Who's next?

I'm going to get provincial on you for a bit—literally. The premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, resigned yesterday. His personal popularity stood at around nine percent. It seems likely that his caucus was close to expressing its lack of confidence in his leadership. He's a stubborn man, but even he couldn't avoid seeing the writing on the wall.

So we're about to get a new premier.

For those of you who do not live in a Commonwealth country (and maybe for some who do), in Canada we have what is called the Westminster system of government, similar to what is used in the United Kingdom. We have it at both the federal and provincial levels. I'll go with provincial terminology. There are single-member geographic constituencies. When an election is called, we vote for a person running in our constituency to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly. If one party wins a majority of seats, that party becomes the party of government, and its leader becomes premier. If a party wins a plurality of seats but not a majority, it can try to govern with a minority (as is currently the case in Ottawa).

In B.C. at this time, there are only two truly viable parties, so one or the other tends to win a majority. At present, we have a majority Liberal Party (centre-right, despite the name) government, and Gordon Campbell, as leader, was the premier. But now he has resigned as leader, and thus as premier as well.

We deviate from the Westminster System in having fixed election dates, every four years (something I disagree with), so we'd not due for another provincial election until May 14, 2013. That means the liberals will continue to govern. The only way to have an election earlier than the set date is if the government loses the confidence of the Legislative Assembly, which would happen if a majority of MLAs voted against a bill that was considered a matter of confidence (usually a spending bill like a budget). Given party discipline, that is almost certain not to happen in with a majority government.

So the Liberals must have a leadership race, or appoint a leader. I'm guessing they might appoint an interim leader, as the New Democratic Party (NDP, left to centre left, depending on leader) did when Glen Clark resigned before a new leader was chosen by the party convention. But soon, there will be an actual leader chosen by the caucus, and that person will become premier, likely until the next election.

I'm looking at the photos of potential candidates that the Vancouver Sun published. Some of the candidates are well known from having been in high-profile cabinet positions (in the Westminster system, the executive is formed by members of the legislature). That's not necessarily an asset. Kevin Falcon, now Minister of Health but former Minister of Transportation, was often seen on the news pushing through some highway or transit policy that was not popular. Solicitor General Rich Colman is the province's "top cop," so that if anything goes wrong with police in the province, he is on the hot seat. Kash Heed is the former Solicitor General and previously chief constable of the West Vancouver police service. He has ruffled his share of feathers and also had an election funding scandal attached to his name, even though he was cleared.

I don't know much about some of the people whom the Sun considers potential leaders. Iain Black is Minister of Labour. He's a mystery to me. Bill Bennett is Minister of Energy, and the only thing I know about him is that he recently grumbled in public about Campbell.

Barry Penner, now Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, was formerly Minister of the Environment. In that position, he always struck me as a straight shooter, someone who really cared about environmental issues, although that didn't always play well in his own caucus. I recall him getting his feet wet, literally, during a cleanup of the Pitt River. Attorney General Mike DeJong always seemed pretty straightforward to me as well, although he was more likely to toe the party line. Same with Minister of Education George Abbott.

It's discouraging that the only two females considered viable by the Sun aren't even in the legislature. Dianne Watts is currently mayor of Surrey, the second largest city in B.C. Sprawling Surrey, just south of Vancouver, has a well-earned reputation for being a high crime area, but Mayor Watts is credited with having done much to turn the city around. Among B.C. politicians at all levels, she is probably one of the most popular right now. And the other possibility is former Minister of Finance Carole Taylor, who was just appointed Chancellor of Simon Fraser University. Despite having the unenviable job of making (and slashing) budgets, she was probably the most popular MLA in the legislature during her brief tenure.

The Liberals have governed for nine years so far. During their first term, they made serious cutbacks in spending that hurt a lot of people. They moderated that during their second term and even won some praise for things like improving aboriginal relations. The third term, however, despite the Olympic Winter Games, has been disastrous. Shortly after the election in May 2009, the government brought in the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), combining the existing federal Goods and Services Tax (GST, a value-added tax) and the Provincial Sales Tax (PST, sales only). HST exists in several other provinces, and was recently launched in Ontario to little fanfare, but in B.C. the launch was a disaster. There was basically a tax revolt, led by former premier and perennial gadfly Bill Vander Zalm, that led to a successful petition to put the HST to a vote.

Thus, the job of premier of B.C. is not exactly desirable right now. I wonder who will want it. It will take a strong leader, someone with vision, to bring the Liberals back from their current dismal ratings in time for the next election. It might not be possible. Unlike Alberta, B.C. is not a one-party province. It's unusual for a party to win three terms in a row. The NDP, although currently in a bit of disarray itself with its own leadership difficulties, might well attract an "anyone but the Liberals" vote in 2013. It will be interesting to see what happens. At least for some of us.

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