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ANALYSIS: New political book highlights modern B.C.’s ‘most exciting and fascinating period’

Rob Shaw and Richard Zussman at the book launch for “A Matter of Confidence: the Inside Story of the Political Battle for B.C.”.
Rob Shaw and Richard Zussman at the book launch for “A Matter of Confidence: the Inside Story of the Political Battle for B.C.”. Liza Yuzda

There is no question the B.C. political events of last spring and summer were high drama of the highest order.

The incredibly close election result, which remained uncertain for days. The historic and emotional confidence vote, which saw a B.C. government fall from power for the first time in more than 50 years.

The momentous visits to Government House by two political leaders, with one replacing the other as premier of the province. And the emergence of a tiny third political party that ultimately decided just who was going to lead this province going forward for what remains an uncertain time.

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Each event on its own is worthy of detailed examination. But collectively, they represent perhaps the most exciting and fascinating period of modern B.C. history and merit a special, penetrating deep-dive into what happened.

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And that is exactly what two B.C. press gallery reporters have provided.

Richard Zussman and Rob Shaw’s new book, “A Matter of Confidence: the Inside Story of the Political Battle for B.C.,” is a sensational account of sensational occurrences, and reads like a page-turning political thriller the outcome of which seems uncertain until near the end.

They have delivered a delicious treat not only for political junkies, but also for those interested in reading a breezy, fast-paced narrative that leaves you wanting more.

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Zussman, a reporter at Global News (he wrote the book while working as a CBC reporter; he was fired for allegedly breaking corporate guidelines with his book writing) and Shaw, a Vancouver Sun reporter and columnist, did not have much time to pull this project off.

They were facing a tight deadline of just a few weeks last fall and immediately set to interviewing pretty well every player – major and minor – about what had happened, while memories of the historic events remained fresh in everyone’s minds.

The result is a lively, behind-the-scenes tale brimming with new anecdotes and marvelous detail. Where to begin?

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One of the more vivid scenes describes how NDP campaign director Bob Dewar hit upon the idea of scrapping the tolls on the Port Mann Bridge, a move that many think ultimately handed the NDP enough ridings in suburban Metro Vancouver to win the election.

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The B.C. Liberals had moved on this issue first, promising to cap the tolls at $500. Dewar sensed a major problem and on his own – without consulting anyone, just following his razor sharp political instincts – decided the NDP would get rid of the tolls entirely.

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Another bit of drama captured with riveting new details was the night then-Premier Christy Clark, having lost a confidence vote in the legislature, visited Government House to meet with Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon.

The authors paint a picture of a political leader almost desperately trying to cling to power or force an election, only to glumly realize the game was over. Clark’s actions and words at Government House seemed a bit of a mystery at the time, but the authors provide context and new details to provide a clearer version of what happened there.

In addition, the account of NDP leader John Horgan being summoned to Government House has some great moments.

After Clark left, it was unclear what would happen next and Horgan was not even sure if he was going to get the call to up there. Suddenly, Guichon’s private secretary, Jeremy Brownridge phoned Dewar (at this point Horgan’s chief of staff) and told him: “Bob, this is your million dollar phone call.”

Dewar grabbed Horgan and off they went for that momentous visit.

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Then there is a marvelous account of the negotiations between the Greens and the other two parties about power sharing and why the Greens went with the NDP (hint: it was primarily because a Green MLA became physically ill at the very notion of partnering with the B.C. Liberals).

And the authors provide some insight into why Horgan and the NDP caucus seemed shaky and unsure of their footing before the election campaign began, include the revelation that Horgan met with now-Attorney General David Eby in late 2016 to clear the air about Eby’s rumored (but untrue) leadership ambitions.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

 

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC