VICTORIA – If the pace of legal action against the NDP continues unabated, Premier Glen Clark and some of his cabinet ministers may spend more time in court than in the legislature.
The ink has hardly dried on the subpoenas dropped unceremoniously on the premier and four cabinet ministers by Cariboo ranchers Paulette Ernst and Bob Hart over a seven-year fight with the Forest Service, when the NDP finds itself confronted with a new legal battle – this one threatening the entire government.
To hear the premier tell it, he can hardly wait to fight Kelowna printing shop owner and anti-NDP crusader David Stockell in court. Well, there’s no accounting for how some people get their kicks. I wouldn’t bee too keen to see Stockell in court.
Stockell is the guy who felt that he was had by the NDP’s election promise of a balanced budget. He’s pretty sure the premier knew very well that he couldn’t deliver a balanced budget, so he lied to the public to get the NDP elected for a second term
But rather than just complain about it, Stockell took his beef to court, asking that the election be declared illegal because the NDP’s victory was based on fraudulent claims.
I must admit that when Stockell started his crusade, I was tempted to dismiss him as a crank, wasting the time of the court time and taxpayers’ money. Was I wrong.
Last week, Stockell won the opening round when B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bryan Williams turned down a government bid to throw his law suit out of court. Stockell can now continue to apply for a class-action suit aimed at the 39 elected NDP MLAs.
Lawyers representing NDP Speaker Dale Lovick and the other 38 NDP MLAs tried to get the case tossed out on grounds that Stockell’s claim was frivolous, but the judge didn’t see it that way.
"Courts generally are most reluctant to strike out a petition or statement of claim at an early stage unless it can be clearly demonstrated that there is no chance of success at all," Williams said in his decision.
I don’t want to put words in the judge’s mouth, but the way I read the decision, the judge is saying, in so many words, that Stockell has at least a chance to make his case in court.
But even if at the end of the day, Stockell doesn’t win, the case is "a wake-up call" for all politicians, according to Victoria University political science professor Norman Ruff. This case, Ruff says, has national implications. I couldn’t agree more.
There is a lot of anger among voters that politicians tend to make promises they have no intention of keeping, be that a promise by the premier of a balanced budget or by the Jean Chretien to get rid of the hated GST.
The public demands more honesty in politicians. They have had it with being hoodwinked every three or four years into electing a government that will break its campaign promises with impunity.
There’s no doubt that a lot of people voted for the NDP on the premise that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As long as the NDP could prove to voters that it was capable of not only implementing its agenda but looking after the public purse, they felt the party deserved another term.
When it turned out that a flood of reports and correspondence from staff of a number of ministries had warned the government that its predictions of a balanced budget was on the shakiest of grounds, people got understandably upset. And Stockell was one of them.
Stockell may not succeed in bringing down the government, but even so, he will have performed an admirable public service.
If nothing else, this case will have put politicians on notice that the public no longer tolerates double-speak and lies from its political leaders.