Martyn Brown: Separating myth from reality in B.C. politics

By Martyn Brown

Myths are powerful things, especially when they feature forces of good (“free enterprise”) and evil (“socialists”), and evoke heroes (B.C. Liberals), villains (B.C. Conservatives), and monsters (NDP) to spin a good yarn that is rooted in fear and in distortions of blindly accepted “facts”. Great myths derive their greatest power from their retelling, to the point where lore is accepted as “truth”, half-truths are accepted as fact, and reality approximates fiction. Such is the main myth of British Columbia politics, which warrants new questioning and inspection.

As explained by the Globe and Mail’s Justine Hunter and Ian Bailey, “The right-wing forces stick together, usually, because British Columbia is by and large a province divided into only two political faiths, with the NDP or its predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, on one side and some type of center-right coalition on the other. When the coalition splits, the NDP wins.” Gary Mason’s summary of Premier Christy Clark’s convention pitch echoed that argument: “Any time there is a fracture in the so-called free enterprise coalition in B.C., the NDP wins....”

Not quite true.

In eight of the Social Credit Party’s 11 wins, Liberals were also elected. In four of those cases, so were Conservatives. Of the last 30 elections in British Columbia, 27 have resulted in “free enterprise” governments and 25 of them elected representatives from at least three parties, and/or independents. In 12 elections, four or more parties won seats, not including independents. In three instances, five or more parties elected MLAs.

Since W.A.C. Bennett’s time, the B.C. Liberal Party was the biggest vote-splitter of them all, typically taking about 20 percent of the vote up until 1972, without depriving the Socreds of their consecutive majority governments. The real reason the Socreds lost so badly in 1972 was not just that there were other parties; it was that the Socreds’ support plummeted to 31 percent, even as the B.C. Liberals’ support also fell to its lowest level in B.C. history, while the NDP increased its vote to record levels.

Similarly, the reason the NDP was annihilated in 2001 with only 21.5 percent support was not just that the Green party took 12.4 percent of the vote; it was that Gordon Campbell’s Liberals earned 57.6 percent of all votes, thanks to many former NDP supporters who abandoned that party. When the Socreds lost in 1991, it was because their support plummeted to 24 percent—a level that is eerily close to where the B.C. Liberals stand today. Were it not for Gordon Wilson’s vote-splitting Liberals, who formed a large and strong opposition, the NDP’s majority would have been even larger.

Even in the 1996 election that the NDP won with less of the popular vote than the B.C. Liberals, free enterprise vote-splitting is, at best, a partial answer. If the B.C. Liberals had only earned another 3,340 combined votes in 1996 in Burnaby North, Burnaby-Willingdon, Cariboo South, Kootenay, Saanich South, and Vancouver-Fraserview, they would have won the election with six more seats than the NDP. If Campbell’s party had even only won two of those six seats, with an extra 704 total votes there would have been a minority B.C. Liberal government. Organization matters.

The reason the NDP now enjoys some 46 to 49 percent support is not just because the B.C. Conservatives are “siphoning off” votes from the B.C. Liberals, or that the Green party is attracting its own share of support. It is that more voters than ever are prepared to vote for the NDP, including more than a handful “free enterprisers”. It is because the old “free enterprise versus socialist” dichotomy is itself an aging myth that is not wearing well with younger voters or in the modern Canadian liberal context. That entire ideological ethos is largely a false distinction that died with the Cold War and that is increasingly less relevant in driving voter choice.

The fact is, if the Green party does not run a full slate of candidates in 2013, which seems likely, the NDP’s voting universe will suddenly reach well beyond the 50 percent mark that “free enterprisers” claim to own as their birthright. A majority beats a minority every time. The B.C. Liberals’ main challenge is to win back votes from the NDP as well as from the other parties, including the Conservatives and Greens. The only reason the Clark government’s fortunes look so dire at present is because it has driven voters away to other parties across the political spectrum and cut its support coalition in half. What history mainly shows is that no governing party can win re-election with only 21 or 24 or 31 percent support—especially if any competitor enjoys the support of close to an absolute majority of decided voters.

The main reason why even more voters are not now “parked” with the B.C. Conservatives is not because of fear of the NDP. It is because Cummins’s party has revealed itself as a marginal force that is still not ready for prime time. It has alienated more voters than it has attracted with weak leadership, extremist tendencies, and internal factionalism. Many of those traditionally conservative-leaning voters will “hold their nose” and vote for the NDP unless they are given a new positive reason to return to the B.C. Liberal fold.

Myths are made to be reinvented. The real evil we do is to vilify agents of political choice and to vote in fear of ideological “monsters” largely of our own making; it is in not demanding better of our political leaders and in allowing our actions to be dictated by negative options more than by positive visions and platforms in which we can honestly believe and trust.

Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic advisor to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment in British Columbia.

Comments (12) Add New Comment
Lewis
Some of the expectations of the NDP are downright delusional....I'm convinced Adrian Dix will leave everything the way it is and no ones life in the province will be any different. If things are good in your life they will probably stay good...if things are rough..they'll stay rough.
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SPY vs SPY
Quote

I have always felt that a politician is to be judged by the animosities he excites among his opponents.

Sir Winston Churchill

I have the winning formula for Christy Clarke.

Attend 2 hour town hall meetings in only strong NDP ridding's and hold 2 hour press conferences every week from now till the next election.

Never speak to another Liberal, Conservative, Reformer advisor again.

Listen to what the people have to say about you, your party and the Legacy of the BC Liberals.

The redesign all BC Government policies to meet the needs of the People of BC.

OH Yah and the have a big BBQ and "EAT THE RICH"
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Mark Fornataro
Re: " if the Green party does not run a full slate of candidates in 2013, which seems likely, the NDP’s voting universe will suddenly reach well beyond the 50 percent mark that 'free enterprisers' claim to own as their birthright"- conversely, on the federal scene where the Greens (not to mention the Liberals)probably will run a full slate next election- the NDP's 'voting universe' will reach well below the 50 percent mark. I vote NDP federally(would have voted Green if I was in Elizabeth May's riding) and today was asked by NDP President Rebecca Blaikie for a donation for the by-election campaign. Yesterday I heard Warren Kinsella say Harper will win the next election and I am afraid he is right unless the NDP cooperates with other parties -as maturely and sensibly espoused by E. May-representing the anti-Con vote. I replied to Ms Blaikie that I will be much more interested in donating my hard-earned dollars if there is some cooperation to stop this senseless vote-splitting that will assure Harper of another term.
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Ron S.
Geez Martyn what are you using to improve your memory?
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SPY vs SPY
The next Federal Election will see either a Conservative or a Liberal Minority Government. 50% of Canadian voters are waiting for the Resurection of the Federal Liberal Party. You know the one that Gordon Campbell always hated.

With a Strong and True Liberal to Lead the Federal Liberals, all those votes that went to the NDP will come back and Harper will look more the Small Minded A---Hole he really is.

Mulcair is just a Mulroney - Sepratist sell/out in a Che T-Shirt.
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Just Wondering
It appears his memory has improved! I wonder if he even remembers who Gordon Campbell is?
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iSheep
If you chose to work and/or support a convicted Drunk Driver who has left a legacy of Debt & dubious PPP partnerships.

Billions in guaranteed Power Contracts aka Corporate Welfare by some estimates $30 + of Debt for BC Hydro.

Than you have no credibility.
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Birdman
My question is - Why is this slimey hack even allowed on the GS?
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Rob Roy
What's going on here? Why is The Straight going to Martyn Brown for lessons in transparency, civil order, and democratic values?

When Brown was working for Gordon Campbell, he had the sharpest elbows in government. His open disdain for the Opposition, and for certain MLAs in particular, was well-known. He held them in mocking contempt. He had no concept of parliamentary democracy. He spent years poisoning the well.

Martyn Brown was the most unforgiving of partisans, never once willing to give credit to anyone on the other side of the aisle for anything.

Taking advice from Martyn Brown about good government is like taking advice from the Pope on birth control. It's just ridiculous.
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nutsnbolts
This guy belongs in a padded cell and he won't care because he won't remember where he came from.
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fredbass
Has anybody read Martyn Brown's article, which is a fairly factual account that seeks to separate a still prevalent myth from BC's current reality?
What in the content that he wrote is wrong?
Amazingly, of the ten comments above, none refers to the content of Brown's letter!
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Just Wondering
To fredbass

Martyn Brown has nothing to say to the people of BC that is of an interest as far as I'm concerned as he is a part of the problem not the solution. You can bury your head in the sand all you want over what the Liberals have done to this province and he was a part of it. He has nothing to say, period. You have to ask yourself, how could anyone with a recall as bad as his have the memory of anything that could possibly be of interest to the rest of us now.
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