Monday, November 08, 2010

How are we supposed to start to miss you, if you don't leave the building?

  “But what he’s asking them to do is stay on the Titanic and keep rowing,” -- Bob Plecas, one time advisor to Premier Gordon Campbell, outlining for the Globe and Mail  the potential damage to the party from the Premier's decision to stay on the job until a leadership convention takes place.

Premier Campbell's surprise resignation announcement of last week elicited the usual bit of reminiscing  of his time in public life, assessing the victories and the losses, looking back at the favourable reviews and the not quite so fond remembrances of his time at the top of the political heap in BC

However with Mr. Campbell seemingly not ready to actually leave the building until the Liberals select a replacement, the prospect of a lame duck Premier and stagnant government agenda is leaving many (including some Liberals) a little anxious and suggesting that perhaps when you say you're leaving, you should actually leave the building.

Depending on the urgency that Liberal organizers have, Mr. Campbell could very well be leading the government side of the house until the spring, providing for perhaps six months of unfocused government, while the Liberals battle each other for the chance to lead the party and the government in the post Campbell years.

As we mentioned on the blog last week, in most cases of a change in leadership a party would select an interim leader (usually someone with no fire in the belly to lead on a full time basis) to act as a caretaker of the government's duties, while those with the ambitions to lead take to the hustings to gain their support.

However, the Premier it seems would rather hang around the Legislature in his role as the Province's First Minister,  going through the motions if you will, though in the end not really accountable to the provinces voters.

For Liberals as well, the idea of the Premier (unpopular as he's become) holding onto the reins of power should be of concern if for no other reason than he'll be continuing to set a Legislative agenda (such as it may be) for a party and government that then will have to accept the responsibility of that agenda.

Still to come in the short term will be budget deliberations, with the outgoing Premier still seemingly setting the fiscal course of government and then leaving his caucus to implement those decisions once he finally packs up the boxes as he leaves the building.

If you're a hopeful candidate looking to lead the party in a new direction, it's rather hard to run on an agenda of change, if you're still sitting around the table with the guy that had delivered the current level of anger at your party and government direction.

It's bad enough (considering the recent public opinion polls) that the majority of those within the current cabinet roster will have to defend their records of the last three elections as part of Mr. Campbell's team.

But, short of resigning from his cabinet to concentrate on their leadership campaigns, those that remain in cabinet will have to be held accountable for the events to follow in the next six months as they follow along with the outgoing Premier's path of semi-retired governance.

It was a theme that was reviewed by Vaughn Palmer of the Vancouver Sun, who keenly observes that those that are the closest to the Premier are suffering the lowest of reviews as possible replacements, while those that have distanced themselves from the Premier's policies are seemingly the more acceptable of choices to lead the party into the next election.

By keeping to his desk and continuing to run the party and government, even as he saddles up to ride off into the sunset, the Premier is clearly not doing any favours for those that have stood by him over the last ten years.

Michael Smyth of the Province offered up some thoughts on why the Premier has chosen to stay the course of leadership until the replacement is up and running, and for Smyth it would seem that legacy and pension opportunities are at the top of his review of the Campbell decision.

Smyth outlines that according to the Canadian Tax Payers Federation, the Premier stands to gain a sizeable pension boost should he still be in office on May 31st, the 10th anniversary of his leader of the government.

At that point he will have secured a place in the history books of the province as the fourth longest serving Premier in the province, something to talk about in the eventual political memoir to come.

That quest for political legacy may in the end cause more trouble for those that follow, indicative of how his leadership style has at times been tone deaf as to what is best for his party and how few are willing to take him on and offer resistance to damaging initiatives.

Over the weekend, the Globe and Mail examined the discussion within the Liberal party of the Premier's intentions, suggesting that by his actions the party itself could find itself in serious disarray by the time they select someone to lead them out of the current implosion of support.

Any current cabinet minister with hopeful ambitions of leadership is surely aware that the longer the lame duck feeling around Victoria lingers, the harder it will be to be the face of renewal to those that make their decisions at convention in the spring.

While he may wish to stay his course, the Premier may find that there is going to be a growing resistance to the idea that he can continue to lead the government.

The mixed messages that will surely come to pass from his decision may prove to divisive for the party's good, not to mention leaving the task of governing of the province to be left behind, amidst all of the political infighting behind those cabinet doors.

The calls for an interim leader may yet grow louder as Liberals begin to realize that they have more to lose with the Premier hanging on to his office, than if they install a kindly caretaker in his place to weather the fall and winter political storms to come.

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