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A three horse race in B.C.?

Following last week's column on the possible outcomes of provincial-party leadership races, a blogger wrote asking, "Why can't we have a different party to vote for?" Good question.

Following last week's column on the possible outcomes of provincial-party leadership races, a blogger wrote asking, "Why can't we have a different party to vote for?" Good question. The simple answer - from the hard-nosed perspective of modern-day politics - only the Liberals and the NDP have the money and the members to run a successful provincial campaign in the spring of 2013.

However in B.C. that doesn't totally rule out a third-party resurgence. In 1991, Liberal leader Gordon Wilson energized the campaign as a contender to the Socreds and New Democrats and picked up 17 seats to form the official opposition. Following the 1991 election - and to put it kindly - Wilson had problems with the stress of high office and by 1993 Gordon Campbell was elected leader of the Liberal Party.

After a succession of NDP premiers, the fast ferry problem and other NDP-induced misadventures, Gordon Campbell became premier in 2001. He won 77 of the then 79 seats in the B.C. legislature. For a variety of reasons though, and in nine short years, Campbell has squandered the Liberal's 2001, 77-seat win and put the party in a tailspin.

That's the background. But let's get back to the blogger's question about a different party running in the next election. By definition, that implies a new party, new personalities and new strategies. Accordingly, in the lead up to a 2013 general election, what does a B.C. political party have to put on the table to capture our imagination?

What policies will ring true to jaded and suspicious voters? The bottom line, could a new political party bring genuinely better ideas to our next provincial election? And like Gordon Wilson in 1991, is there an energized personality out there with the skills and charm to undo the current two-party lock on B.C. politics?

Let's begin with tax policy. It's no secret the Liberal's poorly handled introduction of the Harmonized Sales Tax has been a political fiasco of monumental proportions. That said, governments still need tax revenue to provide services and the Liberals will stay with the HST. Consumption taxes are their thing.

The NDP is promising to scrap the HST, we think. In a curious press release dated July 19, NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston says the federal and provincial governments should get on the phone with each other and scrap this tax before the July 1 start date.

This time-machine tax policy of the New Democrats also begs the question; if you scrap the HST, what taxes do you introduce to pay back the $1.6 billion advanced by the feds?

More importantly, could a new B.C. political party and leader capitalize on the HST issue with an alternative and more acceptable tax?

Moving to the environment, an emerging and serious issue for all British Columbians is the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Given the terribly disturbing images of the British Petroleum Gulf of Mexico drilling accident, compounded by an Enbridge pipeline break in Michigan which spilled three million litres of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River, concern for the construction of a Northern B.C. pipeline is growing.

The Liberals support the pipeline, while the NDP is skirting the real question saying Carole James' New Democrats will fight for an environmental plan that respects communities, creates green jobs, offers families positive choices and commits to concrete action to protect species at risk. That's warm and cuddly stuff, but it sure leaves a lot of room for a new political party to say it would halt the pipeline if elected.

These two policy examples alone point to vulnerabilities in the policies of both the Liberals and the NDP. In the supercharged environment of the 2013 election, and believe me it will be supercharged, a whole slew of new and exciting issues could emerge.

As to the right person, running for either the Liberals, the New Democrats or a new political entry, that's anyone's guess. The exciting aspect of B.C. politics is its ability to swing. To last week's blogger, the policy opportunities for a new party are there. It's not unheard of in B.C. politics for a newcomer to shake things up and who knows, at the end of the day, fresh faces and ideas might be just what we need.

*** *** ***

Jay Hill: A class exit.

Prince George-Peace River MP Jay Hill is stepping down after 17 years in office. Hill leaves with kind words from the opposition and the national press. He's also leaving on his terms; without question the best way to go.

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