Why? Because they would have to endure the monstrous month of March. The west coast version of the Ides of March hath 31 days and its legacy is one of resignation and rejection.
In 1991, it was the last full month in power for Social Credit Party Premier Bill Vander Zalm. The Socreds, B.C.’s free enterprise coalition, lost six by-elections, 11 cabinet ministers either quit or were fired and party members defected.
Vander Zalm came to power as Bill Bennett’s successor in 1986 as the dark-horse, outsider candidate in the famed Whistler leadership convention. By March 1991, he was under investigation by conflict of interest commissioner Ted Hughes for his role in the sale of his Fantasy Garden World in Richmond to Taiwanese billionaire Tan Yu.
Finance minister Mel Couvelier resigned in protest, proclaiming that Vander Zalm should have stepped aside while under a cloud. Vander Zalm finally quit on April 2. Deputy Premier and Transportation Minister Rita Johnston, who ran a Surrey trailer park, took over as the first female premier in Canadian history but lost the Oct. 17 election. The Socreds fell from 47 seats to seven, Mike Harcourt and the NDP took power with 51 seats and the upstart B.C. Liberals went from zero to 17, making Gordon Wilson the leader of the opposition.
Fast forward eight years to 1999. New Democratic Party Premier Glen Clark’s evening was ruined March 2 when RCMP officers (who were trailed by BCTV cameras) raided his East Vancouver house to search for clues in the North Burnaby Inn casino licence caper. Two weeks later, police searched Clark’s office in Victoria. He quit the premiership on Aug. 21 and the NDP was reduced to just two seats in the Legislature after Gordon Campbell and the Liberals won the May 16, 2001 election by a landslide.
Now Premier Christy Clark (no relation to Glen Clark) is suffering the worst month of her political career. If history is your guide, she is at a point of no return — stick a fork in her, she’s done. She will be looking for a new job immediately after the May 14, 2013 election. Maybe sooner. All because of the March from hell.
Consider the timeline for Clark’s chaotic, career-defining March of 2012:
March 2: The infamous Telus news conference with the Darren Entwistle/Adrian Dix photo opportunity. Clark was inexplicably absent from a jobs and investment announcement by the biggest private corporation in B.C. (A Liberal donor, to boot.) Two days later, the government broke its silence and claimed she wasn’t invited because of a certain unresolved issue: the B.C. Place Stadium naming rights negotiations with Telus.
March 5: School’s out. B.C. Teachers Federation stages a three-day, province-wide strike over the deadlock in contract negotiations and the government’s plan to legislate a new deal.
March 6: B.C. Supreme Court trial management conference between lawyers for Quebec’s Canam Group and France’s Freyssinet reveals grease leaks from support cables have damaged B.C. Place Stadium’s new fabric roof. It could cost up to $10 million to fix. An 85-day trial is in the works to begin October 2013.
March 7: Minister responsible Pat Bell confirms the $40 million Telus naming rights deal is dead. Bell claims the B.C. Place name is “iconic.” The government claims the deal was $35 million and wasn’t “good” for taxpayers. When that explanation doesn’t fly, it desperately claims the Telus Place signs were too big.
March 11: The Province begins a series of stories on the private college company Eminata Group, calling into question the credibility of government oversight of for-profit, post-secondary education. Eminata owner Peter Chung’s previous private colleges in California were fined $12 million for defrauding students. Chung donated $4,100 to the Liberals in 2009.
March 13: Clark’s news conference at the Washington Marine Group shipyard in North Vancouver to hype the half-anniversary of her B.C. Jobs Plan is overshadowed by reporters’ questions about the failed B.C. Place naming rights deal, despite new communications director Sara MacIntyre’s attempt to make a list of reporters and limit them to one question apiece.
March 14: Gum-chewing MacIntyre prevents reporters from asking questions of Clark at a photo opportunity in the Globe 2012 trade show, despite a media advisory that invited reporters to come and ask Clark questions.
March 15: The Ides of March! Bill 22 to end the teachers’ strike and outlaw another walkout passes, but the day is all about multiculturalism minister of state Harry Bloy’s resignation for breaching his oath of confidentiality by giving a Province newspaper reporter’s email to an Eminata executive. Bloy was the only MLA to support Clark’s leadership campaign in 2011.
March 22: Liberal MLAs Randy Hawes and Marc Dalton quoted in the Abbotsford Times after claiming $185,000 in repairs for a Mission hockey rink’s dehumidifiers came from a non-existent $30 million surplus from the B.C. Place renovation.
Clark calls April 19 by-elections in Port Moody and Chilliwack, labels popular ex-Port Moody Mayor, former supporter and new NDP candidate Joe Trasolini a “party-switcher,” and announces an audit of TransLink to find $30 million. Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom found out about the audit like the rest of us — from reporters.
March 24: Clark works a rare Saturday as she joins John Yap (multiculturalism), Rob Howard (transportation secretary) and Moira Stilwell (health secretary) for a hastily called, staged swearing-in ceremony with Lt.-Gov. Steven Point for their new junior cabinet posts.
March 26: Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen, the former Solicitor General and a five-time election winner, stood up in Question Period and dropped the biggest bombshell of the month. He quit the Liberal caucus and party to sit as an independent MLA and join the B.C. Conservatives. He cited Clark’s ties to the B.C. Rail privatization scandal and the B.C. Place naming rights deal. He also announced the hiring of a lawyer to investigate Clark over the B.C. Rail matter.
“Mr. Speaker, I had hoped that there would have been renewal in my party and in government. But, in the past 12 months, that has not happened. Indeed, every week constituents question government actions and issues that I am not able to defend. What I believe people expect from political leadership are core values that include integrity and a genuine commitment to public service.
“Integrity includes honesty, ethics and personal character. Integrity is non-negotiable. It is foundational for a strong organization. Most importantly, integrity includes accountability.
“To this day, Mr. Speaker, there are still serious unanswered questions regarding the writing-off of 6 million dollars in legal fees in the BC Rail case contrary to government policy. Questions I have been asking for a year-and-a-half, and questions the Auditor General is seeking answers to through the courts.
“Most recently, the unexplainable cancellation of a 35 million dollar naming rights agreement with Telus is another example of failed leadership.
“There have been other lapses in proper accountability and I expect more to come. When more and more decisions are being made for the wrong reasons, then you have an organization that is heading for failure.”
Clark’s whereabouts are publicly unknown.
March 27: Appearing weary and with deep bags under her eyes, Clark resurfaced for a news conference to criticize van Dongen. “The only thing John van Dongen accomplished yesterday was making it a little easier for the NDP to get elected in British Columbia.” Clark once again uses the “nothing to see here, move along” tactic, claiming a B.C. Rail public inquiry is unnecessary. (Two of the scandal’s expert observers beg to differ on the need to know all the facts about the biggest government corruption case in the province’s history.)
Meanwhile, an Angus Reid Public Opinion said her approval rating fell nine points since August 2011 to 33 percent — the second worst in the country.
Liberal defector Rick Peterson, a prominent supporter of Finance Minister Kevin Falcon’s failed 2011 leadership bid, launches his campaign for the Conservative nomination in Vancouver-Quilchena, the riding held by ex-finance minister Colin Hansen. Peterson scoffs at Clark’s claims that supporting the Conservatives will pave the way for the NDP. He says free enterprise is about competition and there should be competition for the free enterprise vote in 2013.
March 28: Liberal-friendly, Prince George academic Charles Jago appointed as mediator for the BCTF dispute at a rate of $2,000-a-day. Jago, the former president of the University of Northern B.C., called his task “mission impossible.” How’s that for optimism?
Jago has no apparent mediation experience and donated $1,000 to Liberal fundraising golf tournaments in 2007 and 2010. Jago was appointed to the boards of Partnerships B.C. and 2010 Legacies Now. The September 2007 opening of the $31 million UNBC sports centre named for him drew a who’s who of B.C. cabinet, including Premier Gordon Campbell.
Falcon and Education minister George Abbott tell reporters they might not run in the next election. The two leadership losers were gearing up for a fall 2011 campaign and, had they won seats, would be six months into a four-year term. Now they are waffling as it appears their party’s grip on power is fading. Life is a little less interesting on the opposition side of the house, not to mention the paycheque smaller.
Was Falcon’s claim that he might quit politics in 2013 to devote more time to his young family an intentional or unintentional subliminal jab at Clark, a single-mother who is struggling as premier after only a year on the job?
March 30: The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union announces that it has reached an impasse in talks with the government for a new master agreement for its 25,000 members. The contract expires March 31. A strike vote is planned for April.
Clark’s government, which previously said public sector workers would get no raises, is offering a 3 percent increase over two years, but BCGEU wants a 4 percent annual increase.
(The previous week, the BCGEU reached a deal with government that it claims will protect the 500 Liquor Distribution Branch workers when and if a private company takes over the government’s warehousing and distribution of liquor in B.C. Odd how it took a quick month from Finance minister Kevin Falcon’s announcement until the BCGEU announcement.)
March 31: The one-year countdown to the end of the Harmonized Sales Tax. The Aug. 26, 2011 referendum result effectively scuttled a fall election and forced Clark to phase-out the tax that ruined Gordon Campbell’s premiership. The mail-in referendum attracted 1.61 million ballots (compared to 1.64 million total votes cast in the previous election.) Votes to scrap the HST (881,198) exceeded the number of votes the Liberals had in the 2009 election (751,661). Consumers and businesspeople alike have criticized Clark for her reluctance to phase-out the cash cow HST sooner.
In early March, Clark publicly repudiated the Telus naming rights deal for B.C. Place that would have eased the burden on taxpayers for the budgeted $563 million renovation. She ended the month in West Kelowna for the Hockey Night in Canada announcement of the $100,000 2012 Kraft Hockeyville winner.
Yes, the same Premier who declined the $35 million to $40 million deal because it wasn’t “good for taxpayers” got involved in the cheese, crackers and snacks company’s nationwide marketing promotion in the hopes that it would help renovate a public hockey rink.
Alas, the result was errantly leaked by Kraft to media outlets early Saturday morning. Stirling-Rowdon, Ontario beat West Kelowna by 1.2 million votes and will also get to host a National Hockey League exhibition game as a prize. West Kelowna got a $25,000 consolation prize to spruce up its rink.
Unlike the rest of her problems in March, there is no evidence that Clark is to blame. Just another case of bad luck and bad optics.
News and views on Vancouver 2010 (and beyond) from Bob Mackin.