According to recent polls, a majority of Federal Liberal MPs and a healthy percentage of grassroots Liberal members appear ready to make the same mistake that British Columbians made in May of 2001. That is, to vote for change for the sake of change, in spite of what that change will bring.
Change for the sake of change is currently perhaps the most powerful and galvanizing force in Canadian politics. This was certainly the case in British Columbia in the spring of 2001. In spite of their promises to lower taxes for the rich, break the unions, hold a referendum on the Nisga’a Treaty process(one which has proved deeply unpopular) and more generally to subject the province to the benevolence of the market economy, British Columbians voted overwhelmingly to evict the moderate if somewhat clumsy NDP government led by Ujjal Dosanjh. Gordon Campbell and the coalition of right wing elements he brought together within his Liberal government, running under the "A New Era for British Columbia" campaign slogan, literally massacred the NDP. With a 77-2 seat majority and only former cabinet minister Joy McPhail and Jenny Kwan left to present any kind of check on the power of the Liberals, British Columbians are getting the change they were asking for.
As detailed by former Mulroney Chief of Staff Norman Spector in the June 7th Globe & Mail, British Columbians have paid for their decision. The human costs have been particularly heavy, and while the Campbell government stood and watched as forestry workers lost their jobs to the US Softwood Tariff, they dropped the ax on more than a third of the British Columbian civil service. Spector depicting the results this way:
..you name the area: Economy, worse. Education, worse. Health care, a full 70 per cent think things are worse — and service cuts have not yet begun. The province is heading to a record deficit, and will have the slowest growth in Canada. Most British Columbians think their Premier is untrustworthy, has been reckless and mean, and doesn’t give a fig about them.
On its own, the situation in British Columbia is simultaneously depressing and enraging. But it is also very relevant to the current struggle that has embroiled the Federal Liberal government and brought the nation’s business to a virtual stand-still. Paul Martin, riding an slickly-generated wave of positive publicity and media, claims to have all the momentum on his side in this struggle. Whether from the disappointingly-biased Canadian media or from Mr. Martin’s staffers, one hears a similar refrain: time for a change. According to their reasoning, the 67 year old Mr. Chretien is too old (compared to the 63 year old Martin), has been doing his job too long, and simply doesn’t have "it" anymore–whatever that means.
However, I don’t buy it, either as a Liberal or as a British Columbian who fought against the Campbell coalition or as a first-hand witness to the brutal results of the change they imposed. If the Federal Liberals exchange Chretien for Martin, they will be replacing an experienced Prime Minister with a professional staff and the support of a majority of Cabinet for Chretien-Lite; a man who is 63 years old himself, who has existed in Chretien’s shadow his entire political life, and has no real vision for the country other than one that sees Paul Martin at 24 Sussex Drive with the multinational corporations along with him.
Let’s not fall into the same trap that British Columbians did and now pay through the nose and heart for. If a change is going to be made, let’s make it a real one; the Cabinet is full of capable young men and women who would do a far better job of breathing new life into the party: Jane Stewart, Allan Rock, John Manley and Pierre Pettigrew, among others. Let us not destroy the Federal Liberal party by sticking a knife into the back of a competent and experienced Prime Minister who shows no signs of being anything other than the victim of the mass media’s hunger for novelty and, if things go badly wrong, Paul Martin’s overweening hunger for power.
June 11, 2002 692 words