By Roy L Hales
While the NDP and Liberal parties battle it out throughout most of the province, on Vancouver Island the chief contenders in this election are the Greens and NDP. Their support is not uniform. Visiting Salt Spring Island a few days ago, I was struck by the overwhelming number of Green party lawn placards. There was more of a three party mix as I drove northwards along the coastal highway. By the time I reached Courtenay/Comox, there were even Conservative signs. A very different scenario emerged in Campbell River. One party’s placcards dominated the political lawnspace. I counted 24 signs bearing the incumbant NDP MLA, Claire Trevena’s name. The remaining five advertised the Liberal challenger in North Island riding, Dallas Smith.
Dallas Smith, The Liberal Challenger In North Island Riding
There is no question about him being an underdog. The leader of Smith’s party, Premier Christy Clark is probably the most distrusted politician in British Columbia. A recent Mainstreet Research poll found that 55% of the respondents disapprove of her. Province wide, the NDP have been leading in the polls since the Liberal budget came out in February. Claire Trevena is a respected MLA, who has represented North Island since 2005.
This morning’s interview is with Dallas Smith and, summing it up in one word, talking with him was “delightful.” Some of his’ anecdotes are hilarious. I found Smith to be surprisingly candid, and while I do not agree with everything he said, some of his responses were thought-provoking. He has a message that the Liberal party needs to hear.
Through-out much the attached podcast, you will hear Smith explain what he learned as one of the principle negotiators behind the Great Bear Rainforest.
Why Run As A Liberal?
When Gordon Campbell asked him to run in the 2010 election, Smith said, “No, that’s kind of silly, like – I’m not a Liberal.”
But this got him thinking:
“What do MLAs do? What is the responsibility of an MLA? … To advocate for the region and I had done that on a fairly large scale over a part of my career. That got me thinking, lets start thinking beyond Dallas Smith the First Nations guy. Let’s think about this as Dallas Smith the North Islander…. and where are there things to help.”
“One of the things that I saw over the years is, as we are dealing with issues as First Nations communities, because Vancouver Island had always seemed to be on the wrong side of whatever government was in place, we weren’t part of the decision making process.”
“One of the things that intrigued me was the Liberal party is in power and they definitely need a strong voice to help remind them of that balance. I saw an opportunity from that perspective. Digging a little deeper I remembered that … I worked with three NDP Premiers, when you consider the switching with Dan Miller, and we never achieved any revenue sharing agreements. The Nisga’a Treaty was started well before the NDP came into power. So the NDP, while they had traditionally been our friends, they had never delivered results for First Nations People.”
“As we started going farther down the Great bear Rainforest path and bringing different agreements to First Nations communities, those came from the Liberal government.”
Bringing Opportunity To My Communities
“I’m not one of those guys that pretends for one minute that the Liberal Government started their negotiations with us out of the social justice point of view, but … it was something that was bringing opportunity to my communities and as long as we never just said ‘okay we’ll let you off the hook for all these years of colonialism and all that, because you gave us a couple of pennies from a forest and range agreement,” said Dallas.
“At the same time, the opportunity to make community a better place to live started with the Liberal Government. We had to prove the business case of why it was important for them to invest dollars into our community, but once that was done we were able .. to negotiate a far range of issues with this Liberal Goverment.”
” … And they had a job opening for the candidate for North Island. They NDP had a candidate in place. The Greens have been trying to have candidates. I sniffed around a little, and the opportunity to try and make my community a better place came with the Liberals.”
Our interview lasted for more than two hours. Aside from a short exchange about Site C, which you can hear in the podcast but is not included in this shorter written account, this program could be described as a puff piece.
We also discussed issues like the Liberal party’s political campaign donations, BC’s growing $68 billion debt and the province’s housing crises. Speaking as someone who has thrown a lot of stones at the Liberal Government, I found some of his answers intriguing – but Dallas Smith was not involved in these issues.
He is bringing a very different perspective to the discussion.
This left me with the choice of publishing his opinions on tough questions, or attempting to capture who he is. Ultimately, I think I will do both, but let’s start with the question, who is the Liberal challenger in North Island riding?
“I’m an area guy first, I’ve very loyal. I realize that I do wear a jersey that may bring some skepticism to that, but my career has been devotedly working for the people who have asked me to help them.. I take that very seriously,” he said.
“Part of my argument to my chiefs, when they said okay why are you running as a Liberal, is the accountability I can bring to this existing Government. They have to look me in the eye, as they talk about First nations issues around the caucus table …. and they have to explain some of these other decisions they want to make to me, to my face and there is accountability that has to be there.”
Top Photo Credit: The Great Bear Rainforest by Megan Coughlin via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)