There is a great deal of talk, particularly among BC Liberal supporters, about rebuilding the coalition of what is often called “the free enterprise vote.”
They are correct that it takes a coalition to keep the NDP out of office. Recent polls show the NDP with 45 to 50 per cent support, which will give the party a huge majority in the next election, should those numbers hold. B.C. has had what in effect are free enterprise coalition governments since 1941, except when the coalitions fell apart.
The one notable exception was in 1952, when Social Credit came to power with 19 seats in a minority government. The only reason it was elected was the presence of the transferable ballot, which the former coalition partners (Liberals and Conservatives) agreed on before exiting from an arrangement both were unhappy about. It didn’t help them – it did lead to the beginning of a Social Credit dynasty.
Social Credit was the coalition vehicle from 1952 until 1991, but in 1972, it was challenged by rejuvenated Liberal and Conservative parties, with young, telegenic leaders who were a contrast to 72-year-old W.A.C. Bennett. The NDP won with the four-way split of votes.
Grace McCarthy and the Majority Movement put Social Credit back together again, and it stayed that way until Bill Vander Zalm’s troubles caused many supporters to look elsewhere. In 1991, they went to the Liberals, who won 17 seats with a minimalist campaign. That made them the coalition party of choice, but it took a while. In 1996, the remnant of the Socreds was known as the BC Reform Party and its share of the vote meant the NDP won a second term, under Glen Clark.
The free enterprise coalition has a very slim chance to win the 2013 election, but only if all the following happen:
1. Christy Clark resigns ASAP. She simply can’t bring the coalition together;
2. All senior cabinet ministers closely identified with the Gordon Campbell government indicate they won’t run again. This includes local MLAs Rich Coleman and Mary Polak, as well as Mike de Jong, Shirley Bond, Kevin Falcon, George Abbott and ex-minister Colin Hansen. It does not include Blair Lekstrom, the only Liberal MLA to take the correct stance on the HST. He resigned from cabinet and caucus because the cabinet wouldn’t agree to do more consultation. He is a man of principle;
3. A truly neutral third party, respected by all sides (and not part of the downtown Vancouver business community) negotiates with John Cummins and the Conservatives;
4. As a result, there is a merger agreement between the two parties and an open leadership race, with ongoing financial disclosures (during, not after the campaign) for all candidates. In addition, there must be no mass member sign-ups, agreed to in writing by all leadership candidates;
5. The new leader must have a clean track record and an ability to bring people together. She or he calls an inquiry into BC Rail; calls off liquor privatization; stops Hydro, MSP and ICBC rate hikes and opposes the Enbridge pipeline.
That could give the coalition a ghost of a chance.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of the Langley Times.