An item previously published, with minor updates:
I studied political science at university long, long ago. In those days, I was naive and idealistic and a member of the Liberal Party. Because I did not stay naive, I did not remain a Liberal.
Yet, the theory of party politics makes sense. The system should enable people who share goals and principles to pursue common social objectives. If they are supported by sufficient numbers of citizens, they might determine or influence public policy. However, in practice, Canadian parties tend to work from the top down, with ordinary members providing little significant policy input. Party leaders control financial resources, appointments of staff, consultants and spokespeople and creation of platforms, policies and priorities. Or, just about everything that matters.
The unanswered question is, “Who controls party leadership?” That is little discussed in traditional media, largely because pro-media owners are part of the tiny population segment that exercises real authority, in both politics and the marketplace.
The Canadian political economy may be far less violent than Mexico’s but the nations have similarities. Writing in The Atlantic, Lawrence Weiner described a fact of Mexican life:
Since the nation’s founding, few private fortunes were made without colmillo (“fang” or cunning), the owner’s ability to cultivate ties to the right officials and master the art of “mutually convenient” relationships.
In this scheme, the mindset of politicians drove (and was driven by) the mindset of business leaders: wary, secretive, suspicious, and cynical…
In time, the sense of “us versus them” gave rise to deep-seated paranoia, subtle and often unspoken expectations to keep outsiders outside — the knowing wink, the sealed lips…
After secretive negotiations, BC Liberals gave Malaysian socialists — the sort so despised by Rich Coleman — an unprecedented financial deal for low cost BC natural gas. The arrangements were completed as the Wall Street Journal was reporting that almost a billion dollars Canadian was transferred into personal accounts of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Razak once worked at Petronas and according to Fitch Ratings, as 100% owner, his government can exert significant influence over Petronas’ operating and financial policies.
It may be that some Malaysians work in a culture of corruption, as did SNC Lavalin when its board was chaired by Christy Clark’s mentor Gwyn Morgan. If it is suggested we cannot trust the foreign partners in the LNG deal, can we trust the domestic partners? Did bribery play a role in motivating representatives of the people?
In British Columbia, pay to play has been a guiding policy of Christy Clark and her immediate predecessor. Clark’s political party banked millions of dollars from resource companies and the provincial share of production revenues dropped dramatically while output levels increased.
Because mainstream media are “partners” of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and other resource exploiters, news agencies choose not to report these inconvenient facts. The Clark Government, favoured industries and media have “mutually convenient” relationships not unlike those enjoyed in Mexico by a handful of plutocrats.
Premier Clark admitted in 2015 that climate change is real, that it is causing and will cause serious disruptions in the province. Parts of British Columbia were experiencing wildfires, water shortages and crop failures. Yet Clark’s Liberals aim to vastly increase non-conventional production of fracked fossil fuel, flood Peace River farmlands and remove remaining protections of agricultural lands. Premier Photo Op’s response was to stand before a cast of firefighters and pretend to have sympathy for the environment. As she did that, her colleagues and minions continued work to accelerate climate change and reduce food security in British Columbia.
Has there ever been a larger disconnect between the actions and the statements of a political leader? I think not.
A comment on an earlier article provided a link to a video in which politician Phillip Mamouf-Wifarts reveals the real question put to most voters. Of course it’s unfair to the sincere people who seek office to achieve good but it fits Canada’s old line parties that I’ve come to regard as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Here are the choices he says we face at election time:
Do you want another spineless mouthpiece for special interests and lobbyists, or a spineless mouthpiece for special interests and lobbyists?
The remaining words were written and published here in March 2012. A modern history of BC Liberals is worth reviewing.
Before Gordon Campbell, the BC Liberal Party had been roused from the nearly dead and invigorated by Gordon Wilson, then a youthful populist leader. However, business interests chose Wilson’s party as the vehicle best suited to replace the discredited Social Credit coalition. Led by Patrick Kinsella and Gordon Gibson, the power brokers wanted as leader an ideologue who was pleasing to financial backers. The first choice was wealthy developer Jack Poole. He passed on the opportunity to serve on opposition benches so the former Vancouver Mayor was called from the on-deck circle.
When the fixers were ready to move Gordon Campbell into place, a media campaign was orchestrated against the existing BC Liberal leader. Wilson was involved with colleague and future wife Judy Tyabji, a relationship begun while both were married to others. Indeed, pious media accounts of the Wilson and Tyabji marriage breakups helped Gary Farrell-Collins advance a caucus revolt. leading to Wilson’s ouster by Campbell in 1993. Since then, romantic alliances of Liberal politicians have been off limits to the once virtuous BC media.
Kinsella’s group was well financed and vigorously supported by media, particularly the Hollinger newspapers of future convicts David Radler and Conrad Black. By the end of the decade, the Asper family’s Canwest had taken control of major BC newspapers along with TV news powerhouse BCTV and its Victoria sister station. Canwest enthusiastically joined the campaign for a business-friendly government. So did its eventual successors.
Most expected Gordon Campbell’s Liberals to form government in 1996 but Campbell, with an unpopular promise to sell BC Rail, faltered in the campaign. Premier Glen Clark was reelected but faced a corporate media determined to end the New Democratic administration. Liberal Party managers designated Martyn Brown from the old Reform Party to stick-handle Campbell’s political affairs.
The media soon found their issues. NDP internal squabbling helped as pragmatists and ideologues scrambled for dominance but fast ferries and gambling issues gained the most traction in public. By the end of the NDP mandate in 2001, the party had earned appropriate ignominy. The Campbell led Liberals cruised to easy victory with a smart platform promising the most open and accountable government in history. Having learned from the mistake of 1996, this time, they also promised not to sell BC Rail.
What we found out later was that the Liberal platform and its progressive promises were completely disingenuous.
Gordon Campbell is gone. Christy Clark will eventually be gone. What has not changed though is the guiding hand that is never subjected to a ballot. America’s Progressive Party created a platform in 1912 that demonstrates how little has changed in one hundred years. It included this statement:
Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.
Needless to say, the unholy alliance continues undissolved. Christy Clark’s tenure as Premier may end because Premier Photo-Op is seen by the public for what she is: an intellectual lightweight narcissist who is ridiculed and not respected. However, British Columbia’s unseen leaders will remodel the coalition of big business and replace her with an equally malleable person.
Even though the Premier’s current term is marked by incompetence and declining voter approval, Clark has remained Premier more than five years. The single most important factor protecting her is the gentle treatment accorded Liberals by the corporate media. That situation reinforces the accuracy of words written by American writer Phil Rockstroh:
…It should be increasingly clear to see that the corporate media’s job has never been to be unbiased chroniclers of the events and circumstances of a free republic. Rather, they are active agents serving to protect and promulgate the pernicious myths of free market capitalism. And they are a highly partisan lot.
Moreover, they have been highly successful in their mission. Hence, our lives, both inner and outer, have been conquered and colonized by the corporate empire, and a resultant forced occupation dominates our days determining the trajectory of our brief lives upon this earth.
Yet, we, against all evidence, believe we are free actors in a spontaneous, unfolding democratic drama. When, in reality, we have been cast as dehumanized supernumeraries in a lethal farce that renders all concerned both oppressor and oppressed. This is the central paradox that binds us…
ADDENDUM: My most viewed tweet of summer 2015, courtesy of Adrian Raeside:
— Norm Farrell (@Norm_Farrell) June 7, 2015