A Brief History of BC Politics: 1952-2012

This started out as an actual brief history of politics in the province since 1952 but after getting as far as the mid-60’s I realized that ground has already been well trod, people can just go read it on Wikipedia if they are interested, and the people I’d be posting it on Reddit to sway are so set in their beliefs that no amount of facts is likely to influence them.

I mean, if you feel that BC from 1991-2001 under the NDP was “Literally Hell” or “A 3rd world country by any measure” or “A Socialist Nightmare” then pointing out that the NDP managed to end their tenure with a $1.7B surplus and navigate the province softly through a global recession won’t do much good, will it? You just can’t reason with that kind of rhetoric.

As I worked on the draft, what really struck me is that BC is a province positively steeped in backstabbing and double-dealing in politics. Lying on the soapbox as voters head to the polls and introducing bills that you repeal on a whim has been the state of the game here as far back as 1953 when WAC Bennet used the newly introduced instant-runoff voting system to ensure that Social Credit gained an absolute majority and then immediately returned the province to first-past-the-post.

Not that Social Credit turned out all bad, mind you. While WAC Bennett essentially ran the province as a dictator thanks to his dual role as Premier and Minister of Finance, he instituted such a flurry of nationalizations, infrastructure projects, and fiscal reforms that the results are still lingering today. BC Hydro and BC Ferries, arguably two of the most critical pieces of infrastructure in the province, were nationalized during this period as was BC Gas. The Columbia River Treaty was signed, and along with it came the cascade of generating stations from Revelstoke to the US border: projects which provided employment for thousands during the economic downturn of the 70’s. BC Rail was drastically expanded and served communities from the Yukon to Vancouver.

Then, of course, Social Credit collapsed and reformed as the BC Liberal party which saw fit to sell off the vast majority of what WAC built to private interests. Leaving BC Ferries wallowing in a semi-public mire of debt and BC Hydro a 65% privatized shell of its former self, saddled with revenue crushing mandated run-of-river contracts.

Not that the NDP should be left out of the equation either. Their single term in the 1970’s ended in shame after a party member lifted charity funds and re-directed them to party coffers. It was hoped that they would learn from this mistake, but clearly not as scandal strikes again in 1997 over back door dealings for casino licenses. Despite the nearly 20 year difference between these events, major players were still around for both leading to legitimate anger.

Many people would include the FastCat Ferries in that list of missteps, but I have always felt that is particularly petty even for political pundits. The ferries cost less than $500M to construct, a pittance compared to the money poured down the drain by the Liberals on projects like the BC Place roof replacement, and rather than going into private pockets that money went back into the BC economy. The FastCats were not some odious “private-public partnership”, they were a desperate attempt to prop up a major BC industry at a time when our economy was flagging due to a global recession and a trade dispute with the US which was strangling our primary industry: forestry.

Thus, as we head into what will be the most important election the province has seen in over a decade, now more than ever we need to reflect on the history of BC politics and pondering how our current parties fit into the paradigm. You can’t really understand the nature of the present without a firm grasp on the past, after all.

My opinion? The BC Liberals have been very blunt about their purpose over the past 12 years: They’ll lie, cheat, steal and pander any way they can to ensure that private interests have the upper hand in BC, while ensuring the ground is well and truly salted for anyone who doesn’t have the balls of a SoCred to re-nationalize the province. Meanwhile the NDP have been running a campaign that is far too good to be true, and promising to do away with corporate and union donations holds as much water as the multiple balanced budget bills they passed and revoked in the 1990’s. They saw fit to keep Carol James on as party leader for 7 years despite her clear incompetence as a leader, and then elected a man who voluntarily quit politics after forging a document for the premier.

Not the clearest choice, eh?

5 thoughts on “A Brief History of BC Politics: 1952-2012

  1. derp Reply

    My comments offered in good faith:

    Would the 90’s BCNDP legacy be much better had they not sought out big budget government projects like the ferries? Is it even a good idea for government to pick favour and attempt to prop up an industry?

    Is the nationalization under the Socreds essentially a flavour of…..national socialism? :3

    “to ensure that private interests have the upper hand in BC” — Is there room amongst BC voters for a province where the private sector operates equitably under a cronyism-free free-market environment without being subjected to the often antagonizing stance of unions?

    1. Ryan Reply

      These are all really good questions, and something voters in BC have been struggling to come to terms with for decades.
      To start with the easy one:
      Social Credit was in no way a socialist party. They nationalized Hydro only to ensure it couldn’t interfere with the Columbia River Treaty, BC Ferries because Black Ball Lines were doing a stunningly shitty job at a time when remote coastal communities were economically critical, and the SoCreds were above all staunchly anti-union and pro free-enterprise. The fact that their programs were immensely beneficial were just a nice side effect of WAC Bennett being utterly iron fisted and taking the stance that if you didn’t do it right, he would. Personally.

      I feel that the Fast Ferries were the straw that broke the camels back, yes. You had a party that, while they didn’t make any egregious mistakes on the level of some things the Liberals have done since 2001, was just tremendously poor at managing their PR during a time of huge socioeconomic upheaval in BC. However, I’m still of the opinion that keeping BC shipbuilding on lifesupport would have paid us dividends in the long run as we would have been able to replace our aging fleet and maintain it here for a fraction of what the newest vessels have cost us.

      Finally, I really do hope that we can see a province such as you have described. A fully nationalized socialist system would not at all represent the optimal future for BC, but our current system of state-sponsored cartels and private interest cronyism is going to end up in the same place unless something changes.

  2. Kent Reply

    Probably also worth noting that the Ferries were redone AGAIN by the BC Liberals, it cost, what, 690 million? Carried few meaningful advantages (more seats, less room) and were built in Europe, meaning that that money went out of the country.

  3. Blake Reply

    “They’ll lie, cheat, steal and pander any way they can to ensure that private interests have the upper hand in
    BC, while ensuring the ground is well and truly salted for anyone who doesn’t have the balls of a SoCred to re-nationalize the province.”

    Great way of putting it. I’ve always thought that the results of this upcoming election are going to be bad no matter who we get as a result of the “scorched earth” tactics by the BC Liberals. Whether people agree with the programs of WAC Bennett or not, he forged a great legacy for this province for years to come afterwards. There hasn’t been a single premier since who we can look back on and admire for the positive effects that echoed from their tenure in office. Since then, it’s all been scandal after scandal after scandal.

    Rather than having all this pie throwing, I wish we could see some real solutions on how we plan to increase the income of this province beyond pipe dreams (get it?) of using oil and natural gas to fund our way out of debt oblivion. Selling the projects instead of the product to foreign nationals is not a good way to secure a legacy. WAC Bennett knew that province-held companies are the only secure way to protect future generations with jobs and a means of fighting down growing debt margins.

  4. Ryan Reply

    I might do some separate articles on each party since there’s a lot of material to work with, or a look back at the really early politics of the 20th century which was pretty insane on its own. Depends where I find the motivation.

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