May 17, 2001
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British Columbia voters throw out Dosanjh, party

Ajit Jain
India Abroad Correspondent in Toronto

Ujjal Dosanjh, Indo-Canadian premier of British Columbia, Canada's third largest province, has been booted out of office by voters, ending 10 years of New Democratic Party rule in the province. And, for the first time in 37 years, the Liberals have got the majority to form the government.

Dosanjh has himself been defeated in his own riding (constituency) of Vancouver-Kensington by Liberal candidate Patrick Wong in the May 16 election.

Liberal leader Gordon Campbell easily won his seat from the Vancouver-Point Grey riding with 46.3 per cent of the votes against his Green Party rival Varya Rubin, who received 25.3 per cent.

Soon after the results, Dosanjh reportedly said he would resign as New Democratic Party leader, an office to which he was elected with fanfare in February last year when he assumed the office of premier. An interim leader will soon be chosen.

"I want to tell you that we need to continue to rebuild our movement under new leadership. I will be tendering my resignation," he was quoted as saying soon after the dismal results were flashed on the bulletin boards.

NDP got just three seats out of 79 in the provincial council with 76 going to the Liberals: "BC [British Columbia] is back and we are ready to go," said Liberal leader Gordon Campbell. "Today BC is strong. It's united and brimming with confidence and we are ready to go."

The NDP fell short of one seat from being recognized as the official Opposition in the legislature, but the party should still be happy because, from all indications before the actual polling, the Liberals were expected to win all 79 seats.

The Liberals' repeated assertion that they would dramatically reduce taxes within 90 days of being elected considerably influenced voters, analysts say.

The NDP's morale was down to its lowest level because of a series of scandals that rocked the party during 10 years of its rule in British Columbia. Two premiers before Dosanjh -- Michael Harcourt and Glen Clarke -- had to resign amidst charges of corruption.

Shortly after his election last February, Dosanjh went on a tour of Punjab, taking along a group of friends, associates and fundraisers from the Indo-Canadian community. That tour was widely denounced by the Opposition Liberals and the media as "the ego tour" and raised questions about Dosanjh's greatest asset -- his integrity -- though he and his wife Raminder later told a reporter it was paid for by them from their pocket and was not the tax-payers' money.

His close associate and transport minister Harry Lali, also an Indo-Canadian, wanted to go to India on an official visit but that, sources say, was denied by Dosanjh who thought Lali could go to India any time, but must pay his expenses from his pocket.

That, sources say, angered Lali and he quit the Cabinet.

Rebuilding the NDP will now be a long haul, experts say. It could be up to 10 years before the party could hope to come back nearer power, says political scientist Michael Prince of the University of Victoria. "I think they will have to pay penance out in the wilderness for a while," he remarked.

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