It’s much easier to enact change if you actually stay in government, says Rob Shaw.
The much-anticipated race to become B.C.’s next premier ended with a whimper this week, after one front-runner, Ravi Kahlon, bowed out of the contest and threw his support behind the other front-runner, David Eby — creating, in the process, one unstoppable candidate for BC NDP leader.
It all seemed a little anticlimactic.
Where were the weeks of wild campaigning across the province?
Where were the grandiose promises from different candidates about how they’d shape the future of the province?
Where were the fiery debates, where colleagues criticized each other’s records, exposing rarely-seen rifts in the party’s otherwise united facade?
The prospects for such a race now appear almost non-existent. What’s more likely to occur is a coronation for Eby later this fall.
For the public, this may be disappointing.
But for the BC NDP, it’s the best outcome the party could have hoped for.
The NDP caucus was evenly divided between Eby and Kahlon. Their race would have split friends, allies and the cabinet, as two front-bench heavyweights duked it out for the leadership over the next five months.
Averted scandal, tempers, murmured wrong-doings
Inevitably, as has occurred in every leadership race for every party in B.C. in the last 20 years, someone would have accused the other of nefarious membership signups and financial irregularities. Tempers would have flared. And the final result on voting night would have been under a cloud, with murmurs and whispers of illegitimate ballots swirling around the new premier.
The resulting hard feelings would be carried within the party for years (if you want to know how long New Democrats hold a grudge, ask some of the veteran ministers about the 1969 leadership race between Thomas Berger and Dave Barrett and then be prepared to listen for half an hour).
For a New Democratic Party in the rare position of holding government, it’s better to skip all that drama and line up behind one candidate.
Not that all of this was necessarily Kahlon’s impetus for stepping out of contention. He spoke instead about family pressures, and not wanting to leave his wife and 11-year-old son alone frequently to satisfy the demanding job of premier.
Kahlon takes one for the team
There’s no reason to question Kahlon’ s sincerity in choosing not to run. But he didn’t have to endorse Eby at the same time as he dropped out. That was an act of sacrifice for his party, to try and bring the caucus together under one person, even if it wasn’t him.
They don’t build statues for guys who play quietly-important roles in politics like Kahlon — but they are nonetheless absolutely crucial to success in what is actually a team sport.
In bypassing a raucous race, the BC NDP will also give little quarter to the BC Liberals, who were salivating at the thought of having cabinet ministers and MLAs disagree publicly in major areas like climate policy, affordability, housing and health care.
Those little cracks in the armour of the BC NDP would have been immediately turned into election campaign wedge issues. Worse, they would have shown the public that not every New Democrat MLA agreed with the decisions their own government made, calling into question whether there was larger dissent inside the NDP on the major policies and promises it was presenting to voters.
True, a robust leadership race would have allowed for more policy debate. But veteran New Democrats will be the first to tell you that some people within the party prefer debating policy to actually winning elections. It’s much easier to enact change if you actually stay in government.
The result, then, of this neutered BC NDP leadership race is a blessing-in-disguise for New Democrats.
They exchanged a discordant contest for a dignified transition of power.
As a result, the party remains united.
And in a far stronger position to win the next election.
Hot yoga with Dave and Rob: read Rob Shaw’s 2019 profile of the Attorney General for the Vancouver Sun.