Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Is Blair Lekstrom a hero or villain after quitting BC Liberal cabinet and caucus over HST?

Premier Gordon Campbell, left, and now-independent MLA Blair Lekstrom, right, who is now at Political Mile Zero after qutting BC Liberal cabinet and caucus

Is Blai
r Lekstrom Brave for Quitting?

Will he and indie MLA Vicki Huntington form a new party? Will other Libs defect?

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday June 15 2010

"Aspire rather to be a hero than merely appear one."

- Baltasar Gracian, 1601-1658

Is Blair Lekstrom a hero for quitting both his BC Liberal cabinet job and the party caucus over the government continuing to impose its Harmonized Sales Tax?

Or is Lekstrom a villain, fleeing the scene of his crime after personally voting to impose the 12 per cent HST on all British Columbians before he could be recalled by angry voters?

Is Lekstrom a politician of great integrity for listening to his constituents, who overwhelmingly oppose the HST and told him so?

Or is Lekstrom an unprincipled opportunist -- a "rat," one B.C. Conservative already call him -- who knows the only way he could be re-elected to a $100,000 a year job and collect a gold-plated pension was by admitting the obvious, that the BC Liberals are finished, thanks to the HST?

Deserving of respect

I respect Lekstrom for his bombshell decision Friday. Despite the likely contradictory reasons that caused him to make that decision, the MLA from Peace River South has demonstrated personal courage and integrity in representing the true wishes of the voters who elected him, even if it took awhile.

It is never, ever easy to quit a political party and sit as an independent -- let alone to bail out of a prestigious job like energy minister that's worth an extra $50,000 a year and become a pariah to your former colleagues.

If Premier Gordon Campbell had the same degree of integrity -- or just common sense -- as Lekstrom, he would listen to the vast majority British Columbians who hate the HST, admit his mistake and cancel the tax immediately.

What took ya?

But before Lekstrom is nominated for political sainthood, let's remember a few important facts.

First, the Fight HST citizens initiative petition campaign Ied by former premier Bill Vander Zalm -- that I support -- had already obtained more signatures to stop the HST than the number of people who voted for Lekstrom in the May 2009 election, 4,985 on the petition versus the 4,801 who voted for Lekstrom.

Second, Lekstrom listened to nearly a year of public anger over the HST and months of solid, wide-ranging arguments from New Democrat opposition MLAs before finally deciding to quit just 20 days before the HST is imposed.

Third, Lekstrom stood up on
April 29 and voted in favour of the HST, despite already knowing his constituents were overwhelmingly opposed.

"Is there concern in my riding? Most definitely there is," Lekstrom
told CBC News in May. But he still defended it -- till Friday.

This doesn't match with that

Even in his resignation letter, contradictions abound.

"I fundamentally disagree with the direction our government is headed on the HST," Lekstrom
wrote. "I have reached a point where my beliefs and values no longer align with my government."

And in an
interview with Canadian Press about previously voting for the HST, Lekstrom went further: "Had I known what I know today about the HST and some of the ramifications... I wouldn't have made the same decision."

But Lekstrom's carefully prepared
statement to the media clearly implies he still supports the HST.

"I recognize and admit that I supported the HST when our government made the decision to move forward with it last summer," Lekstrom said.

"This is not about being right or wrong; in fact, I firmly believe that government is making a decision they believe will help the province, but as we have been unable to bring the public along, I acknowledge there is a need to re-evaluate this decision.

"In light of the widespread opposition to the HST, I believe it would be prudent to bring the move toward the HST to a halt and immediately engage British Columbians in a dialogue about our taxation policy.

"This is a major tax policy shift, and it is time to engage British Columbians with a series of discussions about our province's future."

Dialogue? Engage? How about just cancel the tax and be done with it!

But Lekstrom doesn’t say that. And what would he do about the HST in a perfect world?

"If the playing field was level across the province on the implementation of this tax, yes I could support it, but in saying that, I would support it only after I go out and have a good frank dialogue with British Columbians," Lekstrom said. "And at the end of the day, if they say, 'Look, it's not the way they want to go,' then I'm elected to listen to the people as well."

Doesn't that sound like the perfect answer for an aspiring political party leader -- he would support the HST unless people wouldn't let him.

Who will have Lekstrom now?

Will Lekstrom at some point rejoin the BC Liberal Party? Doubtful.

Will Lekstrom run for leader to replace Gordon Campbell? Impossible.

No MLA who quits a political party and cabinet in such dramatic fashion over the most important policy issue in the province has a tinker's damn of a chance to return as leader.

Or will Lekstrom join the BC Conservatives, now rising to seven per cent in recent polls, as an alternative to the centre-right BC Liberals and centre-left NDP?

Not likely, after a prominent member called him a
"rat" the day he resigned!

"You can't stand up in the house when 85 per cent of B.C. is against it according to the polls and support it, then stand up a few weeks later and say you're against it," B.C. Conservative Party spokesperson and former candidate Dean Skoreyko told The Tyee's Andrew MacLeod. "A rat is a rat is a rat." Other B.C. Conservative officials later
apologized, but clearly there's no consensus about Lekstrom in that party's leadership.

And Fight HST lead organizer Chris Delaney, another former BC Conservative candidate, told The Province's Michael Smyth that Lekstrom's "background is with unions."

Just a guess, but the BC Conservative door may be slightly closed to Lekstrom.

Chris Delaney informs me that his comment about unions was in answer to Mike Smyth's question on what Blair Lekstrom's political leanings might be, and whether he might consider jumping to the BC Conservatives. Delaney did not make a negative or dismissive reference to the labour movement.

Join forces with Huntington?

Lekstrom -- a former Telecommunications Workers Union member who voted against the B.C. Liberals when they legislatively ripped up Hospital Employees Union contracts -- is well-placed to put himself forward as leader of a populist, rural-based, right-wing party.

The most likely option for Lekstrom would be to create his own third party option, possibly joining forces with Vicki Huntington, the Delta South MLA who narrowly became B.C.'s first elected independent in 60 years -- defeating former attorney general Wally Oppal in 2009.

Huntington told Global TV News on Saturday that she is open to the possibility of working with Lekstrom but believes it will be "months" before that becomes clear.

"Yes, there's a lot of talk about the formation of a third option and I think it's going to take a few more months before that starts to jell in anyone's mind," Huntington said. "I think it's a ways off yet."

"Are you ruling that out?" Global's Ron Benzce asked.

"You can't rule anything out in politics," Huntington replied. "But as I've told people during the election and subsequently, I wouldn't make a move like that without discussing it in the riding first."

Never too late to say you're sorry

Lekstrom has lots of credibility now and can say, with honesty, that he puts the views of voters ahead of party politics. Taking a $50,000 pay cut by quitting cabinet certainly shows Lekstrom puts his money where his mouth is.

Lekstrom can also state that if he was elected premier -- compared to Gordon Campbell -- he might make mistakes but will always listen to the public for a final decision.

It would sound a lot like former long-time Social Credit premier W.A.C. Bennett's famous
"second look" policy of reviewing unpopular decisions and sometimes reversing them.

BC Liberals -- like Bill Bennett, Lekstrom's replacement as energy minister, are desperately getting out their
message that an alternative to Campbell’s party could end up electing the NDP in 2013 -- or sooner.

Bennett is obviously worried: "To allow the Liberals to disintegrate the way the Social Credits did under Bill Vander Zalm, or the NDP under Glen Clark, would be a crime."

"The NDP trashed the province once in the 1990s, and they would do it again. I need to stay and help the people of this province understand the HST, and why it will be good for this province. I believe that Blair made a mistake," Bennett told the Cranbrook Daily Townsmen.

"Because I'm still there, one chair away from the premier, I can poke him with my elbow and talk to him. With all due respect to my friend Blair, he can't do that any more," Bennett claimed, invoking the unlikely image of the cabinet minister who previously had to
resign for rude comments to a constituent actually telling Campbell what to do -- while simultaneously "helping" over 80 per cent of British Columbians who don't want the HST "understand" it.

Stephen Harper's embrace?

Lekstrom has yet another possible future -- to replace federal Conservative Member of Parliament Jay Hill, who has said he won't run in the next election, in his Prince George-Peace River riding. But then how will Lekstrom explain to his constituents that he is joining the government that imposed the HST along with the BC Liberals?

But while Lekstrom weighs his options, who will be the next B.C. Liberal MLA to resign rather than face inevitable recall campaigns starting as early as November 15?

While many MLAs have rushed to tell media it won't be them, for fear of angering an already disturbed Gordon Campbell, the reality is that Lekstrom may have opened the door to future defectors.

And Ida Chong, the Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA and -- thanks to Lekstrom's departure -- now the minister of small business, might be one of them.

Chong went to great lengths in an interview with CFAX Victoria radio's Adam Sterling to avoid saying she would not quit over the HST.

Adam Stirling: "The question on everybody's minds right now is: do you, or do you ever see yourself resigning over opposition to the HST as another BC cabinet member?"

Ida Chong: "You know, I got elected because I was worried about this province and I joined a party that I believe had all the fundamentals to keep our economy strong and moving forward. And as long as we can continue to do that, I will do that, and I realize that at times there will be tough decisions and tough decisions require courage and require leadership and that's what I'm prepared to provide."

Stirling: "So, that's a NO?"

Chong: "It means I'm going to continue to work hard to make sure our constituents get the best economy and the best quality of life that we can."

Stirling: "So is that not a NO?"

Chong: "You know, I think it's really clear that when you talk about standing for office you have to stand on the basis for which you were first elected and those are the principles that I have."

Thanks for the clear answer, Ida.

BC Liberals most at risk

But the most tell-tale sign of who might quit is simple to determine -- here's the Fight HST list of BC Liberal MLAs where more people have signed the citizens Initiative petition than voted for their MLA on May 15, 2009.

Blair Lekstrom / Peace River South: 4,801 votes in 2009; 4,985 petition signatures.

Pat Pimm / Peace River North: 3,992 votes in 2009, 7,791 petition signatures.

John Slater / Boundary-Similkameen: 6,681 votes in 2009; 11,309 petition signatures.

Donna Barnett / Cariboo-Chilcotin: 6,259 votes in 2009; 8,317 petition signatures.

Terry Lake / Kamloops-N.Thompson: 9,830 votes in 2009; 10,532 petition signatures.

Bill Bennett / Kootenay East: 8,404 votes in 2009; 8,729 petition signatures.

George Abbott / Shuswap: 10,764 votes in 2009; 11,806 petition signatures.

And that number of BC Liberal MLAs with fewer votes than anti-HST petition signatures will likely grow in the remaining weeks of the Fight HST drive. Get ready to rumble in B.C. politics!



Anonymous said...

Blair wasn't just a member of the TWU, he was an (unpaid) convention delegate/counsellor for the union, one rung below being a paid executive (business agent). He was heavily involved in the union before he left his employment at the phone company.

He is not a saint. He is a very political animal.

Pete's Viewpoint said...

I think this is all strategy by Lekstrom, Campbell and the BC Liberal caucus. I believe that a new strategy to fake some internal outrage in order to spark a leadership contest. I think that Campbell himself is in on this plan. That he would take a hard line on the HST and his at-risk MLA's would threaten to topple his government; to rescue the government from non-confidence, Campbell will allow himself to get 'pushed' from office. The new leader would then offer some rebate (akin to Ontario's plan), unite the party, welcome back any rogue MLA's such as Lekstrom, and (try to) win the next election as the best vehicle to defeat the NDP. This Lekstrom thing is all a sideshow, and we're all being taken for a ride.

Anonymous said...

People like Ida Chong are followers and NOT Leaders. Don't expect any honesty from her, she is well prepared to ride out the storm and retire with her public pension in the sleepy surroundings of Oak Bay.
I have followed the likes of her and I keep asking myself, why do we pay these individuals for NOT producing any innovative ideas that will benefit all of us. I better watch what I say or I may force her to write another letter to the editor of the TC defending herself, which she does QUITE often

Guy in Victoria

Anonymous said...

Bravery from a BC Liberal, like honesty . . . IMPOSSIBLE!

The neo-con rat realized the SS Gordo is going down by the bow and got in the first lifeboat.

This Tory rat is smart enough to paddle is fat ass over to the still afloat SS Harper and get his teeth into some federal pork now that the provincial pork is sinking fast.


DPL said...

Ida is dumber than a bag of hammers and likes the money. She is a great clapper but almost anything she says in the Legislature is pretty hard to follow. She and the Labor Minister Murray Cole,are well paid and not much in the way of producers of anything. They could stop showing up and nobody would notice.Lekstrom gives union persons a bad name, but I must admit he voted against some of the dirty deeds of Gordo and Co. who of us didn't get to attend union conferences? Hell I was at a number of union conferences but its a long way from a delegate to a real position of power in a union.There is a great difference between such a thing. If he was so hot how come he never rose in the union. Now it seems the locals love him for standing up to Gordo. Time will tell who goes before being shoved. I doubt if his leaving was for anything beyond keeping himself employed. Better the back row that out the door. The NO HST has rattled a few cages and for that we should all be thankful

Anonymous said...

Too little too late Blair. There should be a BC Opportunist Party I can think of a number of former and current MLAs who would finally belong to the appropriate political party.

Anonymous said...

I heard Blair being interviewed on the weekend and he still considers himself a card carrying BC Liberal in fact he called himself an "independent Liberal."

Anonymous said...

I heard Blair being interviewed on the weekend and he still considers himself a card carrying BC Liberal in fact he called himself an "independent Liberal."

Leckstrom is now old news.

When people start getting anxious over what's in a politican's wallet in regards to a party membership card, time to move on.

Anonymous said...

Hero of a new central party since the Libs have moved so far right?

Anonymous said...

Ontario aboriginals win HST concessions from Ottawa

It’s direct action that usually gets the most attention

The federal government is set to give aboriginals a major concession on Ontario’s new harmonized sales tax, amid threats that protesters will “shut down the country” when it plays host to world leaders at the coming G8 and G20 summits.


Sources say that an 11th-hour deal to give aboriginals the exemption is now imminent, and that it was the spectre of major disruptions that forced Stephen Harper’s government to come to the table.

Anonymous said...

Vaughn Palmer writes today (June 17, 2010): [Manitoba finance minister] Rosann Wowchuk, laid out the details in a report posted on the government website.

The shift to a single tax on the HST model would mean half a billion dollars in savings for business in Manitoba, and a $400-million wallop for provincial consumers. Ottawa's offer of $344 million in "transition funding" was a one-time payment that wouldn't begin to compensate consumers for a tax that would bite them each year.

"It would in fact cost the province more money than would be gained by it," Wowchuk said. "We are not prepared to risk the economic recovery by undermining Manitoba's growing consumer confidence."

That December 2009 report from Manitoba --
Sales Tax Harmonization in Manitoba: What it would mean for households, businesses and public finances -- is here [.PDF / 27 pages]