The B.C. Legislature. Will a knockout or a major screw up change B.C.’s government? (Black Press Media file photo)

The B.C. Legislature. Will a knockout or a major screw up change B.C.’s government? (Black Press Media file photo)

Painful Truth: Waiting for the political fumble

It’s seldom that big catastrophes sink governments

We see political campaigns most clearly with hindsight, and not even that is reliable.

Right now, the NDP, BC Liberals, and Greens are locked in battle for B.C.

Will one land a knockout blow? Worse, will one leader fumble?

One of the most famous political fumbles in Canadian history is very literal – in 1974, Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield was running against Pierre Eliot Trudeau when he tossed around a football with some reporters during an airport stopover.

The Globe and Mail ran a front-page photo of Stanfield fumbling the ball – even though he’d caught it fine plenty of times during the back-and-forth.

After Stanfield’s loss, the photo was seen as emblematic of the way he’d fumbled a campaign against Trudeau, whose popularity had seriously waned since the “Trudeaumania” days of six years earlier.

Some even blamed his loss on the photo.

Was that true, or was it a justification created after the fact?

Stanfield was then in his third election contest against Trudeau. Both were known quantities. If the fumble photo did anything, it likely cemented an already existing idea in voter’s minds.

In politics, the drip-drip-drip of bad news can often be deadly – even if, in retrospect, it seems like there was one big scandal.

Here in B.C., a good example is the downfall of the Social Credit party in 1991.

Bill Vander Zalm had resigned after being embroiled in a conflict of interest scandal over the sale of Fantasy Gardens.

But even before that, there had been a host of controversies, and Vander Zalm had been adept at making them worse.

Both before and after becoming premier, he’d shown a distaste for the way he was portrayed in editorial cartoons, most famously when he sued over a cartoon showing him pulling the wings off a fly.

But Vancouver Sun columnist Roy Peterson hit the Zalm again in the 1980s, when B.C. was subsidizing pro football, but also sending kids out of province for medical treatment because of hospital overcrowding.

Peterson’s simple but brutal cartoon – Vander Zalm in a football uniform, punting a baby between the uprights – drew some attention. But it drew more stories when Vander Zalm publicly complained about it. A simple cartoon summed up in one image two controversies and got under the then-premier’s skin to become a news story in itself.

Did that one cartoon bring down the Social Credit party?


But it was one of a host of issues that the public had on its mind by election day in 1991.

One fumble seldom undoes a government. It’s the perception that is slowly created, issue by issue, as voters weigh their leaders. Eventually, it turns into a gut feeling: “This guy’s going to fumble it.”

The problem isn’t when you fumble the football. It’s when the voters take the fumble for granted that you’re in trouble.

Matthew Claxton writes for the Langley Advance Times. For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

BC Votes 2020canadian politicsColumnistOpinion

Just Posted

Emily Harris (centre) started the in-person Monarch Moms meet-up groups in July, when it was much easier to physical distance in outdoor spaces. Harris started the group as a source of connection for women navigating the ups and downs of having a baby during a pandemic. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Victoria new mom group navigates challenges of motherhood in a pandemic

Monarch Moms meet once a week for physically-distanced connection

Courtenay artist Bill Bolten recently presented Dr. Bonnie Henry with this carving of a yellow warbler. Photo supplied.
Courtenay carver creates gift for Dr. Bonnie Henry

Bill Bolten presented the carving to B.C.’s public health officer in person

Painters Jim Tulip, Doug Mackenzie and Gary Henslowe were painting the exterior of the Duncan Butcher Shop and Apple Press printing shop, located between the Trans Canada Highway and Whistler Street, on Oct. 8 as part of neighbourhood painting project. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Duncan’s Whistler Street sees a fresh lick of paint in opioid battle

Group wants to help clean up community, one street at a time

Maureen Cue, owner of Disguise the Limit costume shop, models – maybe the most obvious – pandemic costume. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Vancouver Island costume expert showcases pandemic-safe Halloween looks

Maureen Cue models the best masked Halloween costumes

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Visitors stroll through Goldstream Provincial Park on a calm, crisp Sunday. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Visitors flock to Goldstream Provincial Park for 2020 salmon run

‘I wanted to come here before I move back to Australia,’ says visitor

File Photo
Planned power outage in Port Alice Oct. 27

BC Hydro crews to work from midnight to 4 a.m. replacing substation equipment

Greg Duerksen and his family. (gofundme photo)
Firefighter prepares for stem cell transplant

Friends rally to help raise funds for Duerksen family

Legendary Vancouver-based blues and jazz guitarist and vocalist Jim Byrnes will perform live at the Tidemark Theatre in a concert that will also be streamed. Contributed photo
Legendary blues musician and actor Jim Byrnes hits the Island

Playing Campbell River’s Tidemark Theatre for a hybrid live/online show

Conservation officers hope the public can provide information about who shot and left a bull and cow Roosevelt elk near Spruston Road, south of Nanaimo. (Facebook photo)
Pair of Roosevelt elk shot and left in woods south of Nanaimo

Conservation officers hope public can help find who killed the animals near Spruston Road

Most Read