B.C. election: Left coast rejects return to ‘dismal decade’ under NDP

B.C. election: Left coast rejects return to ‘dismal decade’ under NDP

For two years, the British Columbia provincial election was the NDP’s to lose with the Liberals viewed as roadkill awaiting the street sweeper. But — amazingly — they mangled, stumbled, misjudged, and miscalculated a 200-point polling lead into defeat. It is hard to rein-in hyperbole when describing the Liberal victory.

B.C. is Canada’s socio-political equivalent of California. Not in meteorological terms to be sure, where California’s 400 days per year of sunshine is countered by BC’s 400 days of rain. But their politics have characterized each as “left coast” replete with “fruits and nuts.”

Admittedly, while B.C.’s politics can appear “wacky” (originating with W.A.C. “Wacky” Bennett, premier from 1952-72), it has never elected a movie actor as premier as did California with Arnold Schwarzenegger. But during the extended period prior to the Liberals' victory in 2001, two NDP premiers (Harcourt and Clark) and one Social Credit premier (Vander Zalm) had tenures characterized by dramatic public fiscal and legal irregularities.

Thus in 2001 one expected that throwing the rascals out (the NDP was reduced to two seats) and replacing them with an ostensibly straight-laced, buttoned-down Liberal leader, Gordon Campbell, would create a different image. To be sure, the 2003 police mug shot of Campbell arrested for drunk driving in Hawaii was “different,” but BC’s laissez-faire attitude to personal peccadilloes forgave (but didn’t forget), and Campbell subsequently won majorities in 2005 and 2009.

Campbell’s ultimate error was political, not personal. To the fury of B.C.ers, he implemented a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) which combines federal and provincial sales taxes. Much touted by economists and implemented elsewhere in Canada, it has arguable merits — but the liability of increasing taxes sufficiently to be noticed. If Campbell had been up-front during the 2009 election with his desire to implement the HST and explained its merits, he may conceivably have persuaded the electorate. Its stealth implementation prompted furious response, a referendum on its continuation, and its consequent elimination/return to separate federal and provincial taxes. Campbell did not survive this debacle, but landed on his feet. High Commissioner to the UK is nice compensation. (See how Canada learns from the U.S. by making failed politicians ambassadors?)

Subsequently, Christie Clark was selected as Liberal leader to pick up the pieces. She appeared type-cast to follow women such as Tory federal prime minister Kim Campbell and B.C. Social Credit premier Rita Johnson. Each faced impossible challenges, attempting to rejuvenate worn out parties/governments whose shelf-life had passed and exuded the odor of decay. They lost catastrophically — but Clark did not, and that is the BC election story.

Essentially, you need someone to beat someone.

And Adrian Dix was as minimal a someone as the NDP could find. Dix has the charisma of an arm chair; clearly a misplaced introvert in an extrovert’s world, illustrating the “Peter Principle” by being elevated beyond his competence. He misplayed his advantages, proclaiming a “positive” campaign and refusing to hammer Clark for her missteps like running a red light, while Clark was no lady in negative campaign groin-kicking.

Starting far back in the polls, with Liberal strength further attenuated by a spin-off Conservative Party, Clark constantly hammered that an NDP government would mean a return to the “dismal decade” of the 1990s of old thinking with anti-growth policies, higher taxes, budget deficits, and increased provincial debt. She won the only debate — but it was akin to debating a pillow.

While chattering class pundits/pollsters predicted defeat, a week in politics is a lifetime and Clark turned the corner. The result is four-more-years of a majority (conservative) Liberal government.

[ Last week's D vs. D: Islam clearly is not a religion of peace ]

Bluntly, this outcome is good for the USA — and also for Canada. Dix was touting ideology-based policies that:

- Opposed any pipeline that couldn’t pass the most stringent environmental review. Such a position, combined with NDP-endorsed aboriginal resistance, would have effectively eliminated any pipeline, regardless of route;

- Created extended delays for resource extraction projects, combined with aboriginal ambivalence over development versus maintaining an unspoiled environment; and

- Planned $600 million in new taxes on corporations and “high earners” that would have vitiated investment interest in BC.

In contrast, Clark appears pragmatic. She espouses severe parameters for new pipelines, but not impossible ones. Likewise for resource extraction proposals like fracking and hydro-power expansion projects. Clark’s professed objectives are job creation and debt/deficit reduction.

These are tough challenges; the only relatively easy near-term chore will be getting a Legislative Assembly seat, having lost hers in the election — a sole negative a shocking Liberal landslide.

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.

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