Ujjal Dosanjh betrays principles with defection

I became a member of the New Democratic Party because I read the history of this movement, I read the history of the struggles that we fought for, those that didn't have any rights. That was ethical....You know, I've been a member of this party since 1969....I'm committed to the party because of the principles that it has and those principles go way back.

-- Ujjal Dosanjh, CBC Radio, February 17, 2000

Principles? Ethics? Commitment? The April 1 announcement of former NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh's instant candidacy for the Paul Martin federal Liberals is about none of the above.

No, it's about Dosanjh selling out his principles for power. It's a desperate attempt to become a cabinet minister in a scandal-ridden government that will say and do anything to stay in office.

Dosanjh has thrown away 35 years of dedication to social democracy to run for the most right-wing leader the federal Liberals have ever had.

As finance minister, Paul Martin radically chopped federal financing for provincial services, leading to the current national health-care-funding crisis. The cuts of the 1990s created huge problems for the B.C. government Dosanjh served in, as the province lost at least $2.5 billion in health and social-program funding. But what the hell, as long as there's a cabinet seat available for Ujjal.

For me and lots of others, this is a personal as well as a political betrayal. I've known Ujjal Dosanjh for many years. I served on the provincial NDP executive with him, worked with him when he was an MLA and cabinet minister, and joined his NDP leadership campaign after Joy MacPhail did the same.

I have been to Dosanjh's house for meetings, advised him on strategy to gain labour support during his leadership bid, and attended the February 2000 NDP leadership convention as a Dosanjh delegate.

My experience working for and believing in Dosanjh can be mirrored in the efforts of thousands of others, from his NDP cabinet and caucus colleagues to supporters who knocked on doors for the beleaguered premier before he was defeated in his home riding of Vancouver-Kensington on May 16, 2001. So it was with profound disappointment that I learned Dosanjh would betray his principles, and for such a low price.

Low because the odds are strongly against Dosanjh even winning in Vancouver South, the federal riding where he has been undemocratically appointed as the candidate for a Liberal party currently polling at least five percent below 2000 election results.

In that 2000 federal election, the combined votes for the now-merged Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties in the riding--then called Vancouver Southí‚ ­Burnaby--would have been enough to beat incumbent Liberal MP and thení‚ ­cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal, 18,033 against 17,705.

The newly redistributed boundaries of the riding take away its blue-collar Burnaby segment and shift the borders west and north, increasing the chances of victory for Dosanjh's Conservative opponent, dentist Victor Soo Chan. And in the past, Conservative John Fraser represented the riding for 20 years.

Dosanjh's likely fate is to join the list of turncoat exí‚ ­NDP members who have succumbed to the siren call of the federal Liberal party only to go down to discredited defeat.

Former provincial cabinet minister Bill Barlee, Burnaby city councillor Lee Rankin, North Vancouver city councillor Bill Bell, and former NDP MP Lyle MacWilliam have all tried changing their political stripes and running as federal Liberal candidates. All were soundly rejected by voters.

Former NDP strategist Brad Zubyk, who was campaign manager for MLA Corky Evans's two unsuccessful bids for the provincial leadership, also crossed over to work with the federal Liberals in the 2000 election, to no great effect. Unlike the others, Zubyk returned to the provincial party, heading NDP leadership candidate Nils Jensen's 2003 campaign.

Political turncoats never have an easy time: they are despised by those friends left in the party they abandon and regarded with suspicion by their new colleagues.

Dosanjh previously turned down requests from federal NDP leader Jack Layton to run for the party, telling Layton he wasn't interested in running federally. He has disingenuously claimed in recent media interviews that in the past he would have run as a Liberal had he been inclined to be a member of Parliament, saying the NDP did not represent his federal views.

But as late as 2001, Dosanjh was making significant contributions to the federal New Democratic Party. In 2000 and 2001, Dosanjh donated $550 each year to the federal party, according to Elections Canada records.

"In my household, politics has always been a noble thing. Power per se doesn't excite me," Dosanjh told Maclean's magazine in November 1999.

What Dosanjh has now done for a shot at power is far from noble.

Let's be clear: I have friends who are federal and provincial Liberals, Conservatives, Greens, and Unity supporters, as well as those who support the NDP and who are nonaligned. We disagree on policies but we respect each other's integrity and commitment to different philosophies and political parties. What we don't respect is the opportunism that comes when people switch parties just before an election.

Public service is still a noble calling, and there are many politicians in all parties who have principles I admire. But Ujjal Dosanjh is no longer one of them.

Bill Tieleman is a political commentator Thursdays on CBC TV's Canada Now and regularly on CBC Radio One's Early Edition. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net.

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