COLUMN: Hogg has tough job ahead

Surrey-White Rock MLA named caucus chair

S

urrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg is the new chair of the BC Liberal caucus, a position that some may liken to that of an officer on the ill-fated Titanic.

The times are not good for the BC Liberals. There is a great deal of unhappiness with the governing party, which is definitely showing its age. It is now in its 11th year of power.

Hogg reportedly won the caucus chair position with the support of about two-thirds of the caucus members, and it has been reported that he won against the wishes of Premier Christy Clark, who wanted Vancouver MLA Margaret MacDiarmid in the position.

Hogg has been a longtime MLA, first going to Victoria after winning a byelection in 1997, when Liberal MLA Wilf Hurd stepped down to run federally. At one time, he was Gordon Campbell’s roommate, and was an early member of his cabinet. He resigned in 2004 as minister of children and families, when an independent audit was called into a branch of his ministry. As such, he did so on a matter of principle, and no one who knows him doubts that he is a principled individual.

He was later reappointed to cabinet as minister in charge of ActNow BC and minister of state for mining, but has not served in cabinet since 2009.

While he has mostly kept his opinions on the state of BC Liberal affairs out of the public realm, it is no secret that he has not been happy with some of the government’s moves since it won the 2009 election. The BC Liberals went from projecting an aura of managerial competence to a bumbling, half-baked response to the introduction of the HST. The government announced that the HST was a fait accompli in July 2009, two months after an election in which the subject barely came up.

BC Liberal caucus members were told that the tax was going ahead, after cabinet decided to go in that direction. The result has been two years of political turmoil and upheaval which cost Campbell his job, and also took down NDP leader Carole James. She resigned after some members of her party felt she was not capitalizing on the Liberal woes.

Hogg, who served 20 years on White Rock council with 10 of those years as mayor, has the ability to ease tensions among individuals, a strength he showed repeatedly as mayor. This may be needed in the caucus room, particularly if the HST referendum results in a defeat of the tax.

If that happens, the BC Liberals do not appear to have a Plan B. Thus far, Premier Clark has not shown the ability to pull the Liberals out of the political quicksand.

They do have one advantage. There are many people who are not ready to vote NDP, given the party’s dismal handling of many aspects of the economy in the 1990s. New NDP leader Adrian Dix was at former premier Glen Clark’s side during much of that time, and that won’t make it easy for the NDP to campaign on economic issues.

However, the BC Conservatives are more lively than they have been in decades. Even if the Conservatives pick up just five per cent of the vote, and don’t elect any candidates, there is a very good chance the NDP will win as a result of vote splitting.

Clark, Hogg and others on the bridge know that – and so does Dix, who has the margins of victory in each B.C. riding in 2009 memorized.

Hogg will have plenty of work to do to keep caucus members ready to unreservedly back the government. Thus far, one of the BC Liberals’ greatest strengths has been the backing from caucus, despite all the missteps the cabinet has taken. Even the two caucus members who left in the turmoil over the HST and Campbell’s leadership, Blair Lekstrom and Bill Bennett, are back in the fold.

If Hogg can assist Clark in keeping caucus united, and if a united caucus is able to show B.C. residents that the BC Liberals remain a viable option, he will have more than met the expectations of those who voted for him as caucus chair – and many of those who have backed him in four straight elections in Surrey-White Rock.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

 

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