VICTORIA – You’ve got to hand it to Premier Glen Clark, he’s a consummate politician who knows how to push all the right buttons.
First he does a little fed-bashing and puts the mighty United States in their place over the salmon war; then he draws the battle lines in the war in the woods and tells the Greenpeacers where to go and what to do there.
Next he takes aim at bad drivers to save us all from skyrocketing insurance rates and finally, he goes after the tobacco industry with a vengeance. What a guy.
On the surface, the fervor with which the premier throws himself into these frays makes him look like a knight in shining armor. And I suppose, he is, in a way, since he’s unquestionably defending the interests of British Columbian.
Alas, there are ulterior motives, and the spin doctors have been burning the midnight oil to make our premier look like Sir Gallahad, riding into battle.
You see, the premier’s image was a little tarnished by the balanced-budget fibs he told before the election. And his battle cries of protecting health care and education had begun to ring a little tedious. Clearly, some new, big-ticket, non-partisan issues were needed to polish his image a bit.
Along comes the Ugly American and stumbles right into the parlor of the premier’s spin doctors, who lose no time making political hey with the Yankee’s refusal to bargain in good faith over salmon allocation.
I’m sure Prime Minister Jean Chretien winced when Clark to the Americans they would have to get the hell out of the missile-testing range on Vancouver Island, but hey, the folks in British Columbia loved it.
Greenpeace and its shock troops also couldn’t have come at a better time. Clark was poised to announce his much-awaited Timber and Jobs Accord that is to create 21,000 new jobs in the forestry sector, and, by Jove, no eco terrorists were going to keep him from being the big job creator.
Wisely, the premier decided to ditch his no-fault auto insurance scheme, but he seized the opportunity to announce a crack-down, probably the 30th or so in the last 25 years, on bad drivers.
Fortunately, for Clark, his two-year moratorium on ICBC rates runs out soon, so he was able to warn of possible rate hikes without being accused of breaking another promise.
The ambush on the tobacco industry was one welcomed by roughly two-thirds of voters, the ones who don’t smoke, not a bad return on investment. But of all the image-polishing schemes, this one is a bit without substance.
To start with the government issued only a "challenge" to the industry to start paying for the damage its product does to the lungs and hearts of British Columbians. Legislation that would provide the basis for legal action against the tobacco industry is to be passed in this session, but we’re years away from launching an actual law suit.
Amidst all this commotion, John Shields, chief of the B.C. Government Employees Union, did the premier a big favor by publicly attacking him over employee cutbacks. He put the icing on Clark’s cake when he said his union would send the NDP government packing, unless the premier mended his ways.
Right, John, you’re going to publicly support the Liberals in the next election. And pigs will learn to fly.
All in all, it’s been a couple of months for our premier. The budget fiasco has been all but forgotten; the Liberals have been ineffective in the legislature, turning Question Period into a mine field for themselves rather than the government; and the media have dutifully given over their pages and air time to all the positive stuff.
I just thought that before you start feeling warm all over and pat Glenny on the back for being such a regular guy, you should now that aside from being on the right side of the issues he picked to make his stand, he can’t help but benefit politically.