Maclean’s columnist, David Moscrop, wrote today (June 23, 2017) about BC Premier Christy Clark’s shallow grasp at retaining power. Below, in reverse order, are my response and Moscrop’s opinion piece that prompted me.
A Pathetic Throne Speech is Not a Dangerous One
“Insidious and dangerous” is a bit much. I do agree on some basis with the article – my own first thought after hearing Clark’s platform announcement was “OK, why even have parties”?
But, obviously, among that 40% of voters are some very upset conservatives. They’ll see that Clark gets turfed as leader, and that will be a measure of accountability for her pathetic desperation-move. She can’t change horses mid-stream without upsetting plenty of Liberals so, no, nothing insidious or dangerous in her move. Moscrop puts it best, himself, near his closing: “…she imagines a world…”
Exactly. In Clark’s imagination, this shameless attempt actually had a chance, which is the only explanation for her attempting it – all the more reason to pity her, cast her aside, and move on. Politics and cynicism are sure to find new heroes anyway. Meanwhile, sixteen years of Clark has been far more than plenty. This move underscores her character, and the one thing long-serving professional politicians need is a dose of humility.
If any government move is insidious (although not necessarily dangerous, as compared to the potential for impasse after impasse), it’s Trudeau’s non-partisan Senate. Plenty has been written about that, even this week. Or how about the ‘Access To Information’ revisions revealed this week that actually expand exemptions and make access to information more difficult?
Incidentally, there’s nothing, repeat, nothing Machiavellian going on with Clark, for a couple reasons: (i) Machiavelli was advising Medici, who wasn’t known for his embrace of representative democracy, and (ii) when implemented shrewdly under the right circumstances, Machiavelli’s advice works. Please don’t insult Machiavelli’s intelligence and insight by lifting Clark to any such achievement. Machiavelli would be pitying her bald-faced panic and laughing – not rolling – in his grave. As for Sophocles, he at least had Antigone kill herself. Then again, Antigone had integrity.
I also agree that Clark’s move reflects the broader political extremism that Moscrop mentions. Seems a bit of poetic justice, then, given how much Clark referred to the US President and his looming presence during her campaign, that she’s fallen victim to similarly extreme behaviour and its consequences. She can’t be impeached, but she can be discarded.
One final point: the NDP-Greens are absolutely not “in the rather awkward position of having to vote against their own ideas” – not at all. What they’re voting against is Clark’s trustworthiness and credibility. Thanks to Clark, they’re able to vote “no confidence” with not only honesty but accuracy. It can only be described as one of the utterly truthful moments politics has ever known.
The foul cynicism of Christy Clark’s speech from the throne
Why the doomed B.C. Liberals’ Throne Speech—gruesomely stitched together from the platforms of the party’s rivals—was insidious and dangerous
June 23, 2017
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, left, and NDP leader John Horgan, right, look on as B.C. Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon gives the Speech from the Throne in Victoria, Thursday, June 22, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
There’s an old joke, often attributed to Groucho Marx, that I spent the better part of Thursday thinking about after British Columbia’s premier, Christy Clark, presented her doomed government’s speech from the throne. The comedian is said to have quipped: “These are my principles. And if you don’t like them, I have others.” To be honest, I’d be laughing more right now if the line wasn’t so prescient and insightful as an explanatory tool for understanding politics in the province right now.
In Clark’s speech, read by B.C.’s Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon, the premier made 30 pledges that were absent from her Liberal Party’s platform of just weeks ago, including more than a dozen lifted from the platforms of the likely-to-govern-soon New Democrats and their Green Party backers. After opposing proposals (presumably as recently as a week ago) such as a referendum on electoral reform, a ban on corporate and union donations to political parties, increases in funding for daycare, social assistance, and disability, scrapping the requirement for a referendum on new transit funding sources, and getting rid of tolls on the Port Mann Bridge, Clark and her Liberals hastily came to embrace them—and others, too.
Friends, I think I’m starting to become rather cynical towards politics.
The Liberals have spun their remarkable about-face as “listening to the voters.” I call shenanigans. The party received about 40 per cent of the popular vote in the 2017 election—down about 4 per cent from their 2013 result—and dropped from 49 seats to 43. These numbers raise the question: just who is the party listening to? Were they not listening to them in 2013? Or is it different voters they’re listening to now? Which ones? Perhaps voters in swing ridings? Or in presumably safe ridings where they lost by a slim margin? I suppose what the premier means is that she’s listening to some new voters, if those folks happen to live where it counts.
Clark’s dramatic conversion to an NDP/Green-light version of her party seems rather like an overcorrection given the modest shift in support between 2013 and 2017. Indeed, if I can be ever-so-cynical for another moment, it seems like the premier is desperately trying to cling to power by selling out her party and its supporters by offering a de facto “renewed” policy platform that stands in stark contrast to the last several years of the B.C. Liberal government and the still-warm corpse of the party’s election platform. No, I think Clark’s volte-face has nothing to do with “listening”—instead, it looks to be the most cynical ploy to maintain (or soon regain) power that I’ve seen in politics in Canada. I mean, who knew that when you mix orange and green you’d get B.C. Liberal blue?
I seem naive, don’t I? How is this any more cynical than politics-as-usual in late-modern liberal democracies? Perhaps Clark’s speech is no different in type when compared to other political ploys, but it’s certainly more extreme in degree. Honestly: The premier lost an election just weeks ago. Her party has been in power for 16 years. She has been premier for six years. And staring down defeat, what does she do? She “borrows” policies from the parties poised to defeat her days from now, abandons years of party commitments, and spins her reversal as “listening to voters,” as if she’d just now discovered the practice of consulting the electorate whom she is meant to serve. And all this after declaring that NDP leader John Horgan is a flip-flopper who isn’t to be trusted and labeling him “Say Anything John.”
Cynicism aside: will the gambit work for Clark? I don’t think so. It’s unlikely that any New Democrat or Green member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) will break ranks and support the premier. Why would they? Once the Liberal government falls, they’ll get their shot at governing, short-lived as it may be; even if an NDP MLA were tempted to trade their shot at governing for a more stable legislature and some of their policies, their supporters wouldn’t soon forget the betrayal. And for the Greens, they’ve just made a deal to support the NDP, so it would be tricky from them to try to wiggle their way out of it so soon. On top of it all, of course, who can trust Clark and her Liberals now? No: the NDP and the Greens will, as expected, defeat the Clark government next week on a confidence motion and John Horgan will become premier of British Columbia.
Nonetheless, the Throne Speech does put the two opposition parties in the rather awkward position of having to vote against their own ideas. Yes, NDP leader John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver must instruct their caucuses to defeat their own agenda—for the moment—so that it can be reborn and pursued under the aegis of the NDP-Green supply and confidence agreement. It’s a moment worthy of Sophocles. If Sophocles were a total hack.
As shrewd as this move may seem to Clark, who will surely use the “Nay” votes of NDP and Green MLAs as fodder for her election argument—“See, I tried to work with these guys! I even copied their platforms!”—the Premier may end up hoisted with her own petard. What happens when the NDP and Greens re-introduce these policies in the months to come (after all, the policies are their ideas) and Clark as Leader of the Opposition is faced with either supporting the government or voting against pledges she’s just recently made in her own Throne Speech? Perhaps she’ll be able to find some minor concerns to use as a pretext to oppose the NDP-Green iteration of the policy, but by then we’ll be way, way down the rabbit hole.
Whatever happens in the days, weeks, and months to come, though, one of the most insidious threats embedded in Clark’s cynical Throne Speech is a deeply disturbing conception of politics. Premier Clark has, in effect, tried to reduce politics to mere management and power; by raiding the NDP and Green platforms with abandon, by taking policy ideas that happen to be popular now, and by arguing that she is just borrowing the best bits from each party, she has indicated that deep and persistent ideological differences, which are reflective of real differences that one should expect and even celebrate in a pluralist democracy, are trivial concerns when power is at stake. Clark has stitched together a Frankenstein’s monster that she claims she’s best suited to command. What could go wrong? After all, everything turns out okay in Frankenstein, right?
The Premier’s vision of politics presented in the Throne Speech is post-political; she’s imagining a world where parties are mere brokers of the public will of the moment, interchangeable except for their respective management expertise, and the only questions relevant to politics is how to gain and keep power, alongside some technical questions about how to implement whichever policies happen to be fashionable at the time. Clark’s approach to politics is dangerous, not only because it’s hopelessly and shamelessly cynical, but also because it’s disrespectful and unhelpful to voters who rely on parties as aggregators of ideas that lead to policies they like. Reducing politics to mere whims of the moment, technocratic management concerns, and Machiavellian power struggles undermines parties and productive partisanship as helpful touchstones for voters while also pretending that there aren’t very real and very persistent disagreements in our society that cannot be reduced to technical questions of “how” and “by whom,” rather than “what” or “why.”
British Columbians will survive this frustrating and embarrassing chapter in the history of our politics. Citizens are not fools, and our system of government remains, as ever, plenty sound—if not quite as inclusive and participatory as it might be. Indeed, I believe Clark’s cynical gambit will fail, and we’ll all move on.
And yet, we shouldn’t forget what happened with this speech from the throne. That speech represents the worst of a short-sighted, desperate, and cynical kind of politics. In the future, leaders ought to hold it up as an example of what we should all strive to avoid in civic life. If we can do that, perhaps some good will come from this sad mess.