The Liberals: Centre or Fringe?
ANTHONY M. SAYERS WITH THE AUTHORS
Liberals in British Columbia are placed in an awkward position. Ideologically ill-suited to participate in the polarized politics of the province, and unable to extract support from their party's federal electorate, they seem destined to play a bit part in provincial politics. It is within this context that the Liberal party of British Columbia struggles to exist.
We will suggest that the Liberals rely on an elite group of activists who occupy a version of the middle ground in British Columbia. Somewhat surprisingly given the migration of their legislative leaders to Social Credit in the 1970s, Liberal activists resemble the NDP more than Social Credit. As well, they embody some of the tensions between welfare and business liberalism associated with the Liberal party by Christian and Campbell ( 1983). While the structure of opinion within the party on economic questions is relatively heterogeneous, there is a tendency for Liberals to be united in adopting a federal or national perspective on other issues.
The Liberals' place in the middle of the polarized politics of British Columbia makes it difficult for them to capitalize on any ideological distinctiveness they might possess. In a party system organized in part to contain and frustrate a strong left, any third party is placed at a strategic disadvantage. Thus the Liberals have become victims of a context they helped to create. They were the dominant partner in the coalition era which produced polarization, but once they lost their privileged position as the major bulwark against the left they have been consigned to the fringes of the system.
The Liberal party currently receives about 5 per cent of the vote in