` Columbia Journal - The Tide May Be Turning
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The Tide May Be Turning


The tide may be turning despite the business as usual image being portrayed by the BC government and its politics, opposition to it continues to grow at a slow but steady pace.

The latest mass rally held on Saturday, March 23 at Vancouver's Science World and march to the Art Gallery, one of dozens of large scale public protests around the province since the Victoria legislature rally a month earlier, may show the tide is turning, says George Heyman, president of the 65,000-member BC Government and Services Employees Union, who has spoken at numerous mass rallies in the last two months.

"Mr. Campbell has demonstrated he can't be trusted," Heyman said. "He has created confrontation, uncertainty and economic hardship in every community across this province."

The latest Ipsos-Ried poll shows a continued slow but steady drop in support for the Liberal regime, now at about 42 per cent. The opposition NDP, still scorned and largely ignored by the major media, with only an interim leader and still deep in an internal review and renewal process, continues to slowly climb in popularity, at about 29 per cent.

But numerous specific local and regional media polls, albeit non-scientific ones based on reader or viewer responses, show majority public opposition to literally all of the government's initiatives and overall direction.

Even the proposed province-wide referendum on Aboriginal treaty negotiations, which until recently was one of the few Liberal initiatives that enjoyed majority support, is now getting thumbs-down from a majority of poll respondents.

This may indicate that public dissatisfaction with the government is more than just a temporary backlash to some surprising and unexpected measures.

In addition, many of the Liberals' laws are being challenged in court. The most significant is the challenge to Bill 29, which literally gutted the public sector hospital collective agreement affecting over 40,000 Hospital Employees Union members and sets up the basis for selling off health facilities and services-something that the Liberals solemnly promised they would not do.

Health care unions, patient and consumer advocacy groups and seniors organizations say the law, passed in February, violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and have filed a petition in BC Supreme Court.

"Bill 29 is not about improving health care or putting patients first," says Cindy Stewart, president of the Health Sciences Association and activist with the BC Health Coalition. "This legislation is about the government's determination to implement an ideological agenda that punishes health care providers and rewards the Liberal's corporate backers.

Also, the gutting of legal aid services and firing of the board that administers the program, which lawyers say will deny thousands of low income people their constitutionally guaranteed access to justice, is also being challenged under the Charter.

Furthermore, the Liberals are being charged with violating the Budget Transparency Act in the way they brought down an austere budget without proper justification and violating their election promises. Finally, the government may soon being in court defending its treaty referendum against a charter challenge, as First Nations charge the vote violates their constitutionally entrenched right to nationhood and self-determination. Numerous charges of slander and deception are also arising.

In communities across the province, various tax revolts and consumer boycotts of pro-Liberal businesses have begun to spring up. And many communities are awaiting the end of November to begin recall campaigns.

However, despite this intensifying public disapproval, the Liberal regime is far from defeated, according to the Peoples' Opposition, an informal coalition of individuals across the province organized to fight the government's agenda.

"With the NDP still trying to figure itself out and people feeling hopeless and powerless, without any direct access to real alternatives, the Liberals feel pretty safe," says Jim Leyden, a coalition activist, adding that one of the coalition's activities is encouraging the BC Federation of Labour to call for a general strike. "People need to get organized at the grassroots level in their communities and workplaces. This way we can stop the Liberals in their tracks."

There is some grumbling among some corporate capitalist circles about instability resulting from anti-labour laws and ripping up contracts and fears of huge power rate increases from the proposed sell-off of BC Hydro -something else the Liberals said they wouldn't do. But despite this, the Liberals still enjoy overall support from the corporate capitalist sectors of the economy.

The Liberals also still by and large have a powerful ally in the major corporate media. Much of the Global CanWest and Shaw empires, which control most of the media in the province, remain largely supportive.

After the 1996 election, the corporate media attacked the NDP government for misleading voters about its balanced budget, even though overwhelming evidence at the time showed there was no deception involved. Even after numerous auditor general and Elections BC reports, and court rulings, that showed there was no attempt to mislead anyone, and even praised the government for its fiscal competence, the media continued to accuse the NDP of dishonesty and irresponsibility until last year's election.

Bob Hackett, Dean of Communications at Simon Fraser University and activist with the pro-media-democracy movement Campaign for Press and Broadcast Freedom, says this may be one reason why the Liberals did so well in the election and why they still enjoy a significant, albeit declining, level of public support.

Despite an almost complete abandonment of Leader Gordon Campbell's election platform by the Liberal government, most of the media has been very reluctant to denounce this situation, even praising it on occasion, Hackett says.

Instead the two media giants have begun the Believe BC campaign intended to put a positive spin on an otherwise bleak provincial fiscal and economic condition and to soften many of the negative impact of the Liberals' austere measures.

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