Martini: shaken not stirred

 why Bill deserves another chance  

In Delta, a geographic area just south of Vancouver BC, an important provincial by-election took place December 7, 1999. The previous MLA, a strong leader named Fred Gingell who served the community well for many years, passed away as a result of cancer. Two primary candidates are seeking the position. One is a person with very little political background. The other, though experienced in politics, was a controversial figure indeed.

This article ran a couple months prior to the by-election.

When I talk to people about Bill Vander Zalm, I'm sometimes met with snorts of derision and attitudes of contempt. But when I ask those same people what exactly he did that they dislike, they struggle for an answer. Many of them don't even know; they seem to dislike him only because the media made them think they should.

Now, everyone in BC knows Vander Zalm isn't perfect. But I believe we need to cut him some slack and look at this whole issue with level heads.

First, let's consider what happened in those topsy-turvy days when he fell from grace. As premier of this province in the late 1980's, Vander Zalm attracted media attention like a magnet the size of Fantasy Gardens. That's because he was never afraid of telling it like it is. Not your typical politician, he didn't dance around the issues waiting for the polls to tell him what the safest answer would be. He stood for something. You could agree or disagree, but you always knew where he stood. Of course, controversy sells newspapers, so he received plenty of media attention. Eventually he made an error in judgment and used the prestige and influence of his political office to help sell a piece of property--a decision made because of endless media pressure to get rid of the property.

Just how serious was this error? Was it really as bad as popular opinion would suggest? Conflict of Interest Commissioner Ted Hughes only said that there was a "perception" of conflict; he never charged Vander Zalm with conflict of interest. And Vander Zalm's record as a leader stands for itself. He put this province in order. He balanced the books. He made the economy strong.

I believe that Bill Vander Zalm deserves a second chance at politics.

Here's why.

The NDP has destroyed the province of British Columbia. From the start they lied about almost everything. They lied about a balanced budget. They lied about cutting government spending. They lied about bingo profits. They lied about slot machines and photo radar. They lied about fast ferries. And they lied about Clark's relationship with casino owners. They repeatedly cheated the taxpayers of this province. From BingoGate to FerryGate to CasinoGate, everything they did was self-serving, economically destructive, and secretive. Their arrogant leadership thrust BC into spiralling provincial debt that may take generations to fix. Their war on success and business in this province has destroyed a once-thriving economy.

As we go forward, we need strong leaders who know what to do to fix this mess and who can communicate those steps effectively. Of the two choices in Delta as this by-election approaches, only Bill Vander Zalm represents a strong voice and proven ability to make tough choices that will help fix our broken province.

Val Roddick cannot speak up against her party. I'm sure she would try her best, but in the end she'd find herself unable to do much more than speak for a Gordon Campbell Liberal party that has shown little political will to make hard decisions. The Liberals will not stand up to the federal Liberals and they often don't even stand up to the NDP. Even as the by-election has unfolded thus far, we see a Val Roddick who has failed to take a stand on anything. Either she has nothing to say or her party has already muzzled her. You decide which. We need a voice in Victoria that stands up for the needs of Delta and expresses them with strength, conviction, and influence.

Secondly, only Bill Vander Zalm will have enough clout with the media to draw attention to important issues. Clout? Am I serious? Yes, because in their revitalized interest to discredit the man, the media will actually work for him and for Delta. His status as their punching bag will put Delta's needs and issues before the entire province.

Finally, Bill Vander Zalm has very little to lose. Val Roddick, like most neophyte politicians, is unlikely to make waves, afraid of losing the position she has just earned.

You may feel strongly about his past mistake. But no matter how much you hate the man, ask yourself how much damage he can really do. After all, we're talking about one riding. There's a risk that he'll give excess attention to issues that have little to do with Delta. But in the end I feel that Delta will be served better by Bill than by someone with little or no impact. From what I've seen already, I believe he'll actually push hard for a number of positive changes to our democratic structure. I'm in favor of things like fixed election dates, free votes and citizen initiatives. Would the other candidate work as hard for such changes? It's your call.

What I do know for sure is that we need to bring hope and prosperity back to BC. One MLA won't accomplish that, but this one can accomplish much more on his own than most others can as a group.

Note: After this editorial appeared, the Liberals launched an aggressive campaign attempting to portray Bill Vander Zalm as someone who destroyed the BC economy and plunged the province into debt. This is simply untrue. When Vander Zalm took over as premier in 1986, he inherited a deficit of $1 billion. Just two years later the province was operating in the black. In 1989 and 1990 the province showed a budget surplus. By 1990 the debt had been reduced by almost $300 million, the first and only time in BC's history that debt was reduced. During this time sales tax was reduced. Personal income tax was reduced. And the income tax surcharge on business was eliminated. Regardless of what you think about him as a person, the public records show that Bill Vander Zalm was economically the most efficient premier since WAC Bennett's reign back in the 1960's.


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