B.C. election: Clark found the right formula in focusing on economy and debt

B.C. election: Clark found the right formula in focusing on economy and debt

Following a vigorous election campaign and probably the fastest turnaround in political fortunes in British Columbia’s history, the 50 Liberals, 33 NDP, one Green and single independent MLAs elected on May 14 leave little doubt in anyone’s mind as to whom voters want to govern in Victoria during the next four years.

While losing her own seat (a minor problem she’ll solve in an early byelection when one of her personally-recruited successful candidates resigns), Christy Clark’s surprise win over Adrian Dix, leader of the official opposition NDP, has evoked much commentary across the province and country.

Among the more interesting insights:

- All nine opinion polling firms, most of whom predicted an easy NDP win, simply got it wrong. British Columbians, like many other Canadians, are so weary of being harassed by telephone callers about their political party preferences that it perhaps became a new provincial sport to fool them. Pollsters must in future also better factor in the reality that unless those surveyed actually go out to vote their indicated party preferences are irrelevant.

- Rod Mickleburgh of the Globe and Mail’s BC bureau concluded that the NDP allowed itself to be “trapped in a fatal, poll-reliant complacency and cautionary approach” while Clark and her Liberals hammered away at them.

- Alberta columnist Lorne Gunter noted that most constituencies along the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline route except Kitimat voted Liberal. The NDP had come out against the pipeline during the campaign and had announced that it would kill the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion proposal as well. Clark’s five conditions for approving Northern Gateway will presumably now all be met.

- Clark’s win encourages every unrelenting optimist in politics across the country. At times, she appeared to be the only political leader who had not lost confidence in the province’s future. Her personal campaign as a very human party leader, who related well with voters, was excellent.

The winning issues proved to be the economy and provincial debt, which Clark correctly judged were ones in which most voters lacked confidence in the NDP. Neither was supposed to prevail in this election campaign, as they did in the previous three, but both again appear to have brought many voters to the Liberals.

There were also continuous references by Clark and Liberal candidates to the ‘dismal decade’ of the 1990s, when the NDP held office and B.C. became a have-not province. On voting day, the NDP appeared to many voters to stand for weakening the economy; the Liberals were perceived to be seeking new jobs and strong economic growth.

British Columbians, especially younger ones, importantly also appeared to sense that Clark, in addressing the province’s accumulated debt burden from a family perspective, grasps the generational consequences of not doing so. The government habit across Canada and much of the world today of allowing today’s voters to pile huge debt on the futures of their children and grandchildren violates a centuries-old social contract between generations. Clark knows that more responsible fiscal policy at all levels will be necessary to avoid the downward fiscal spirals being experienced elsewhere.

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The voters of British Columbia demonstrated again this week that, while sometimes unpredictable, they are usually more comfortable with a centre-right government and pro-development policies.

The popularly-elected premier Clark now has an opportunity to transform her promises into policies addressing the challenges facing British Columbians, including environmental ones.

David Kilgour is co-chair of the Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran and a director of the Washington-based Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD). He is a former MP for both the Conservative and Liberal Parties in the south-east region of Edmonton and has also served as the Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa, Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific and Deputy Speaker of the House.