Can you remember what you were thinking about at breakfast on Oct. 26, 1993? Let me help you. You sipped your coffee, took another look at the staggering news on the front page of your favourite newspaper, shook your head, read the main story for the second or third time and still found the news of the greatest disaster in Canada's political history hard to believe.
Only a few months earlier, Port Alberni's Kim Campbell had replaced Brian Mulroney and become Canada's first female prime minister. On Oct. 25, forced to call an election as her government's five-year mandate came to an end, she quickstepped her Progressive Conservative Party from political power to political pauper.
Only two Tories survived to sit again in the Liberal-dominated House of Commons, and Campbell wasn't one of them. The Liberals won 117 seats, the Reform Party 52 and the NDP nine, and the Parti QuÃ©bÃ©cois with 54 seats became the official Opposition. Pundits from coast to coast opined in our infinite wisdom that we had witnessed not just an election defeat but the the death of the old-line Conservative party.
We were wrong. The right wing in politics was certainly in disarray and seriously fractured, but far from dead. Some Tories tasted Reform with Preston Manning, there was a fling with a new name (the Conservative Alliance) and eventually a return to what we have today, the old tried-and-true-blue Conservative Party of Canada.
Our reports of its death a few years ago earlier were, as Mark Twain once said, a little premature.
Can you remember where you were and what you were talking about on the morning of May 16, 2001? Let me jog your recall button.
On that bright morning after a day of voting on the 15th, British Columbians - even the 45 per cent of eligible voters who hadn't bothered to vote - were buzzing with chatter about the demise of the provincial New Democrats. Led by highly regarded moderate Ujjal Dosanjh, the NDP had plunged from power to political poverty overnight.
Only two New Democrats survived the debacle, which saw Liberal Gordon Campbell elected premier with 77 of the 79 seats in the legislature under his command. The NDP survivors were hard-nosed, tough-as-nails Joy MacPhail in Vancouver-Hastings, and softer-spoken Jenny Kwan from Vancouver-Mount Pleasant.
Premier Campbell denied MacPhail and Kwan the status of Her Majesty's Opposition on the grounds that the NDP lacked the four seats required to be recognized as an "official party" in the legislature. They were on their own and without secretarial and research staff. Most pundits forecast they would be overwhelmed in debate by the massed Liberal voices. It was also suggested the long-term future of the NDP forces was in serious jeopardy.
And once again we scribblers of infinite wisdom were wrong. Joy MacPhail proved to be a ruthless, indefatigable debater. Having held cabinet positions under four NDP premiers, she was well acquainted with the way government worked. Kwan played a lesser role, but together they provided life support for a party wounded over a 10-year period by in-fighting and scandals, and then badly mauled by the public at the ballot box.
In 1972, when Dave Barrett's NDP demolished W.A.C. Bennett's Social Credit government, reducing that once all-powerful party to 10 MLAs, it was forecast the end was near. Less than four years later, the Socreds boosted by strong political players from Liberal and Conservative parties and led by W.A.C.'s son Bill Bennett were back in power.
They stayed there for 11 years under Bennett the younger, followed by five under Bill Vander Zalm. And then what so many of us had forecast in 1972 came true, but not the way we expected. The Socreds imploded, and the once written-off NDP was back in power. Once again there were a few survivors, but this time without the will to continue life as Socreds. In short order they quit the field of play or attached themselves to the Liberals with the promise of a longer shelf life.
And now, as we wander through the mists of fall and the inevitable rain and gales of winter, it is, as Yogi Berra liked to say, "dÃ©jÃ vu all over again." In Ottawa after the 2011 election, the pundits read the last rites for the federal Liberal Party. In Victoria the bells are already tolling for the funeral of Christy Clark and her provincial Liberals next May.
I think I'll wait a while before mourning, celebrating or just bravely forecasting the demise of either. History suggests an old political party is hard to kill. And I'm too old to be wrong again.
© Copyright 2013