Politics in a time of polarization 

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Politics is, at the best of times, confusing, that word standing in for unfathomable, incomprehensible, and, possibly, idiotic. But politics in the time of polarization is — and no one thought it possible — even more confusing.

Last week, the B.C. Liberals lost two by-elections to the NDP. If you're new to B.C. politics and tend to fall on the centre-left side of the political continuum, or if you're simply oblivious, in which case why are you reading this, you may think side-by-side Liberal losses are a bad thing. That's because you're confusing the name of the party, Liberal, with the philosophical meaning of the word liberal. B.C. Liberals are not liberal. Actually, they're conservative, or conservative-ish, except they don't call themselves Conservative because that wouldn't be as confusing as calling themselves Liberal, which they aren't. Got it?

Just to make matters worse, there is a relatively new, upstart, right-wing party in B.C. called, naturally, the Conservative Party. They really are conservative, which is to say reactionary and Neanderthal, at least if you're a left-leaning, pinkish, social liberal. They'd like to take the province further to the right and hew to the worn-out hattrick of smaller government, lower taxes and pro business/development initiatives. They think the Liberals are, in fact, liberal, even though they do a good job of looking a lot like the federal Progressive Conservatives... who aren't in the least progressive. But surely you already know that.

Even though the NDP candidates won the by-elections last week — in ridings that never showed any evidence of being particularly fond of the NDP — it was the Conservatives who actually beat the Liberals. In Chilliwack-Hope, a strong Conservative candidate turned a lot of otherwise Liberal voters to the darker side and let the NDP candidate sop up enough votes to win. In Port Moody-Coquitlam, a strong NDP candidate who was previously a popular local politician danced to victory with the help of a less dramatic, but still important, split vote between the Tweedledum and Tweedledumber parties.

Normally, seeing right-leaning politicians fracture themselves into a right party and a righteous party, thus splitting the 'red meat' vote and ensuring neither of them wins, would be considered a good thing by a guy who'd rather see Conservative politicians cast adrift on the River Styx in a leaky boat than holding office. It was just such a rift in federal politics that gave us the Liberal years of balanced budgets and staying out of stupid wars just because the U.S. asked us to join their folly.

Normally it would be a good thing... but not always. The NDP, as an alternative, is only a good outcome if you believe trading bad management for mismanagement is a step up. While the NDP's political philosophy — giving them the benefit of the doubt that their mixed bag of half-baked ideas can generously be called a philosophy — is more benevolent than the I-got-mine-screw-you dogma of the right, it was not for lack of good reasons they were soundly driven from office in the days before Rear-Entry Campbell. The words "fast ferries" will still bring even ardent supporters to their knees begging forgiveness.

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