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December 27, 2010

Update: Dec 29 Stillwell launches website

What's Missing in BC Liberal Leadership Race?

Try listing the issues you've heard discussed by Liberal leadership candidates and consider what's missing. You can use their websites as a crib sheet.

Christy Clark

Clark's "putting families first" campaign slogan isn't backed up by specifics. Her website is big on videos and short on commitments to which she can be held accountable. Under the policy tab on her site an opening statement says what she means will be unveiled in the coming weeks, but in the meantime she wants to receive suggestions on what families first might mean.

Clark would be well advised to start by listening to BC Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. Clark served as opposition critic for the Ministry of Children and Families in the late 90s and in 2004 she was appointed Minister of Children and Family Development. She must have some opinion on the obviously broken relationship between Turpel-Lafond and the ministry. Does Clark agree with Turpel-Lafond that the Ministry is failing in its responsibility to report critical injuries to the Representative? How does Clark's campaign slogan relate to families where a vulnerable special needs girl who was known to the Ministry was left for several days with the body of her deceased mother?

Clark's website says: "Our families rely on a secure and strong economy to provide them the stability they need to plan for the future. That's why Christy Clark will fight to grow BC's economy by creating the jobs that families need to support themselves, now and in the future." Have you noticed that many politicians like to say they will "fight" for one thing or another when all voters want to know is what the politicians will do? A good starting point for all the leadership candidates are the facts and figures from the BC Progress Board whose report is significantly different from the spin out of the public affairs bureau.

The Progress Board's Tenth Annual Benchmark Report, released December 16th, found that BC ranks 4th on the economy, 4th on personal income, 4th on jobs and 6th on social condition. When the Board was created in 2001, it's goal was to maintain the first place rank achieved in the 90s in environmental quality and health outcomes, and to move to first or second-place rank in the other four core targets where it now places a mediocre fourth or worse.

The Board measures jobs by the employment rate, defined as the percent of the population (aged 15 to 64) that is employed. BC's rate was 71.2 in 1990, 70.1 in 2000 and 71.1 in 2009. By that standard, BC has to improve by 9% to catch Saskatchewan's 77.9 for 2009.

The Board observed: "Between 2000 and 2009, BC's level of real GDP per capita has increased by 10.7 percent. The province with the largest improvement, Newfoundland and Labrador, experienced an increase of 34 percent during this period."

Apparently it takes something other than tax cuts to out perform Alberta. Ontario and Saskatchewan or to run as fast as Newfoundland and Labrador. Clark and the others can fight all they want, but they need to say precisely what they will do over the next two years as premier.

Kevin Falcon

Falcon's website includes a transcript of a thirty minute interview he had with the Penticton Western News. It started with the kind of open-ended question all candidates can anticipate and use to define themselves: "Why do you want to become leader of the BC Liberal Party and premier of British Columbia?" Falcon's answer recognized the importance of vision and ideas but then failed to deliver any. He started by saying: "It is time for a new generation of leadership." He went on to say: "I think that I have an ability to reach out in a way that can rejuvenate our party and our government and reach out to young people, in particular, and get them interested and excited about public life and politics and that is something I really believe I can bring to the table." The 46 year old candidate didn't mention how he would excite young people about public life before he took a swipe at other politicians by saying: "... there is a big gap, I think, often in politicians between those who have vision and ideas but aren't particularly effective in executing those visions and ideas. And one of the things I bring to the table is a strong record of accomplishment on getting projects done ..." Falcon's answer sounds like he's more interested in being the chief operating officer, than the chief executive with ideas and vision; he didn't take the opportunity to articulate either.

To the credit of the Western News reporter, a follow-up question was put to Falcon asking what he would do to get voting rates up, particularly among young people. Falcon's answered that he would try to make the public less cynical by not trying to make everything sound good when "the truth is everything isn't always good in public life." Fortunately we can turn to Hansard to see how often Falcon had what he described as "the humility and the courage to acknowledge when we don't do something well." It appears that the blunder on the HST may be the only time Falcon admitted a mistake. Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer has offered a description of Falcon's record as a polarizer; Falcon could admit more mistakes.

In addition to the transcript of the Western News interview, Falcon's website has a section titled a "conversation with Kevin" in which he says he wants to ensure British Columbians have "good childcare choices, early education options, a strong and effective public school system, help for children that need support to learn, and the kind of post-secondary education and training that prepares our kids for a whole new world." It was just two months ago on October 18th that the Representative for Children and Youth and the Provincial Health Officer issued their joint report titled "Growing Up in BC" which noted that: "Living in poverty puts children at a disadvantage from an early age. The disparity in achievement can be seen in children as young as 22 months, and the gap increases as they get older." It went on to say: "Nearly 30 per cent of B.C.'s children are vulnerable in at least one developmental area when tested in kindergarten - the developmental areas being physical health and well-being, social competency, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development and communication skills." To his credit, Falcon's conversation webpage repeats that 30 per cent figure saying: "About 30 per cent of children across BC aren't ready for kindergarten, and that's not good enough. " What is not said is where Falcon and his government have been on those issues since 2001.

George Abbott

Abbott's website is bold enough to include a vision tab under which visitors find a statement of general principles and specific promises on the economy, families and rural BC. Like his colleagues, Abbott appears to ignore less fortunate families. It would be encouraging to see at least one BC Liberal leadership candidate talk about poverty and social justice, but Abbott's approach is to promise a new tax credit to homeowners and a new tax credit for childhood health. Why can't a Liberal leadership candidate talk about a poverty reduction plan, like those legislated in other provinces, rather than about schemes that disproportionally benefit higher income earners? Cynics might suggest the answer is found in the latest Angus Reid poll conducted online December 20 to December 21, 2010, among 806 randomly selected British Columbia adults who are Angus Reid Forum panelists. Despite the state of unrest in both parties, the poll found that of those with incomes under $50,000, 45 per cent would vote NDP and only 25 per cent would vote Liberal. That compares to 23 per cent NDP and 60 per cent Liberal for those with incomes over $100,000. It's nearly a dead-heat at 38 per cent NDP, 40 per cent Liberal, for those with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000. Surely the Liberals don't ignore the needs of low income voters for purely partisan reasons!

Mike de Jong

We might not have had the current political mess in BC if Mike de Jong hadn't defeated Social Credit icon Grace McCarthy by 42 votes in a 1994 by-election in Matsqui. Social Credit might have recovered and even returned to power, but it was not to be because of giant-killer de Jong. That history and de Jong's seemingly successful run as government house leader, makes it hard to understand why he doesn't have the support of any of his caucus colleagues.

With a website that is heavy on videos, including one showing him making shortbread. (Mike! I hope Santa brought you a set of dry-measure measuring cups! Real bakers know you aren't one of them.) It is challenging to find any substantive policy announcements from de Jong. His proposal for lowering the voting age grabbed a slow news cycle for several days but didn't win him much support. Don't be surprised if he drops out before the February 26th vote and endorses one of his colleagues. The only question is whether that endorsement would translate into votes.

Moira Stilwell

Stilwell doesn't have a campaign website; she is populating the Twitter universe with irrelevant tweets and retweets, including several on Christmas Day. The first candidate to declare, reporters confessed they had to check the government organization chart to see who she is. If her motivation for entering the race is to raise the profile of issues that are of most concern to her, that list is still a carefully guarded secret. On November 18th she tweeted: "I'm not a quitter. See my constant support of the HST for evidence of that."