Shinder Purewal is Professor of Political Science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Liberals or NDP or does Weaver play it one issue at a time?

By Ray Hudson

Shinder Purewal is Professor of Political Science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Shinder Purewal is Professor of Political Science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

In 1952 a Single Transferable Vote experiment by the provincial Liberals and Conservatives resulted in a minority government. They were trying to block the social democratic Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) political party, but ended up losing to W.A.C. Bennett’s new Social Credit Party. They ruled for the next four decades, except for a brief period, 1972 to 1975, when Dave Barrett’s NDP formed government. To get a sense of what happened on May 9th, we spoke with Professor Shinder Purewal, a Political Science teacher at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey.

“We now have a minority where the smallest party, the Greens, are pushing for electoral reform,” said Purewal.  “They’re looking to impose a proportional representation (PR) system without a referendum. We already have a precedent of two referenda on the issue of electoral reform, and it is a very big issue, so I’m not sure if the NDP or Liberals would concede to that without asking for a referendum.”

Purewal said the second issue that a referendum might resolve is to block the role of big money in politics, both big business and trade unions.

“The coalition may not survive for two, or even one year, but it is possible at this level that at least one of these two key issues will be resolved,” he said. “But the bigger issue for the resource-based province, in this minority situation, is we don’t have any big industries like Ontario and Quebec, and pushing a Green agenda will jeopardize a lot of jobs in the resource industries. Which one of those two parties are willing to concede to the Green demands to achieve this?”

Professor Purewal characterizes Green leader, Dr. Andrew Weaver, as an intelligent person who must know the art of compromise, something politics is all about.

“He is pushing for electoral reform, because had there been a proportional representation system in place on May 9, he would have had fourteen or fifteen seats instead of three.  If they were in an alliance, I assume it would be more likely with the NDP because the BC Liberals don’t agree with any of the Green’s policies from Kinder Morgan to the Site C dam and other pipelines construction businesses and so forth. It would be a strange alliance but I have seen strange alliances in politics.”

Purewal felt that the election result was also attributable to a lack of confidence in Christy Clark.

“It’s very strange that we have a very good economy,” he said, “all economic engines are functioning fully. I think the peoples’ complaints were connected to the arrogance of the Premier over the policies of accepting money coming from big business.”

The revelation that Clark was taking $50,000 from those donations on top of her $191,000 salary didn’t sit well with the electorate.

“If you wanted to put the blame somewhere it would be with the leader,” said Purewal. “She had such low numbers in terms of her popularity, that this probably dragged down the Liberals. The BC Liberals did a good job on the economy, they’ve managed really well. They didn’t have many big scandals, so the drop down to a minority with such economic performance, you can only blame the captain. And many people are probably already doing it. Remember she had hardly any support in the caucus when she became the leader. In the last election she even lost her seat in Point Grey and had to go to Kelowna and get someone who won to give up their seat for her.”

“On the other side of the spectrum,” Purewal’s assessment continued, “you didn’t see many more people turning to the NDP because they couldn’t see much of an attraction to Horgan as a leader. So, it’s a negative for Christy Clark, there was not much positive in John Horgan either. You could probably blame both of them in terms of leadership qualities. I think people saw Weaver as more thoughtful and trustworthy.  He wasn’t promising the moon, but most people think you can’t live on oxygen and marijuana alone. They work in the resource industries, they need a good functioning economy, and that’s why the choices were really between the NDP and the BC Liberals. The negative point for Christy Clark is that she brought the Liberals down, and the only positive for John Horgan is that he increased their numbers, although one would have expected that this would be a time they could have formed a majority government.  I think that if people could have trusted the leadership qualities it would have been enough for the NDP to rise to the top. But there was some suspicion that the policies or leadership kept a lot of people from trusting either party with a majority. But to his credit Horgan got more votes than the party did in the last election.”

Purewal said that if the party wants to replace Clark, they’re in the dilemma of a minority situation: you never know when the election will come. Remember in 1979 when Joe Clark won the minority government, Trudeau resigned and there was a Liberal leadership convention underway. Then the Joe Clark government fell, and caught the Liberals without a leader.  They had to beg Trudeau to come back, he agreed for one more term, but when he got a majority government he carried on and it was during that period that he repatriated the constitution and brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Having to face an election without a leader is a scenario that nobody wants to see.

“It’s likely, that within six months to a year, there’s going to be an election,” said Purewal. “My conservative guess would be that these three leaders would likely be facing one another again.”

That’s what you get for living in ‘interesting times.’