BRITISH COLUMBIA

BC Election 2013 Campaign 'Tame' Compared To U.S. 'War On Truth'

05/13/2013 02:43 EDT | Updated 07/13/2013 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - Depending on who you ask, British Columbia faces imminent disaster on Tuesday when voters go to the polls to elect a new provincial government.

All capital projects could be cancelled. Or oil pipelines could dissect the province.

Investment could end immediately and residents forced to flee to Alberta. Or children will grow poorer while corporate fat cats fill their pockets.

After four weeks of campaigning, the winner in the B.C. election is... not necessarily the truth in its purest form. Such political prevarication is just good campaigning, say political watchers.

"One has to make a distinction between spin and lies," says Max Cameron, director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia.

"There are outright misrepresentation of people's views, which I think are inappropriate.

"On the other hand, it's normal in politics for people to want to highlight their virtues and describe their adversaries as being undesirable and to cast them in the most undesirable light possible. That's just normal, and not only is it normal, but it's effective."

The fact is that when politicians are negative, voters notice, Cameron says.

"That's a normal part of politics. So, having Adrian Dix's head spinning like a weather vane, I don't have a problem with that ad," he says, referring to one of several B.C. Liberal attack ads that have targeted the NDP leader.

The B.C. election campaign has been quite tame, Cameron suggests, particularly when compared to the electoral war on truth that occurs south of the border.

"I think the Americans have perfected the art of negative attack ads and taken it to a point that is really quite alarming," he says, adding that it is spreading North at the federal level but less so at the provincial level.

Little white political lies are so common in the U.S. that in February, the Washington Post launched a prototype news app called Truth Teller to conduct a real-time fact-check on political speeches and advertising.

"The goal of Truth Teller is to spot false claims that politicians say in speeches, TV ads or interviews," says the Post website, where the prototype app has been launched.

At one point, Dix accused his Liberal rival of running a "fact-free campaign" but both camps have crossed their fingers behind their backs a time or two in the past four weeks.

Liberals claims include:

— Fracking: They say the NDP will put a moratorium on fracking that will destroy the natural gas industry. Dix has said the NDP would order a review of the practice but business would go on as usual at least until that review is complete.

— Capital projects: They say a New Democrat government would cancel capital projects such as the Penticton Regional Hospital and a proposed jail in Oliver. Dix says that is just not so.

— Bond ratings: Christy Clark has been lambasted in the press for her claims that bond-rating agencies have endorsed her February budget as a balanced budget. None of the bond-rating agencies she cited have said that, though they have cited the province's fiscal record in its top credit rating.

For their part, the New Democrats have said:

— Deficit: They say the Liberals did not balance the provincial budget this year, but rather have an $800 million deficit. In fact, while the Liberal government is banking on asset sales to stay in the black, they are in the black.

— Tanker moratorium: The NDP says the Liberals would end a moratorium on oil tanker traffic on our North Coast. In fact, the offshore is federal jurisdiction and there is no moratorium on oil tanker traffic. Oil tankers traverse Canadian waters daily. There is a voluntary exclusion zone affecting tankers that are not coming from Canadian ports.

— Bond ratings: The NDP cite a report by Dominion Bond Rating Service that pegs the B.C. deficit this year at $1.7 billion. In fact, the DBRS figure is based on a unique accounting method that includes capital expenditures.

Dermot Travis, of Integrity BC, a group funded by a private businessman to push for democratic reforms in B.C., says both sides have told some financial fibs on the hustings.

"That's the challenge that voters are going to have to overcome on the 14th," he says.

Integrity BC would like to see the election date moved to the fall, after the auditor general has issued an annual report on the public finances. That would remove the option of fudging the numbers for either side, Travis says.

"I don't know that anybody is perpetrating an outright, bare-faced lie but both campaigns are stretching the truth," says Richard Johnston, Canada research chair in public opinion, elections and representation at UBC.

"Mostly they're emphasizing the faults on the other side and the virtues on their own, and arguably the claims about virtue are less close to the truth than the claims about the other side."

The B.C. election hasn't been markedly more negative than most, he says.

The Liberals have recognized — correctly, he says — that fear of the other side is a strong motivator for voters.

It's not a new approach.

"Canadian politics has always been a pretty nasty business, as a matter of fact, and B.C. politics quite nasty by Canadian standards," Johnston says.

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