Updated: Events can outpace thoughts. Just after this post was published news came in that cabinet will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday in Vancouver. This raises a number of questions: is it a backroom rally to support Premier Clark, a big show of unity? Have senior party members received notice from a number of MLAs they will leave caucus if the Premier remains? Stay tuned…
Political communication, especially in a age of Social Media, is always fascinating, especially true when a major scandal breaks in the lead to an election campaign. We can look back to the recent US Presidential election with the #47percent tag (when the video of Mitt Romney talking about 47% of the population being freeloaders was released) as the seminal moment for the GOP demise, and now, here in British Columbia, Canada with revelations this week now tagged on Twitter as #EthnicGate and #QuickWins:
For a recap, an email chain was made public showing senior BC Liberal party officials and government staffers planning to potentially use government resources targeting ethnic voters to support the party. This is not only unethical, it is illegal and a violation of the separation between non-partisan government work on behalf of all citizens in the province, and political campaigning. Full details can be found here in Cassidy Oliver’s article in The Province newspaper. The result has been the resignation of Premier Christy Clark’s Deputy Chief of Staff (and long time adviser) Kim Haakstad, a full apology in the Legislature, and a potentially even more damaging investigation into the entire matter.
As the CBC’s Stephen Smart put it:
— Stephen Smart (@smartyvr) February 28, 2013
Add to this the BC Liberals are trailing double digits to the NDP in the polls, even being pushed to third place in some ridings by the BC Green Party; three Liberal riding association presidents have resigned in Surrey, twenty ridings have no BC Liberal candidates nominated, and a number of high profile MLAs have decided not to run in the upcoming election. When the “Ethnic Gate” scandal broke mid-week, Premier Christy Clark refused to return to Victoria from a speaking tour, leaving her deputies and cabinet to face the music, with some Liberal MLAs openly questioning her ability to continue as party leader.
Which leads to some interesting possible scenarios:
The provincial election is set for May 14th, with a 29 day ‘writ’ (official campaign period), however the Legislature is currently sitting with a number of bills going through debates and votes, including the budget. In fact, second reading of the budget is set for Tuesday March 5th – if the government is defeated in a budget vote it could lead to the opposition NDP calling for a no-confidence vote and an early election. As it stands now, the BC Liberal Party has a four seat majority, and four independent MLAs essentially holding the reigns of power.
One independent MLA, Bob Simpson, has said in answer to a question I sent him on Twitter, that he intends to vote against the budget:
— Bob Simpson (@Bob__Simpson) March 2, 2013
Monday March 4th Premier Clark returns to Victoria for what should prove to be an uncomfortable and possibly career ending caucus meeting, while, as this article is being written, Liberal Party activists, donors, and organizers are meeting around the province to determine if she can stay on as leader – and what it means if she is deposed so close to the start of the campaign.
1: Caucus meets and (likely very reluctantly) decide to back the Premier and remain unified.
2: Premier Christy Clark decides to resign to avoid a caucus revolt.
3: A majority of caucus declare no confidence in the Premier leading to a snap leadership campaign and convention before the election writ period.
4: Five, or more, MLAs leave caucus to sit as independents, or join another party, making it more likely a Legislature no confidence vote on the budget would pass, leading to an early election.
The opposition NDP, with the current huge lead in the polls, are unlikely to want an early election as the sitting legislative period is an opportunity to continually beat up on the government and Premier Christy Clark. Ironically, a Liberal leadership campaign and convention, so close to the election might be the best chance for the Liberal Party to reverse a further slide in the polls. It would take the attention away from the NDP, redefine the party under new leadership, and likely bring back in jaded supporters – especially those who have fled to the BC Conservatives and Greens.
If some form of scenario two or three plays out it puts the NDP in an interesting quandary. The Legislature can continue to sit under the deputy leader while a leadership campaign is underway, but would the NDP call a no confidence vote so the Liberals are forced to run a simultaneous leadership AND election campaign? Certainly, these questions and possibilities are being bandied about this weekend among the leadership and organizers of all parties.
No matter the outcomes of Monday’s caucus meeting, the budget vote, and any other revelations over the next weeks, no one can say that politics in British Columbia is boring. You can follow the conversations and public punditry using the Twitter tags #BCpoli – and the current discussion #QuickWin and #EthnicGate