VICTORIA – Maybe Liberal leader Gordon Campbell won’t have to go looking for a new job yet.
The Liberal victory in Monday’s Surrey-White Rock byelection wasn’t nearly as stunning as in the last general election, but Gordon Hogg’s showing was very respectable and may silence the critics of Campbell’s leadership for the time being.
The information I am basing this piece was the count at about 10 p.m. At that time, Hogg was leading his Reform Party opponent, David Secord, by a comfortable two-to-one margin.
The general consensus of political junkies and scientists was that this byelection would make or break Campbell. As University of Victoria political scientist Norman Ruff put it, if the Liberals just squeak in, "the lights will dim for Campbell." If the Liberals lose, "his lights go out."
Well, the lights may flicker a little, but with a bit of political acumen, which Campbell has unfortunately been in short supply of, he should be able to cement his position as leader of the Liberal Party.
Not knowing the final count at the time of writing, I can’t make an exact comparison of the results to those of the 1996 general election, except to say that Wilf Hurd beat his NDP opponent by a massive 10,000-vote margin and the third-place Reformer by 15,000 votes.
And while Monday’s results are nowhere near as impressive, they probably will enable Campbell to nip any challenge to his leadership in the bud.
Criticism of Campbell’s leadership was becoming very vociferous, after the Liberals turned in a pitiful performance in the last legislative session. Instead of dominating the agenda and going after a stumbling government, the Liberals emerged from the session as the clear losers.
Campbell rejected the idea that the byelection would be a test of his leadership abilities, but his own candidate knew better, admitting that voters had repeatedly raised the question of Campbell’s inability to mount a strong opposition to the NDP.
In part, the Liberal victory was due to its near-perfect candidate. Hogg He’s the son of a pioneer White Rock family. He was mayor for years and is well known and like in the community.
The only thing that might have hurt him was the fact that he was the tip corrections official when Danny Perrault walked away from a minimum security prison in 1993 and, while on the loose, savagely beat and raped a Surrey woman.
For the Reform Party of B.C., the outcome was disappointing. Its fortunes also were tied very closely to this byelection.
The Reformers just elected a new leader, and a victory in this byelection would have put the party on the political map. The support was there. In several polls, the then leaderless Reform Party, with has only two seats in the legislature, had outscored the Liberals.
A victory would have sent a message to voters that Reform is a viable right-wing alternative to the NDP. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
Wild Hanni, the new leader, should perhaps now take one of those famous walks in the woods and contemplate his and his party’s future.
He hasn’t got a seat in the legislature and most likely won’t have chance to get one before the next general election. Byelections don’t happen that often.
And if he leads Reform into the next fray, the best he can accomplish is to split the right-wing vote once again.
My advice to Hanni is ask Premier Clark if he should throw his lot in with the Liberals. If Clark says no, do it.