Does a government that is clearly unpopular with a majority of its constituents have the moral authority to sign a 10-year contract just as its mandate is about to expire?
That's a question worth asking in regards to the B.C. Liberal government's controversial plan to sell off the Liquor Distribution Branch.
If the plan proceeds, the government says it intends to sign a contract with a private company next March, with the next election set to occur shortly afterwards in May.
Privatizing the LDB is not a small-time venture. Liquor is a multi-billion dollar business in this province, and the distribution system has been publicly-owned for more than a century.
Hundreds of employees work at the LDB, and the tax revenues from liquor sales flowing to government are significant (although I must note even if the LDB is privatized, the government will probably still collect about the same amount of revenue, perhaps even more). So selling the distribution service (the LDB warehouses, land and inventory are not on the table) is a big deal. And it's even a bigger deal when it is etched into a legal contract that extends through the life of at least two more government terms.
There is no question the party holding power in this province right now is deeply unpopular. Poll after poll by reputable pollsters such as Ipsos Reid and Angus Reid show the B.C. Liberals to be rejected by roughly threequarters of the decided voters.
And so I think it's legitimate to ask whether it's right for such a political party to essentially tie the hands of future governments (who presumably have much more support than they do now) for a decade, on such an important public policy issue.
I raised this question on CKNW's Cutting Edge of the Ledge segment on last week's Bill Good Show. That drew a sharp response from former attorney-general Geoff Plante, who wrote one of his "plant rants" on his blog (www.theplantrant. blogspot.ca), strongly disagreeing with me.
Of course, I had gone a bit far on the radio and suggested the B.C. Liberals didn't really have the moral authority to "do much of anything." Such is the hazard of live commentaries on radio and television.
Plant (who I like and admire by the way) equated that with me suggesting the government lacked authority to fight forest fires or run the health care system, which of course is not at all what I am talking about.
But questioning a government's potential decision to sign a 10-year-contract in the dying days of its mandate, particularly if it is still mired in the depths of unpopularity, is perfectly valid.
Further clouding this issue is the way the government has proceeded on this file. It has been criticized for having no business plan and of being secretive about the entire process.
Then throw in the fact that a prominent political operative associated with the B.C. Liberals was helping the perceived front-running company in the bidding process, and the case for signing such a contract becomes even weaker.
Now, a case may well be made for privatizing the liquor distribution business. In fact, a person with detailed knowledge of how such a change would work made a persuasive case to me that things might actually be more efficient (and less costly) if a private company stepped in.
But given the mess the current government finds itself in, it's reasonable to argue any decision on the LDB's future should be left to the next administration to make.
CLARK STILL ON PIPELINE FENCE
I see Premier Christy Clark has finally waded into the Enbridge pipeline debate, but so far she's only knee-deep.
She, along with pretty well everyone else, took a shot at the company in the wake of that scathing report by the U.S. National Transportation Board's report on Enbridge's scandalous behaviour during its Kalamazoo River oil spill two years ago.
But as public opinion against Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline seems to grow in this province, the premier is still sitting on the fence on whether she supports it or opposes it.
The project seems doomed. There are rumbles in Ottawa that even members of the federal Conservative caucus may be losing their enthusiasm for it.
The premier might want to move fast and end up on the right side of a public she'll soon be asking for a renewed mandate. Her chief opponent, Adrian Dix, is already there.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca
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