Opinion » Maxed Out

B.C. politics... the best game in town



Who leads when the leader is lost? In any quasi-normal situation, someone takes over. Next in command. Natural leader. Unnatural leader who rises to the occasion. Somebody.

Not so, apparently, in B.C. politics. Our ship of state, such as it is, is rudderless. Many would say that's a vast improvement over whatever currents have been steering it of late. Currents of opportunism, thinly veiled self-interest, big money, cronyism have seemed to be at the helm for far too long.

In the most interesting election most of us can remember, all three party leaders claimed victory in last week's vote.

Christy Clark, impervious to the perception she is dead woman walking, claimed victory. Notwithstanding losing a clear majority, she clung to power, saying she intends to govern with what is, for the moment, a minority government.

John Horgan said denying the Liberals a majority government was a victory for the NDP, claiming his party, with the help of the Green Party, could govern the province. Of course, he said that through clenched teeth, believing it was the Greens who siphoned off enough votes to snatch victory from NDP candidates in enough ridings to deny him a majority. As a demonstration of his goodwill towards an NDP-Green coalition, he butted in on Andrew Weaver's victory speech and deflected any televised coverage away from whatever Weaver was going to say.

Which, it turned out, was claiming the election was a victory for the Greens! Hey, no other party upped their representation by 200 per cent, notwithstanding missing official party status by one member and still being able to hold caucus in a Nissan Micra. But then, sometimes it only takes three seats to be a king/queen maker.

So who won? Who knows? It'll be another week, at least, before we know. What is apparent is there are two losers in this election: the people of British Columbia and... I'll get to that.

I used to joke about third-world politics and how long it took to count ballots, leaving the populace of, often, democracies-in-name-only, hanging for weeks before the "official" results were announced. Now I'm feeling solidarity with them.

What happened to make voting so difficult?

At the risk of sounding like someone who walked through three metres of snow uphill — both ways — to school when I was young, it didn't used to be this hard. In the 1972 U.S. presidential election, when Richard "I'm not a crook" Nixon trounced George "I'm not a joke" McGovern, the U.S. networks hired thousands of college students, largely those of us wasting our time studying political science, to be stringers and report poll numbers. In New Mexico, the pay for that job was $10.

Without making trite remarks about $10 being worth so much more lo those many years ago, I'll just touch on the irony of that being the going price of a bag of indifferent Mexican weed at the time. Not to suggest any conspiracy on the part of the networks to encourage drug use, friends in Boston were paid $15 for the same task, which just happened to be the going price of the same commodity in that city. Draw your own conclusions.

The voting machines in use at the time were the same mechanical ones I remember my parents using when I was in grade school. Step in, pull a big lever that closed a curtain behind you, flip little levers for whomever you wanted to vote for, pull the big lever to open the curtain and have your vote(s) tallied in mechanical counters inside the machine.

Within five minutes of the polls closing and the last voter walking out the door, the backs of the machines were opened, the votes for each candidate entered off the counters and the votes for all the machines added up. After a quick call to New York, my work was done, the check (U.S. spelling) was in the mail and I was home getting high and watching the results on TV.

Now, I can't fault the thousands of B.C., residents who cast absentee ballots. I'm about ready to leave the province for any place with sun and a threat of requiring air conditioning for comfort. But the way absentee ballots are dealt with in this province suggests the procedure hasn't been changed since mail was delivered by stagecoach.

Absentee ballots are those cast anywhere other than the home riding of the voter. So if I was comfortably dug in at Smilin' Dog Manor and cast my vote in, say, Lone Butte, that ballot would not be counted by the poll workers in Lone Butte and reported to Sea to Sky. It would be sealed in an envelope and sent to wherever they count absentee ballots in Sea to Sky! Hence the two-week wait.

With tight races in a number of ridings, and over 150,000 absentee ballots in the last election, we'll just smoke 'em if we got 'em for another week before we know the results of an election many have already forgotten. Move over, third-world.

The other loser in this election is, happily, Christy Clark. Yep, she lost. Many would consider that a win for the people of B.C., but I'm not willing to go that far. Who am I kidding? Of course I am. Ding dong, the... whatever.

Even if the challenges and absentee ballots put the Liberals in a slim majority position, Christy's gone. Not even the most brain-dead, die-hard supporter in the Liberal caucus will want to waltz into another election four years hence with her as premier and leader of the party. It's highly likely the Liberals would be enjoying a majority right now had they not been carrying her dead weight and toxic reputation into this election.

That's the best-case scenario for Ms. Clark's longevity. If the Liberals' minority position holds, with the Greens still being the swing votes, she'll be gone as soon as the party can organize a leadership convention. Let's be honest, she'd either have to go back on almost every initiative she's championed in the last term or the Greens would have to drastically change colours for her government to avoid a non-confidence vote: Kinder Morgan, LNG, fracking, Site C, pay for play, increasing the carbon tax, killing grizzlies, just to name a few.

Facing either another election within a year or worse, watching the NDP try to form a minority government is likely to be very motivating for even the most avid supporter, er, former supporter.

So while we wait and wait for the official outcome of this election, we can take solace that, whatever that outcome may be, it will not be politics as usual in British Columbia. At least for a little while.