BC Liberals Taking Notice of Recall Campaigns
There's much to be said against the current recall campaigns in British
Columbia. They clearly abuse the intent of the recall legislation.
They create bitter divisions in communities. They distract M.L.A.'s
and ministers from their real duties of office.
But the campaigns have proven to be more effective at getting the
government's attention than other forms of political protest. That's
why they're unlikely to end anytime soon.
Far from being a crushing defeat that spelled the end of recall, the
near miss at recalling Val Roddick gave other campaigns real hope of
success. Delta South was one of the safest Liberal ridings in the
province. In 2001 Ms. Roddick took 67% of the votes. No political
strategist would choose her as a prime recall target.
The surprise wasn't that the campaign fell a couple thousand signatures
short. The surprise was that it almost succeeded. Think about what
could happen in Nelson-Creston, where Blair Sufferdine got just 39% of
the votes in 2001, or in Victoria-Beacon Hill, which Jeff Bray won by
only 35 votes, taking 37% of the ballots. Both are facing recall
The Liberal government is certainly thinking about it. Premier Campbell
may casually dismiss the recallers as disgruntled opponents who are
refighting the last election. Behind that unconcerned facade, however,
the government is mobilizing to fight recall with every weapon at its
The Liberal campaign machine was slow to react to the Delta South
campaign. The recall leader, Dr. John Bayne, looked like an amateur
totally out of his depth. He was funding the campaign all by himself
and had only a rag-tag batch of volunteers to help. It was hard to
take him seriously.
But Dr. Bayne outspent the Liberal machine--$21,500 to $9,000-- and
out-organized them as well. The Liberal Party will assure that that
doesn't happen again. Vigorous anti-recall organizations will spring up
to defend any MLA under attack, and they will have both expertise and
MLA's facing a recall petition will be given more chances to show off
for their constituents. Watch for backbenchers under the recall gun to
make more aggressive "private member's" statements, to speak more often
on government business, and to lob more soft questions about issues in
their ridings at ministers during Question Period.
The recallers' real political clout is most evident in the government's
decision to tailor policies and reverse decisions to blunt recall
momentum. For example, as the recall campaign against Ms. Roddick wore
on, many of the cuts to the Delta Hospital were reversed. And she was
front and center as the restoration of services was announced.
The government plan to reduce inland ferry services and add tolls for
the ride was protested throughout B.C.'s interior. Nowhere was this
policy more unpopular than in the riding of Nelson-Creston. Once the
recall campaign against Mr. Sufferdine got in gear, the government
reversed the cuts and cancelled the tolls.
The announcement of highway construction in the so-called "heartland"
also focused on recall-prone ridings. The Kicking Horse Canyon is a
stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway that badly needs rebuilding. It
runs through the riding of Columbia River-Revelstoke, where local MLA.
Wendy McMahon is facing recall. It was no surprise that the road got
special mention in Premier Campbell's recent television address.
Making such recall-driven announcements poses a dilemma for the
government. On the one hand, M.L.A.'s under attack desperately need to
show their constituents that they speak for them and can slow the
Juggernaut of government cuts. On the other hand, such announcements
may actually inspire more recall efforts, as voters in other ridings
see that cuts can be reversed by making things hot for M.L.A.'s.
The dilemma will only deepen as the second year of service and staff
cuts inspires further recall campaigns. One thing is clear: the recall
campaigns have forced the government to pay far more attention to the
local effects of provincial policies. Recall petitioners may not
gather enough signatures to throw M.L.A.'s out of office, but they will
affect government policy.
Paul Ramsey is a former MLA and Cabinet Minister. He now teaches at CNC
and is a Visiting Professor in the Political Science Program at UNBC.
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