nice women like James, the hard men, the narrow textbook socialists, the neo-Marxists, are the party’s real power.
Note the words “the hard men.” It is the unverifiable but assured view of the undersigned that the NDP, the party of feminism, inclusiveness, all that good stuff, harbours more closet misogynists and flat-footed believers that “a woman can’t win” than the most reactionary claque of fuddy-duddy reactionaries this side of jockdom. The fuddy-duddies, of whom I am a proud founding member, at least have a gentlemanly gallantry toward women, and have never doubted their equality in the human race’s long unwritten history.
Carole James has declared the NDP’s internecine war is over, which is like a peace treaty signed by one side.
And the next, automatic Liberal premier? Bill (The Other) Bennett would drive Wikipedia staff crazy — a second Bill (Son of Wacky) Bennett premier. How to differentiate? I looked up The Other in Who’s Who and, madly, the two Bill Bennetts even share the same middle initial, “R.”
Fortunately for clarity, The Other Bill doesn’t crave the job.
Early possibles: Kevin (If This is Premier Timber, Find a Fast Cure for the Pine Beetle) Falcon; Colin (Don’t Blame Me, I’m Only the Messenger) Hansen; Rick (Book ’em, Sarge) Coleman; George (Mike Smyth Likes Me, He Likes Me!) Abbott.
Definitely in: Moira Stilwell. Definitely out: Surrey Mayor Dianne (If We Held a Contest, First Prize Would Be an All-Expenses-Paid Week in Surrey, Second Prize, Three Weeks in Surrey) Watts. Resounding no: Liberal pin-up Carole (I Vant To Be Alone More Than Greta Garbo) Taylor.
Turning briefly to the recall movement: If only there was legislation to recall disastrous Vancouver Mayor Gregor (Effing) Robertson.
– – –
An angry reader writes that no Department of Veterans Affairs representative was present to lay a wreath at this month’s Remembrance Day ceremony, aiming some criticism at John Weston, who was absent.
No mystery: The West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky member of Parliament — recently knocked for showering strongly partisan newsletters on constituents — was attending the Sechelt cenotaph ceremonies. Representing Weston and the government of Canada at the West Van cenotaph was Vivienne Bromley, his constituency assistant, and husband David.
Speaking of newsletters, West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan’s fall newsletter, What I Did On My Summer Vacation, is a genially witty gem of its kind. Not least of Premier Campbell’s mistakes was that he kept the hugely popular Sultan, a Harvard economics grad with top banking experience, on the back benches. Bet Campbell didn’t dare spit in his face, though.
© Trevor Lautens, 2010