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Volume Ten, Number Three   May 2005   www.columbiajournal.ca


Book review:

Liberalized

The Tyee Report on British Columbia Under Gordon Campbell’s Liberals

by David Beers with Russ Francis, Barbara McClintock, Will McMartin, Alisa Smith, Chris Tenove and others

New Star Books    Vancouver
2005
$16.00                            190pp.

  
Liberalized coverThe face was familiar, but the mustache was a special effect. The display windows in the Gordon Campbell campaign office in my neighborhood were papered over with larger-than-life headshots of the premier when it opened, and last week   someone carefully inked in a Hitler mustache on the glass over each portrait, positioned to create a one man rogue’s gallery of ominous snapshots, the visual equivalent of calling the sitting member from Point Grey a Nazi.

The visual insult disappeared with some vigorous scrubbing by campaign workers, and probably just as well. No one with any historical perspective would take seriously the suggested parallel. Gordon Campbell, however repulsive his policies, is no Nazi, and his odd coalition party of Social Credit re-treads, rogue Tories, free market fanatics, social conservatives and Federal Liberals is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good match for the gang of  fascist thugs who  set the world on fire in the middle of the last century. But if we set aside the easy seductions of overheated rhetoric, we are still left with disturbing questions. Just who are the BC Liberals, and what have they done with our province? With a provincial election on its way in mid-May, and the combined forces of the well-funded Liberal campaign machine and its supporters at the Vancouver Sun and the rest of the province’s pro-business media filling the air with fulsome praise for da Preem, these are important questions for all British Columbians.

Liberalized , a new book by David Beers and a team of writers from his on-line news outlet The Tyee,  sets out to suggest a few mild mannered answers. ( Full disclosure. I have known and worked with Beers since the days when he edited my book reviews at the Sun some years ago, and have published occasionally in The Tyee  since it came on-line. ) This is a book that fills in the blanks in BC political reporting, chock full of stories and analysis you won’t find in the mainstream press. Liberalized  is a valuable resource for the bewildered voter, and a vital corrective to the public record.

Turn to Liberalized, for example, for a full discussion of how Gordon Campbell lied to the province about the state of our public finances on the opening day of his  regime, claiming that BC finances were “Worse than we thought”,  a claim that ignored the evidence in government transition documents  he had been provided by Victoria civil servants . The documents (finally public because a Tyee reporter slogged through an expensive and time consuming Freedom of Information request to obtain the briefing papers)  showed unequivocally that that the government books were even further in the black than the outgoing NDP government had estimated in its hopeful last budget. All this, plus details on the erratic policy lurches that saw the Campbell regime slash income and business taxes, creating a threat of deficit that was then used to justify savage cuts to social services and the destruction of unionized  health care and social service jobs across the province, is detailed in Will Martin’s extremely useful chapter “Fiscal Fictions.” In this account, the Campbell Liberals, far from being the business geniuses portrayed in many sympathetic squibs in the mainstream  press, come across as the Gang that Couldn’t Figure Straight. Somehow, the Sun and other business press outlets never got around to mentioning that the new Premier’s doomsday announcement was totally unsupported by the facts. I guess they were just too busy recycling sneers about the fast ferries and Glen Clark’s back deck.

Other important stories in the Tyee compendium include Chris Tenove’s tender and respectful  portraits of devastated communities in the Interior, struggling for survival under an onslaught of hospital, courthouse and government office closures and resource extraction policies that privilege corporate profits over environmental and social sustainability, and Barbara McLintock’s chapters on the crushing   impacts of the new government policies on women. Beers himself weighs in with an account of how the new government brought in the weakest child labour standards in Canada, and with a final chapter describing what, to his mind, are the  most reckless and unproductive policy innovations of the Liberals.

It should be noted, however, that this book is a work of journalism, not polemic. It works hard to be fair, and doesn’t hesitate to praise the BC Liberals when praise is due. For example, the creation of a public  registry of lobbyists and an act requiring disclosure of more top-level public salaries  are  recognized as long over-due reforms. The book reflects considerable efforts to strike a fair, analytic tone, and it, in balance successful in that effort. The facts alone are damning enough, and the editor and authors who have collaborated on Liberalized  share a refreshing, for BC, unwillingness to raise their voices. They rely on scrupulous, professional journalism to do its job, and the  result is a book that every BC citizen should read before going to the polls. Liberalized  is a valuable contribution to cool headed, balanced political discourse in the province, as is its home base, The Tyee ( at www.thetyee.ca ) Little wonder the folks over at the Sun don’t want you to know about the existence of such a cyber alternative to the daily paper’s cheerleading for the Liberals and the business interests they represent.

A recurrent rumor in the BC publishing world claims that the Sun refuses to accept paid advertising  for The Tyee, and that editors at the book page have indicated Liberalized  will not be reviewed in their pages. If true, these rumors seem to indicate that someone at the Sun is less than enthusiastic about the alternative The Tyee provides to business as usual journalism. They should be. Both the web site and the book represent a refreshing and instructive dose of real information, as opposed to spin. Both are worth a look.




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