“Politicians should not go on and on.”
— Former British prime minister Harold Wilson (1916-95)
So, the latest Angus Reid poll finds Premier Kathy Dunderdale still at the back of the pack when it comes to the popularity of premiers in the country, with only 24 per cent of respondents approving of her performance. Imagine if the poll had been done during #DarkNL.
It’s been astounding to watch the freefall, particularly when I remember the Kathy Dunderdale I interviewed back in the summer of 2011 for a series on women in politics, when she exuded optimism and confidence — or, as the Progressive Conservatives referred to it, “new energy.”
I had truly hoped she would excel as the province’s first female premier.
Instead, she has made a series of missteps.
The latest? Her no-show at the beginning of the recent power outage.
Her greatest? Not having the foresight to step aside and let someone else try to turn the Progressive Conservatives’ fortunes around now that she’s polling so low.
Because frankly, at this point, the only people she’s doing any favours are members of the opposition parties, who stand to gain the ground her party’s losing while she’s at the helm.
Well, the Liberals anyway — the NDP is still nursing its self-inflicted foot injury.
But Dunderdale has repeatedly insisted she’ll stick it out as premier till the general election in 2015.
The premier contends she has the full confidence of her Tory caucus, but she’s got to be asking herself the question: how long will that loyalty last?
Sure, there are a bunch of Progressive Conservative MHAs who aren’t running again and so have nothing to lose by staying aboard the leaky Ship Dunderdale, but there are others who stand to go down with the boat in less than two years’ time.
What can they do? Well, it turns out they have one more option than they might think. I was reading an article the other day from the Dec. 5, 2013 edition of the Vancouver Sun. Written by political affairs columnist Vaughn Palmer, it’s headlined, “Politicians have power to oust unpopular leader,” and it’s a fascinating account of the plan the Social Credit party had at the ready to pry B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm from office back in 1991.
As it turned out, Vander Zalm ended up quitting after he was found to have broken conflict rules, but Palmer’s article is an interesting look back at what the party had been ready to do.
“Many Socreds figured as long as he remained leader, the party was doomed to defeat in an election that had to be called within six months,” he writes of Vander Zalm. “They also feared he might try to call an early election and take them down with him. But the Socreds had a prerogative of their own, one rarely exercised, but no less integral to the system for all that.”
As Palmer explains, what the caucus was planning was to withdraw their majority support for the premier, make a motion of non-confidence and throw their support behind another member.
Such a move would require the intervention of the lieutenant-governor, who would essentially have to fire the premier.
(Interestingly, then B.C. Lt.-Gov. David Lam says he would have been willing to do just that.)
The process is a little more complicated than that, but you get the gist.
The Socreds’ caucus chair had the wherewithal to collect the documentation outlining the process and it is now in the provincial archives in B.C. — a sort of “how-to-fire-the-premier kit,” Palmer calls it.
In this province, Tory caucus chair Clayton Forsey, the MHA for Exploits, might want to consider his party’s possibilities. Either that, or hope that sinking feeling passes before the next election. Because if Dunderdale won’t step aside, she will likely sink that ship.
As Palmer points out: “The power is already there in our system for a party caucus to oust a prime minister or a premier. All it takes is the will to use it.”
In other words, where there is a will, there usually is a way.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.