Thursday, August 1, 2013

All right Mr. Hansard, I'm ready for my close-up

This handout photograph produced by B.C. Liberal government caucus flaks was published in B.C. newspapers, sometimes without attribution.

By Tom Hawthorn
The Tyee
August 1, 2013

Some random notes at the closing of the 1st Session of the 40th Legislative Assembly: 

You will not find a more accomplished figure on the floor of the B.C. Legislature than Andrew Wilkinson.

He is a Rhodes Scholar who has go on to become both a lawyer and a physician. He has been a deputy minister. He has been president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and of the B.C. Liberal party. In May, the voters of Vancouver-Quilchena elected him to the legislature and, in June, the premier named him minister of technology, innovation and citizens’ services.

The man is a walking CV.

So, how does so eminent a figure respond when faced with pointed Opposition questions about the scandal surrounding his party’s ethnic outreach campaign?

“We not only have the rich have the rich parliamentary tradition here,” he told the House. “We have the rich tradition of the English language, which contains phrases like chasing your tail, catching a red herring and flogging a dead horse. That latter term, flogging a dead horse, must surely apply to this line of questioning.”

After further questions about the possibility of hush money having been paid to a disgruntled staffer, Wilkinson responded: “Well, this horse truly has no skin left. It’s been flogged until it is red and blue, my friends.”

After transforming into a walking-talking Cliché-O-Matic, Wilkinson picked it up a notch the next day by accusing all 34 sitting NDP members of fraud.

As a denouement, Wilkinson had second thoughts. He rose to apologize to the House for his “intemperate” remarks.

In short order, the legislature’s newest star went from starring in “Doctor in the House” to a remake of the food-fight scene in “Animal House.”

Double Indemnity

Premier Christy Clark made a surprise cameo this week when sworn in as MLA for Westside-Kelowna. The august ceremony took place overlooking the waters of Vancouver harbour and not of Okanagan Lake in her home-away-from-home riding.

To the everlasting embarrassment of British Columbia’s media, such newspapers as the Vancouver Sun and the Victoria Times Colonist published handout photographs of the event released by the B.C. Liberal’s government caucus.

The swearing in appears to have taken place within shouting distance of the Vancouver Sun and Province newsrooms. No photographers left on staff? Or no invitation?

I can see why the government would like to control its image in the media. I cannot see why the commercial media should play along. Shameful.

Biff! Krunch!! KAPOW!!!

The upcoming Fantastic Four movie will be filmed in Louisiana instead of British Columbia, a disappointing decision for those who work in the movie industry. Vancouver had been the location for other Marvel movies, such as in the X-Men series. The NDP had campaigned on improving tax breaks for the television and film industry.

The latest news led George Heyman to tell the House on Thursday that “the B.C. film industry is going up in flames like The Human Torch.”

Replied finance minister Mike de Jong: “Holy corporate subsidy, Batman. I always appreciate the commentary from the Boy Wonder over there.”

The Candidate

Christy Clark is a brilliant retail politician, a happy warrior on the hustings, a baby-kissing, hand-shaking, hockey jersey-wearing, red light-avoiding campaigner. (Oops. Forget the last attribute.) Where she can seem indifferent to the hard-slogging work of governance, she clearly delights being in the public eye.

Welcome to the four-year-long, permanent campaign. 

It is a strategy that worked for an American president who had earlier starred in such cinematic masterpieces as “Bedtime for Bonzo.”

Hicks nix Dix picks

In the May ballot, Christy Clark was Tracy Flick (“Election”), while Adrian Dix started out as “A Perfect Candidate” but wound up as … well, they don’t make movies about too-clever-for-their-own-good frontrunners who blow elections.

The NDP leader can find a model for his possible future, for Adrian Dix is Thomas Berger, circa 1969.

Some background. In B.C. electoral contests, the New Democrats and their Co-operative Commonwealth Federation predecessors were long a joke, a patsy, a punch line. The social democrats played the Washington Generals to Social Credit’s Harlem Globetrotters. Leader Robert Strachan faced W.A.C. Bennett in four consecutive elections — losing each time.

By 1967, Berger got tired of waiting for Strachan to step aside as leader. The old Scottish carpenter fended off the challenge at a leadership convention, only to quit shortly before an impending election in 1969. The leadership convention that followed defined the NDP for generations, as people and factions are still divided between those who backed Berger, a stolid lawyer, and those who supported Dave Barrett, the fiery social worker.

Berger won the convention, leading the NDP into a campaign several pundits thought spelled an end to the Socred regime. In the end, the NDP vote stayed about the same, but the party lost four seats and Bennett claimed his seventh consecutive victory.

The outcome: The NDP’s vote stayed about the same, though the party lost four seats.

To repeat, a leader strong on policy but lacking charisma failed to meet expectations and lost seats instead of knocking over a tired government.

Hoo boy, must that sound familiar to frustrated New Democrats.

Whether Dix has admitted it to himself yet or not, he will never win election as premier.

The voters had a chance to evaluate him and his team in circumstances as favourable as the NDP has ever faced and he failed to win over enough of them. It happens. His leadership is doomed, though not his career.

Berger quit to be replaced by Barrett, who would go on to win an overwhelming majority in 1972. (Barrett’s hectic — and historic — three-year government is the subject of “The Art of the Impossible,” a prize-winning book by Geoff Meggs and Rod Mickleburgh.) Berger, who turned 80 earlier this year, has had a distinguished career in which his lack of success as NDP leader is a mere footnote.

As for Strachan, he retained his seat in the Legislature and served as highways minister under Barrett.

Both offer a possible model for Dix’s future career.

Advise and Consent

The NDP membership has an uncanny talent for selecting leaders non-NDPers find unappealing. Has no one in the party ever read Marshall McLuhan? Or Richard Ben Cramer’s “What It Takes”? Or listened to an episode of Terry O’Reilly’s “The Age of Persuasion” or “Under the Influence” on CBC Radio?

So, remember: Wonks in the backroom, glad-handers on the front lines.

Chariot of Fire

Congratulations to Michelle Stilwell in setting a world record Thursday at the International Paralympic Committee world championships at Lyon, France. The new MLA for Parksville-Qualicum knocked almost two seconds off the previous mark in the 800-metre wheelchair race.

Stilwell is following in the tracks of the late MLA Doug Mowat, who had managed the famed Dueck Powerglides wheelchair basketball team. Both Terry Fox and Rick Hansen played for the championship squad.

A League of Their Own

Sport reveals character. The Liberal caucus staff played the Press Gallery in a friendly game of softball last week at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria. The spin doctors stacked their lineup so the best hitters batted again and again. The egalitarian reporters had a more laissez-faire approach in which a 10-year-old girl had twice as many at-bats as team captain Sean Leslie of CKNW. Though the polls predicted an easy win for the ink-and-pixel-stained wretches, the Liberals claimed a 13-4 victory. At least it was not a “quick win.”


When do the LNG faeries arrive with all our money?

Tom Hawthorn, a frequent contributor to The Tyee, is the author of “Deadlines: Obits of Memorable British Columbians.” He lives in Victoria-Beacon Hill, where the BC Liberal candidate got just 16.96 per cent of the vote, the worst performance by a Liberal in the election.

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