Each week during the campaign, we will be talking to one former B.C. premier about the current provincial campaign and why it matters. This week: former Social Credit premier Bill Vander Zalm (1986-1991)
What makes the election of 2013 important in your view?
People for a good part throughout the province have lost confidence and trust in their government and that’s a good reason to have an election. It happens from time to time. It happened to Social Credit back in 1991. It happened to the NDP in 2001. It’s now happening to the Liberals. [The Liberals] did it to themselves – we always do it to ourselves. Politicians always, one way or another, do it to themselves. It became much more an open thing with the HST. People were able to freely debate, critique and the rest of it. So many were involved. That’s never happened before.
What are the big key issues of this election?
The key underlying issue in this whole election – and I think the NDP has picked up on that – is transparency, trust, confidence, democracy and all of those sort of soft issues. The economy will be an issue – not that great an issue because, you know what, some people here are undoubtedly suffering in the economy of today, but compared to elsewhere in the world, we’re still doing not so bad.
What’s the best advice you ever received on getting through an election campaign?
Maybe it’s the same advice I’d give the B.C. Liberals today. Basically, be contrite. Admit to many mistakes, misjudgments, neglect and the will of the people. People are generally kind and forgiving and I think that’s the only hope the Liberals have. If, after Christy Clark was chosen leader, she had come out and said, ‘We have listened to the people. We have heard what you said. Things are going to change. It won’t be the same after this. We’re cancelling the HST as of today.’ – Whoa! That would have been big news. The immediate impact would have been such that they could have been re-elected with a bigger majority.
People aren’t quick to give advice to a premier. Even all the handlers, the people who come with you and are about you, are often reluctant to give advice because they look up to the person and say, ‘Who am I to give advice?’ – even though perhaps it would be extremely helpful and a good thing. There are times when I should have taken it and didn’t.
What do you say to those that don’t vote?
I find it hard to believe that, in this day and age, there are many issues people don’t know enough about to go out and vote. There is so much information – it’s an information world today, so I find that kind of hard to take seriously. I think most people don’t go out to vote because they don’t know who it is they want to vote for simply because they don’t think their particular choice is on the ballot. And there’s a lot of people who don’t vote because they say, ‘The people that I would vote for aren’t going to get elected, so what’s the difference?’ And I am saying, it all makes a difference. Go out and vote.
As a former premier who has left active politics, what do you do during elections? Is it easy to sit on the sidelines? Do you look at it a different way?
For me, because I am still fairly high profile and because I’ve always been forthright about various issues, I tend to create controversy – which I think is healthy, but a lot of people might not agree. For me, it’s better to stay away from an election. I don’t think I can help a political party because the people that are with me might be there anyway. And the people that are much opposed to me will use that to hurt the others. So I stay away from the election. I don’t know what others do. I don’t belong to a political party. I am not active in politics and I think, as respect to the political parties in the running, that’s the better thing to do.
This interview has been edited and condensed.