Freedom of information and the B.C. NDP's political capital

The erosion of goodwill can occur through stupid, petty, and mean-spirited decisions

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      People don't often think of political parties as having a "capital account".

      But the reality is that when all new governments are elected, they enjoy a great deal of support from their supporters.

      People who vote for the winning party want it to succeed in tackling the challenges unmet by the previous regime.

      But over time, the winning party's goodwill erodes as decisions are made that disappoint those who voted it into power.

      Eventually, there's so little goodwill left—so little "political capital" in the tank—that the party is eventually defeated.

      In recent decades, the shelf life of a federal government in Canada has been around 10 years. 

      Brian Mulroney's Conservative government depleted its political capital in nine, suffering a historic defeat at the hands of Jean Chrétien's Liberals.

      Chrétien lasted 10 years as prime minister before he was replaced by Paul Martin, who won a minority government the following year.

      Two years later, Stephen Harper's Conservatives won a minority and remained in power for nine years.

      At the local level, Vision Vancouver spent its political capital in 10 years, failing to elect anyone to council or park board in 2018.

      Others last longer. The B.C. Liberals remained in power for 16 years. Derek Corrigan was mayor of Burnaby for the same length of time.

      Right now, the B.C. NDP might feel that it's riding high after its historic victory in 2020. But various decisions by the government are depleting its goodwill.

      There are the bigger ones, like downplaying the airborne nature of COVID-19, in order to placate the business community and keep schools open.

      The NDP government has also subsidized the expansion of the fossil-fuel sector in the face of overwhelming evidence of its harm to the well-being of the world.

      But then there are the smaller decisions, which also erode a party's political capital, like imposing a $10 fee on freedom-of-information requests.

      Someone in the NDP government actually believed that this is a good idea. Either that, or this person simply wanted to punish journalist Bob Mackin for filing so many requests.

      Regardless, the amount raised by this measure won't even cover the cost of administrating it, according to the watchdog group Democracy Watch.

      It's a really stupid, petty, and mean-spirited policy.

      It not only turns certain segments of the media, including student journalists, against the party in power, it also makes the NDP look pretty damn foolish when it comes to managing government finances.

      Opposition parties are going to have a whole lot of fun with this in the next election campaign.

      Decisions like this show how easy for politicians to forget about the importance of political capital in their day-to-day running of the government. But sooner or later, it will catch up to them.

      Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But as those who ran for the Conservatives in 1993 or for Vision Vancouver in 2018 can tell you, the bell eventually tolls for thee (to paraphrase the poet John Donne).