Blowback - The Orca


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Rob Shaw: Months after he was ejected/quit the BC Liberal Party during the election campaign, a controversial former MLA continues to be an issue.

The ghost of Laurie Throness continues to haunt the BC Liberals.

The New Democrats jumped on election expenses released this week that show the BC Liberal party continued to pay Throness’s campaign in October after he resigned/was fired.

Elections B.C. disclosure forms show BC Liberal HQ paid out more than $18,000 in expenses to Throness’s campaign after he left to run as an independent following comments that compared free contraception for women to eugenics (the practice of selective breeding out of people with disabilities and diseases.)

The disclosure raised questions about whether the BC Liberals, who defended Throness for years when he opposed same sex marriage, transgender rights and abortion rights, really wanted to get rid of him at all during the election, and were instead still secretly trying to help him win.

“The BC Liberals were under no obligation to continue supporting Laurie Throness, but they chose to continue funding his campaign,” said NDP director Heather Stoutenberg.

“Instead of letting him pay for his own bills, it appears they covered major expenses like his campaign office and election signs, which he continued to use after he resigned. It’s clear that the decision to send Laurie Throness thousands of dollars increased the likelihood of him getting re-elected.”

Throness lost. But it was close.

The election expense issue sparked a round of social media fighting amongst partisans for the NDP and BC Liberals.

That alone is unremarkable. And maybe the controversy could have died there. But the BC Liberal party, in its wisdom, dug in.

“The expenses were paid by the party on behalf of the campaign as these expenses were contractual agreements committed to while Laurie was still a BC Liberal candidate,” the party said in a statement.

“The dates shown on the list are only a reflection of when the payments were issued and not the commitments that were made.”

What does that mean? Apparently, the money was for “general campaign expenses such as printing, postage, ads and signage.”

So the Liberals kept paying for ads and signs for Throness even after ejecting him? The party couldn’t cut ties with him financially and leave him responsible for his own bills? The guy couldn’t be expected to buy his own stamps?

That makes no sense.

But extracting any more of an explanation from the party is like trying to squeeze water out of a stone. The party simply isn’t willing to engage.

This is the true problem.

It’s not really about Throness, an F-grade MLA not worth even one per cent of the trouble he caused his colleagues over the years. They’re far better off without him.

The problem is with the party itself, and what Throness as an example continues to expose about the way it functions: arrogant, dismissive and out-of-touch.

There was no reason the BC Liberals had to roll over and play dead for 48 hours on social media while New Democrats savaged them.

There’s probably good defences available, including the terms of the lease he signed to his campaign office being more expensive to break than to pay out (I’m hypothesizing, I don’t know this for sure) or examples of signs and pamphlets ordered days in advance arriving only after he left, and the party not wanting to stiff a local printing company with the bill.

But the BC Liberals don’t have the willingness, desire, or grace to explain this. They don’t think the “Throness problem” is really a problem at all, but a manufactured crisis by the NDP, and not a reflection of the real world.

On both counts, they are dead wrong.

By the end of the election, it was clear to anyone with even a passing interest in politics that many BC Liberal candidates – men, women and star candidates – had enough of that kind of intolerance.

They distanced themselves publicly from both him and leader Andrew Wilkinson, who couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it.

That’s not a manufactured NDP issue, that’s the real world inside the party.

Yes, during the election, the NDP took Throness and used him to expose a weakness in the big tent coalition between social liberals and conservatives, while at the same time exposing a leader not willing to take a stand on party values of inclusion and acceptance.

Yes, they skillfully expanded that weakness over several days, drawing in other BC Liberal candidates, pride parades, rainbow crosswalks, and eventually women’s rights.

And yes, they used it to dominate the news cycle, including on a day when the BC Liberals were supposed to launch their campaign platform, and were instead completely overwhelmed by a crisis they’d failed to admit was even happening.

It was, objectively, a masterclass in wedge politics.

Surely there must be some senior BC Liberal operatives smart enough to analyze how it was done, appreciate the skill involved, and craft a defence to prevent it from happening again.

But you see no evidence of this even today. And that should give party stalwarts pause. Because the BC Liberals are soon to launch into a leadership race, where there could be social conservative candidates who again provide ample opportunity for the NDP to deploy the same attacks, on the same issues.

The party’s nightmare scenario is getting sucked into another debate on whether it’s homophobic, intolerant, and/or misogynist during a leadership race supposed to show the public the party refreshed themselves into a more inclusive political family.

And yet, that’s right where the BC Liberals are headed.

There’s the old saying: Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 13 years covering BC politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for The Orca. He is the co-author of the national best-selling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.