Typically, outgoing leaders of political parties have the decency and good sense to remain neutral in party leadership contests that determine who will be their successor.
In fact, I can’t think of any outgoing leader in recent B.C. or Canadian political history who was so bereft of good judgement and so insensitive to the expectations of their office that they opted to endorse a leadership candidate in the hope of skewing the vote to that end.
Let me qualify that.
Both former federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and former Social Credit leader Rita Johnson actually ran for their jobs while also serving as their party’s interim leader. The latter did it while also doubling as B.C.’s premier—the last Socred premier in history.
Both were disasters. In each case, their parties paid the price at the ballot box.
Yet, those anomalies aside, the unwritten rule is that interim/outgoing leaders should not try to sway their own party’s decision on who should replace them by choosing a favourite candidate and thereby indirectly campaigning against the other contestants in the race.
It is an unseemly abuse of that position and authority to try to prejudice the scrimmage in favour of one preferred winner, while also holding the titular dual role of team coach and contest referee.
Adrian Dix, Dawn Black, Gordon Campbell, Ujjal Dosanjh, Dan Miller, Fred Gingell, Mike Harcourt, Dave Barrett, Bill Bennett—all of them remained scrupulously independent, far as I can recall.
Even Christy Clark rightly saw fit to bow out of her job without trying to anoint an heir apparent, as did Carole James, Glen Clark, and Bill Vander Zalm.
Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair, Bob Rae, Stéphane Dion, Bill Graham, Paul Martin, Jean Chretien, Kim Campbell, Brian Mulroney—the list goes on and on. They all stayed out of the leadership frays that elected their immediate replacements.
Across Canada, interim/outgoing party leaders have almost always remained neutral in such campaigns, for good reason.
They understood that as the head of their parties, it was important not to compromise the process by any action that might unduly influence the outcome.
They understood that real renewal must come from the members, from the ground up, without intrusion or interference from the top down.
They understood that any attempt by them to tilt the contest in favour of any successor would be widely interpreted as browbeating, if not as a form of bullying. And if nothing else, that might ultimately serve to hurt more than help their preferred candidate and their party.
They understood that any such intervention would only make it harder, not easier, for the new leader to unify and renew their party, regardless of who prevailed.
Apparently, interim B.C. Liberal leader Rich Coleman didn’t get the memo.
The co-chair of his party’s disastrous election campaign and Christy Clark’s former top cabinet cheerleader obviously doesn’t believe much in neutrality.
Nor does he apparently trust his own party’s members to make their own decisions on who should succeed him without the “benefit” of his decidedly biased “guidance”.
As we now know, courtesy of the Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason, Coleman has now thrown his considerable weight behind Mike de Jong, endorsing him as his preferred new party leader.
“He deserves a shot,” Coleman says of de Jong.
Suddenly, I feel icky.
I, too, have suggested that after Todd Stone, de Jong is probably the party’s best bet, in light of its urgent strategic needs, its available leadership choices, and his unique skills, knowledge, and experience as an elected legislator.
Whether or not that is the case, is beside the point here.
Coleman’s duty demanded better of him, in the interests of fairness, propriety, party unity, and the perceived legitimacy of the process and its winner.
As Mason explained, “Many thought Mr. Coleman would refrain from endorsing anyone, maintaining a Swiss-like neutrality as interim leader. A few of the candidates sought his public backing, only to be told he wasn't endorsing anyone—at the moment.”
Michael Lee, Todd Stone, Sam Sullivan, Dianne Watts, and Andrew Wilkinson were all blindsided by the “long-time, respected party stalwart” who “holds almost legendary status among established party members”, as Mason gushingly described the Liberals’ bystander-in-chief.
How the worm turns.
The guy who slammed former caucus colleague Darryl Plecas for his “betrayal” in agreeing to serve as speaker has now effectively stabbed five B.C. Liberal leadership candidates in the back.
And whether he knows it or not, Coleman has also unwittingly stabbed de Jong’s campaign in the heart, as I shall explain.
To add irony to injury, Coleman let his dagger fly from Cuba, of all places.
Where else would one expect such an avowed arch antisocialist to vacation, a man who not so long ago derided the NDP for its “socialist-communist thinking”?
Socialism works just fine for a cheap holiday haven, I reckon.
As ever, Coleman’s moral compass points south, to the sunny beaches of indulgence that happily lie along their darker jungles of social indifference. Authoritarianism at home and abroad has its advantages.
Be that as it may, the headline in Mason’s column contends that “Coleman’s backing of de Jong could turn [the] tide in [the] BC Liberal race”.
Really? Is that to say it is currently running against de Jong? I doubt it, but perhaps Coleman was getting nervous about who else might win, comfortable as he obviously is with de Jong’s old-school approach to politics and governing.
In another column, Mason seems to suggest he believes the little known dark-horse candidate, Michael Lee may have the most momentum.
No doubt he has signed up lots of new members, mostly in Metro Vancouver, and notably including from the Asian community. That is a welcome development for a party that has struggled to connect with B.C.’s various ethnic communities through its “quick wins” strategies.
But as I have previously explained, the Liberals’ leadership process accords the same voting power to all 87 ridings, regardless of their disparate membership sizes.
I sure wouldn’t bet on Michael Lee outdrawing the other candidates in the vast majority of those constituencies, especially those beyond Hope. Although he is working hard right now to get out there and make his pitch directly to members in the hinterlands.
Still, Liberals need to keep in mind how columnists like Mason get their information. He has always been well-informed by Christy Clark’s ex-husband and political fixer, Mark Marissen, who is now plying his renowned skills for Lee.
Stephen Carter has also long been a great source for Mason and others. He is running de Jong’s campaign, fresh from his failed efforts in 2016 on behalf of Sandra Jensen’s initial bid to lead Alberta’s provincial Progressive Conservatives.
Exactly what or who drove Mason to connect with Coleman while beaching himself in Cuba is anyone’s guess. I’m sure it had nothing to do with Carter.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but notice Carter’s jibe in a recent Tyee story that indirectly chided Todd Stone for not rejecting a social media firm, AggregateIQ, which was hired to help with his campaign.
That company is now subject to a broader investigation by the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner in B.C. It pertains to the handling of personal information collected during the 2016 Brexit vote.
The de Jong campaign wouldn’t hire the online company, citing a “moral lens”. Or as Carter put it, “I just felt like we didn’t want to be treading in those waters. The moral side is where we tend to spend a lot of time thinking about where we want to be.”
Ah, righhht. Unless, I suppose, that extends to the morality of showcasing endorsements from sitting leaders who are blind to the damage they do by taking sides in leadership contests over which they indirectly preside as the party’s gatekeeper and neutral common leader.
For the most part, the B.C. Liberal candidates’ attacks on one another have been either muted or nonexistent in this leadership campaign.
If Carter’s artfully framed barb is the best that de Jong’s campaign can hurl at Stone, he has nothing to worry about. It is a petty shot that should in no way hurt Stone, given that the company in question has been involved with the B.C. Liberal party since Carter’s own initial involvement with the party under Clark and Coleman’s watch, in 2013.
Like Carter so famously advised the party faithful back then, one should not vest too much importance in anything that pollsters, pundits, or political scientists say, as "the holy trinity of people who don't know what they're talking about".
To the extent that is true, it is often largely due to the spinners and bullshit artists who lead those pundits to write and report the world as they would have them see it, rather than how it is.
What should be now clear to all Liberals is that their party and Mike de Jong’s campaign especially have been compromised by Coleman’s “Cuban dagger”.
Likely no one was more surprised and chagrined by it than Coleman’s good friend, Patrick Kinsella, or his widely favoured stalking horse, Dianne Watts.
Kinsella had probably hoped that his “old buddy” would quietly support Watts’s bid to steal victory from the jaws of the defeat that her anemic campaign has so far surprisingly invited.
As the candidate liaison chair for the Socreds’ 1991 leadership contest, I saw how it was stacked in Rita Johnson’s favour. That was due in no small measure to the role that Kinsella played on her behalf, first urging her to use her privileged status as interim leader and premier to run for the party leadership, and then helping to engineer her short-lived victory.
No such luck for Kinsella’s pet horse in the race this time round. What goes around, comes around, I guess.
Loyalty has its limits, as Surrey’s Queen Conservative and the other five Liberal leadership contestants are all now discovering.
Coleman’s avowedly conservative heart is now beating for a guy who in my firsthand experience was probably the last person I’d ever imagine him supporting as party leader—de Jong.
To say that the two of them were not exactly bosom buddies or ideological birds of a feather in the Campbell era is an understatement.
But as the song goes, what’s love got to do with it?
The one thing they undeniably share in common is their responsibility for failing to counter the growing problem of money laundering in B.C. that NDP Attorney General David Eby has so scathingly documented. His speech should be required reading for all Liberals.
Coleman’s endorsement of de Jong also brings new well-deserved attention to that bungled file. Both of them will have to answer for their roles in failing to properly police money laundering activities, as former ministers responsible for gaming, finance, housing, and law enforcement.
It is yet another reason why Coleman should have stayed neutral in the leadership race, rather than begging the question: what about the mutual history of those two battle-scarred warriors? A question that neither Coleman nor de Jong should want anyone to reopen.
It is on that point that Coleman’s endorsement inadvertently stabs de Jong’s central campaign pitch in the heart.
In a new video, the latter outlines his vision to renew the B.C. Liberal party.
“When British Columbians think of a political party that is run from the ground up instead of from the top down, I want them to think of the B.C. Liberal party first.
“When [they] think of a political party that’s truly open and transparent and reveals to each member in a detailed way how much money has been raised and how that money has been spent, I want them to think of the B.C. Liberal party first.
“And when people think of a political party that actually allows local members, local constituencies to select the people that represent that party in the next election, I want them to think of the B.C. Liberal party first.”
Right on, Mike. Good stuff.
So how is he demonstrating his commitment to those tenets? Let me count the ways—not.
First, by posting and gratefully accepting the endorsement of an interim leader who is all about top-down politics. Whether as a minister, as Christy Clark’s deputy premier, as her failed campaign cochair, or as a person who has chosen to use his bully pulpit to tell the grassroots members how to vote—Coleman is the antithesis of de Jong’s “vision for renewal”.
Second, by welcoming the endorsement of an interim leader who was a key architect, player, and apologist for the B.C. Liberals’ secretive, shoddy, and shady campaign finance practices that so contributed to the party’s royal boot from government.
And third, by happily embracing the endorsement of an interim leader who thinks it is better to use his privileged status to advise local members who they should select as their leader, rather than to let them decide on their own.
Talk about irony.
It was the awful experience that Coleman inflicted on the local Liberal members of Abbotsford South, and on Moe Gill and de Jong specifically, that was likely the primary inspiration for the latter’s espoused passion for the independence of local constituencies.
Again, we can thank Gary Mason for so clearly documenting that sordid episode in B.C. Liberal history, when Coleman intervened to overrule the local members who wanted Moe Gill as their candidate for the 2013 election.
De Jong had helped Gill for two years in his effort to win that nomination, all for naught. It was one of the most heavy-handed, atrocious examples of contempt for local democracy in recent memory.
Who did Coleman install in Gill’s place?
No other than Darryl Plecas—the one and same man he now disavows as a traitor of the first order, for having had the temerity to change his mind and serve as speaker, in the interests of stable government.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Truth is, Coleman’s “Cuban dagger” leaves a gaping hole in de Jong’s supposed commitment to all three of those values for “renewal” he articulates in his video.
If I were de Jong, the last person I would want to profile in championing bottom-up politics, transparent government and transparent fundraising, and grassroots decision-making is Rich Coleman.
It screams of hypocrisy, as it should serve to warn all Liberals that if Coleman gets his way, de Jong’s leadership suggests business as usual.
Bottom line is, all members should be outraged at Coleman’s endorsement for how it compromises both his office and the integrity of the leadership process for all six contestants.
All Liberals should be newly wary of how serious de Jong really is about his core commitments to change the top-down, highly secretive, and too often autocratic party that Coleman did more than most to define.
They should be wary of how all those priorities for change are compromised by the poster child for the status quo, whose own conduct has inadvertently done so much to highlight the myriad ways in which the B.C. Liberal party has institutionally failed its own members.
Todd Stone, Andrew Wilkinson, Dianne Watts, Sam Sullivan, and Michael Lee will all be understandably reluctant to directly slam Coleman’s inappropriate endorsement of Mike de Jong.
But the supporters of those campaigns should be burning mad.
They should be more resolved than ever to elect someone who will actually act to ensure that what Coleman has done with his endorsement will never happen again in any future leadership contest.
All of the candidates should commit to amend the party’s constitution to expressly forbid any sitting leader from running in, or actively supporting any candidate in future leadership races.
That should be a slam-dunk.
If the candidates were serious about newly empowering the party rank and file, they would also commit to holding an annual online leadership review, to give all members at least a yearly vote on the leader’s performance and on their confidence in that individual.
They would commit to doing away with the convoluted process that only takes place every two years at annual general meetings.
Real change would mean newly empowering caucus members as well.
Why not commit to allowing them to elect who should represent them all in critics’ roles, in opposition?
Why not also canvass all party members on that question through an online process?
Hell, if the Liberals can elect their leader through the Internet, they should be able to hold their leader and their elected MLAs directly accountable through online votes and surveys.
And while they are at it, all of the candidates should vow to pass the third plank of what I suggest they might label the entire initiative, the “Coleman correction”.
They should pledge to amend the Liberal party constitution to specifically prevent the leader, or his or her henchmen or surrogates, from dictating who will represent any riding as its candidate.
Over to you, Watts, Stone, Wilkinson, Lee, Sullivan, and de Jong.
The January 23 leadership debate in Vancouver is fast approaching.
In the meantime, all members would do well to send Coleman a note to kindly stuff it.
They should remind him of the importance of independence and tell him in no uncertain terms how disappointed they are in his betrayal of that obligation, which has done no one or their party any favours.