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Do scandals really matter in B.C.?

Do political scandals really matter when all is said and done? It's a fair and relevant question to pose after the surprise result of the May provincial election. The B.C.

Do political scandals really matter when all is said and done? It's a fair and relevant question to pose after the surprise result of the May provincial election. The B.C. Liberals, as scandal-plagued as any long-serving government, actually increased their majority over the NDP.

For weeks preceding the election campaign, the NDP had raked the B.C. Liberal government over the coals for a number of controversies and outright scandals, the most notorious being the so-called "ethnic memo" affair that saw the government caught red-handed using public resources to further the political interests of the B.C. Liberal Party.

The ethnic memo sparked a crisis of leadership within the party, as Premier Christy Clark had to beat back a growing chorus of disenchantment in her caucus. Her party looked spent as it entered the campaign, but then the NDP did a strange thing: it decided not to even mention the scandal a single time in the campaign.

But now, as the legislative session enters its final week, the NDP has become obsessed by new wrinkles to the old scandal. It is determined to breathe new life into the controversy, even though the individuals most heavily involved in the scandal have left government (the one exception is Richmond MLA John Yap, who lost his cabinet post but was re-elected).

Given the scandal did not work to the NDP's benefit in trying to win the election, one

has to wonder what the motivation is now behind the decision to make the scandal pretty

well the sole focus of the NDP caucus.

It can be argued the NDP is simply doing the job of the Opposition, which is holding the government accountable for its actions. And there's certainly no question the B.C. Liberals engaged in improper conduct (their own probe reached that conclusion before the election) and as much information about that malfeasance should be aired in public.

But another theory has emerged in some media commentaries, and it has to do with NDP leader Adrian Dix's future.

The theory is this: Dix is leading the latest charge on the ethnic memo scandal in order to shore up his chances of remaining the leader of his party. Dix faces a critical vote at the party's convention in November, and he needs to re-establish his credibility with an understandably furious party membership upset about losing an election they were convinced they were going to win.

He's certainly earned some media coverage with this latest strategy, although not nearly as much as he got back in the spring over the same issue. But the B.C. Liberals are definitely not reacting the same way as they did back then, as Clark's leadership problems have completely evaporated and the caucus' gloom has been replaced with euphoria over the prospect of at least four more years in power.

The other reality is that we are in midsummer, and I suspect the public has pretty well tuned out politicians of all stripes and will remain tuned out until after Labour Day.

So, do political scandals really matter? In this case, the key question is will this latest

turn on the ethnic memo scandal matter to the NDP members who will vote in November on whether to hold a leadership contest. Will they be impressed by Dix's performance in the legislature? Or have they also tuned him out, and no matter how effective his criticism is of the B.C. Liberals in this matter, aren't willing to forgive him for seemingly fumbling the ball on the election's goal line? The NDP lost the election largely because it wasn't trusted on economic issues, and the scandals that plagued the B.C. Liberals for years turned out not to matter much with voters.

But for the sake of his leadership, Dix had better hope that political scandals do matter, at least to those who hold the future of his leadership in their hands.

Any doubts the NDP remains closely linked to organized labour have been dispelled by the makeup of the panel that will review the party's election loss. Four of the five members are from the labour movement, and perhaps more tellingly, they are from the public sector union side.

For a party that supposedly prides itself on diversity, it's odd it would select such a narrowly defined group of people to analyze the most disastrous election result in its history. Or perhaps it's not so odd, and simply reflects the fact that public sector unions are the dominant force within the party.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global B.C.