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rod mickleburgh

After a relatively long hiatus of rare normalcy, politics on the way-out West Coast have drifted back into their familiar roost in the twilight zone.

It's not every province - none, in fact - that can boast two major political parties shedding their leaders at the same time.

Anarchists of the world, unite and come to beautiful British Columbia. This leadership-free province is yours for the taking.

Despite 17 years as head of the B.C. Liberal Party, and more than nine years as premier, Gordon Campbell had become so unpopular that not even a 15-per-cent tax cut made a whit of difference. So he's toast, along with his tax cut.

Now, barely a month later, the Premier's long-time foe, Carole James, who led the NDP from the political wilderness to within striking distance of government, is joining him on the sidelines.

Even for B.C., the rapid pace of dramatic developments at the highest level of both parties has been breathtaking.

In just a few weeks, we've had former cabinet minister Bill Bennett's over-the-top denunciation of Mr. Campbell ("I had to wipe the Premier's spittle off my face"), veteran New Democrat MLA Jenny Kwan's meticulous public knifing of her leader (et tu, Jenny), and finally, the sudden evaporation of Ms. James's defiant, "line in the sand" challenge to the party's Baker's Dozen of rebellious MLAs.

It's been one big gasp after another, even without the absurd, recent ruling of acting chief electoral officer Craig James, who tossed out a recall application because it was too wordy. MLA and HST are actually eight words, not two, according to Mr. James. (Stop sniggering, Ontario.)

So, much to the delight of political pundits, travel agents, balloon blowers, button makers, backroom schemers, tweeters and other social media geeks, B.C. will now have not one, but two, leadership campaigns going on at the same time.

In the meantime, there is the bizarre, edifying spectacle of the NDP. It's not every party that can force out a leader backed by 84 per cent of its provincial council and a majority of caucus, while ahead in public-opinion polls.

Yet that's the pyrrhic victory achieved by the 13 dissident MLAs, angrily dismissed just a few days ago by one of Ms. James's supporters as "the C team … operating in an alternate political universe."

Ms. James did the honourable thing by stepping down.

There was no budging the determination of the Baker's Dozen, despite their minority status within caucus, to be rid of her. As long as they were willing to be turfed from caucus en masse, there was not much solace for Ms. James to head a shrunken group of MLAs, with an almost certain drubbing at the polls to follow.

Her resignation gives the NDP its only hope, however slim, of somehow convincing British Columbians that this is a party ready to govern (I thought I told you to stop sniggering, Ontario.)

Already, the pro-James gang is sheathing its verbal six-guns and trying to face the future without alienating the wild bunch of victorious rebels within their caucus.

Tellingly, Mike Farnworth, NDP House Leader and a strong backer of Ms. James, sputtered with anger about her decision to quit, but would not tell reporters at whom he was angry.

With this kind of backdrop, however, no matter who wins the Liberal leadership, or the NDP race, for that matter, it would seem foolish to bet more than a plugged nickel on the chances of the New Democrats winning in the next election.

Yet one never says never in this volatile political province, where the unexpected is commonplace. Who knows? Maybe Leonard Krog will turn into Mahatma Gandhi or John Horgan into Tommy Douglas. Hope is a powerful thing.

Editor's Note: The original newspaper version of this article and an earlier online version incorrectly identified B.C.'s acting chief electoral officer. This online version has been corrected.