BC Politics with Hubert Beyer

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VICTORIA -- I should really thank Premier Vander Zalm for attributing such great importance to the role of the media, although the context in which he talked about the proverbial power of the press was less than flattering.

The media, the premier said recently, constitute one of the major obstacles to ethical government today.

"Leadership today is following the polls, the editorial writers, the columnists, the headline designers and those who rewrite the news stories into sensational messages," he said.

"The role and the power of the media are enormous. The media can make or break a politician, a government or a nation."

Wow, I didn't know I could do all that. But then, neither did Bill Bennett, Vander Zalm's predecessor. When I once ended a chat with him by saying I had to run along because there was a government to destroy, Bennett said, "Hubert, you couldn't destroy the town council of Spuzzum if you tried."

Now that's enough to make any self-respecting political columnist feel inadequate. Compare that to the inspiring words of our current premier who thinks I'm a destroyer of politicians, governments, nations.

The sentiments expressed by the premier are vintage Vander Zalm. He never had and probably never will have the slightest inkling of what makes a parliamentary democracy tick.

The quotes above are part of a video tape that has been distributed to churches throughout British Columbia. The tape features a speech the premier held some time ago at a conference of Christian businessmen and leaders in Vancouver.

The conference was organized by the B.C. branch of Campus Crusade for Christ, a U.S.-based evangelical organization. The organization decided to distribute copies of the tape to churches.

Other parts of the speech are also very reminiscent of the Bill Vander Zalm we have all come to know and marvel at. Take his explanation of his government's sagging popularity. Even Jesus Christ, he says, would be low in the polls at this stage of the game.

The major reason for public dissatisfaction with the Socreds, he says, is to be found in the fact that his government is following "pure Christian principles."

And again, it's the blasted media that are at the root of all his troubles. The media, he says, were really gunning for him when he made public his stand on abortion.

The premier leaves little doubt that the he expects the government to follow his own moral standards. "A code of ethics based on the teachings of God in the Bible will not only guide us to a better world, but provide all of the answers to each and every question," he says.

British Columbia lost a great preacher when it chose Vander Zalm as premier. Trouble is he hasn't quite managed the transition. He still thinks he's a preacher. And he still confuses individual responsibility with that of a government.

If each member of his cabinet and every last Socred backbencher decides to be guided by pure Christian ethics, that's great. If the premier instructs his cabinet and backbench to kindly follow pure Christian ethics, as interpreted by himself, that's not so great.

Vander Zalm says he doesn't believe that the imposition of Christian ethics on government and the people will offend minority groups. I beg to differ. Ask the Jews, ask the Hindus, ask the followers of Islam. Ask them if they want Christian ethics imposed on them.

Inadvertently or otherwise, the premier seems to believe that there are only two choices ©© Christian ethics or moral decay. Well, it just isn't so. What's wrong with a government guided by the dictates of common decency and respect for human dignity? A government following those two principles shouldn't have too much difficulty earning the public's respect without compromising any other ethics, Christian or otherwise.

For all his professed and, I'm sure, deeply-held beliefs in pure Christian ethics, the premier commits the cardinal sin of vanity.

He cannot conceive of being wrong. He comes dangerously close to believing himself to be infallible. When things go awry, it's always someone else's fault.

His government's lack of public support, he says, is the fault of the media and their preoccupation with destroying him. He's also saying that Christian principles are the only ones worth following and implementing. That, too, is vanity. Christianity holds no monopoly on ethics and principles, and neither does the premier.

Read my lips: people want you to act like a premier, not like a preacher.

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