In case you haven't heard, we're dressing to the right on the Left Coast now.
British Columbia voters went through the motions of an election last week, even though Premier Ujjal Dosanjh publicly threw in the towel at the half-way point of the campaign. By admitting he was running for second place, Dosanjh was accepting the inevitable; a decade of NDP government marked by an endless stream of financial screw-ups interrupted only by political scandal had left the populace in a mood to throw the bums out. Dosanjh himself had never been elected premier, having inherited the job in a leadership race, so the election-night defeat gave him the distinction of losing a job he had never even won. His predecessor, Glen Clark, had been forced to resign while under investigation for allegedly (the case is still before the courts) giving a neighbour political favours in return for a new sundeck on his summer cottage. And his predecessor, Mike Harcourt, had been forced to resign over a scandal involving party members' misuse of charity bingo funds.
Apparently, the NDP learned nothing from the adventures of Harcourt's predecessor, Social Credit premier Bill VanderZalm, who had been forced to resign over his role in a shady land deal.
If you're keeping track, that's three elected premiers from two different political parties stepping down in a row. And that was just the action on the main stage. Throw in a sexual harassment case against one former cabinet minister, a second suspended for misusing his influence, and a third, Gordon Wilson, who started the 90s as leader of the Liberals, was turfed over an extra-marital affair with a fellow MLA, won his seat under a party name he made up, and then crossed the floor to join (and take a run at leading) the NDP, and it's been one hell of a show. Few comedies have such a long run.
This is the wacky West Coast, however, where goofy things are expected to happen, so even all of the above wasn't Dosanjh's ultimate undoing. What really cooked his goose vindaloo was the NDP's bad habit of pissing away money, the capper of which will forever be known as the Fast Ferries Fiasco. They didn't know it at the time, but the NDP were dead the day they stood up and casually announced the construction of three "fast ferries" was hopelessly behind schedule and more than $200 million over budget. Having been pitched as the way to revitalize the BC ship-building industry, the ferries never did work properly, and were put up for sale at one tenth their cost before the last of the three ever hit the water. Added to a list of unpopular buyouts, failed development projects and plain old bad money management, and the BC taxpayer drove their collective fist into the wall of their leaky condo and said: "Enough!"
In the end the election was a shellacking. Seventy-six to three was the legislative seat count for the Liberals the morning after, although two ridings are still waiting to count absentee ballots to decide the candidates' fate. In the last few days of the campaign, Dosanjh was reduced to pleading with voters on the left not to split the vote with the upstart Green party and give the Libs a sweep. As a final kick in the crotch, Dosanjh was defeated in his riding by 1520 votes, while the third-place Green candidate collected 1648.
The man-who-will-be-premier is now Gordon Campbell. Representing the west side Vancouver old money neighbourhood of Point Grey, Campbell has spent almost his entire life amongst the creme-de-la-creme (as a woman from nearby Shaughnessey last year described herself and Campbell's other neighbours during a public forum over city bus routes) and set his sights on running the province after a couple of terms as mayor of Vancouver. Looking around, he found the provincial Liberal party in disarray following the Gordon Wilson soap opera and declared himself to be a Liberal. He came close to winning it all in 1996 against Clark, collecting a higher percentage of the vote but six fewer seats in the legislature. In the only province without a balanced budget (Clark ran his re-election campaign under the premise that he had a balanced budget, but afterwards it was discovered he was just kidding) Campbell has vowed to slash taxes and pay off the deficit and sell off crown corporations. Already having referenced Mike Harris's Ontario as his baseline for tax cuts, Campbell is also poised to draw a line in the sand against labour unions, teachers and environmental groups. Not satisfied with one landslide victory, Campbell the Liberal also wants to reopen native land-claims decisions and take the entire issue to a provincial referendum. That rumbling you hear in Montreal is Monsieur Trudeau rolling over in his grave.
Perhaps the only ones happier than Campbell's gang on election night were the aforementioned Green Party. Riding a wave of unprecedented publicity and the hard lefts' rejection of the NDP, the Greens managed to collect more than 12 percent of the popular vote, up from 2 percent in 1996, and a figure they claim establishes them as a legitimate threat the next time around. The fact is though, the Greens didn't come close to winning a single riding, and not even Green candidate Joe Keithley could stop the shift of BC's political plate. Which is really a shame. As a founding member of Canadian punk trailblazers DOA, it would have been fun to see Keithley take a seat in the legislature as an angry middle-aged man.
And in a province that boasted in the 19th century a premier who named himself Amor De Cosmos, having an MLA who was also known as Joey Shithead wouldn't have seemed all that unusual.