EVERY time the B.C. Liberals chalk up another gaffe or scandal I'm increasingly reminded of the events of 1991, which permanently altered the political landscape in this province.
And I have to wonder whether we're about to see history repeated.
Back then, of course, a long-time ruling political dynasty - the Social Credit party - was on its last dying legs and, with an unelected female leader, fell apart internally and during the election campaign.
Currently, we seem to be hearing the death rattle of another political dynasty, the B.C. Liberal party, also headed up by an unelected female leader, who is furiously beating back challenges to her leadership from within.
In 1991, the NDP's campaign theme was "time for a change." This time, the NDP's theme is "change, one practical step at a time."
The NDP certainly read the mood of the electorate correctly in 1991 (it won the election, after all) and would appear to be reading it correctly this time (the latest Angus Reid poll suggested 59 per cent of the population want a change in government).
But will one historic occurrence from 1991 replay itself during May's vote?
I refer, of course, to the out-of-nowhere rise of a previously-dismissed third party option. In 1991, an obscure but effective B.C. Liberal Party leader named Gordon Wilson shot upwards on the strength of a single sound-bite in the leaders' debate coupled with a desire of a great many people to wash their hands of the incumbent government but not, at the same time, to embrace the New Democrats.
Wilson's party essentially replaced the Socreds as the alternative party to the NDP. It was a historic shift, and paved the way for the B.C. Liberals to take power 10 years later (albeit with a different leader in Gordon Campbell).
Can it happen again? Certainly, the B.C. Liberals seem to be teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Beset by internal problems plaguing the premier's leadership, and suggestions the caucus may break into different camps when it comes to dealing with those problems, the party could fall apart at any time.
Throw in the fact the polls show the party's credibility and popularity is deeply eroded with the public, and the stage is set for a mass departure from the party of people who supported it in the past.
The polls show about a third of the party's supporters in 2009 has already done just that. But that exodus could turn into a stampede, leaving the B.C. Liberals utterly spent as a political force.
The question, though, is where could those voters go? Some would undoubtedly turn to the NDP, but a good many would look elsewhere.
I speculated in this space a few weeks back that a handful of independent, Green and B.C. Conservative candidates could have an impact in the election, some to the point of even getting elected.
But if the B.C. Liberals completely fall apart and are deserted by a large chunk of the electorate, we're talking about more than a handful of third-party alternatives coming into play.
Many voters will want to find a way to keep an NDP government honest and in check, and if the B.C. Liberals don't look like a valid way to do that, they'll go looking for another vehicle to register their view. If that's the case, traditional election necessities for political parties such as funding and organizational ability go out the window.
In 1991, some B.C. Liberal candidates were elected even though they didn't actually campaign. Fred Gingell won in Delta South and filed election expenses totalling less than $100, while Doug Symons won in Richmond despite the lack of any semblance of a campaign (he went to bed on election night without even knowing he had won).
As the 1991 campaign demonstrated, the fall of a ruling dynasty can be swift and dramatic, with results unimagined a relatively short time before the campaign began.
Of course, there's still a chance the B.C. Liberals can pull themselves together and regain some lost ground with the public, to the point of winning enough seats to form a viable Opposition.
In fact, that's the best scenario the ruling party can hope for right now. But the worst-case scenario would be suffering the same fate that befell the B.C.
Liberals' political predecessor back in 1991. Given the government's penchant for creating scandals and self-inflicted wounds, that scenario cannot be easily dismissed.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.
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