It's difficult to find someone in Vancouver's business community who relishes the prospect of an NDP government. Yet that's precisely what they are bracing for when British Columbia goes to the polls next May.
It has been 16 months since Christy Clark won the leadership of the B.C. Liberals and became premier. In that time, confidence in her has all but evaporated.
According to an Angus Reid poll this week, the NDP is at a comfortable 46 per cent, while the B.C. Liberals are at 25 per cent and the B.C. Conservatives at 19 per cent. Christy Clark's personal approval ratings are even lower. Barely 15 per cent of those Angus Reid surveyed approve of Clark's job performance.
The business community is profoundly unsettled at Clark's performance and the prospect of an NDP victory, which they dread. They are still crossing their fingers for a B.C. Liberal miracle. But they are also realists, if nothing else. For their part, the Conservatives are not a serious alternative. They are populated with the extreme right and religious zealots. Their leader, John Cummins, is a highly unfavorable contrast to both Clark and Dix.
Christy Clark's weak performance as premier, particularly on economic files, has been punctuated by a long string of gaffes. The latest was this week. The National Post reported this week that "Christy!" said that she hates one of the most spectacular cities on the planet -- Victoria.
Perky has replaced substance as a governing style for the B.C. Liberals.
The party braintrust has decided that it must shield the premier of B.C. from the legislature, so there won't be a Fall sitting. The government announced that it is too "preoccupied" with more important matters.
Clearly, the premier's advisors prefer to take this hit than to take the barrage -- and risk -- of a daily question period. The less they exposure "Christy!" to unscripted interactions, they reason, the better. At least that's the explanation her senior fundraisers are providing. So much for the "Christy!" promise of open and transparent government. Never mind democratic accountability.
By all accounts, Clark's command of important files and the fundamentals of economic questions is tenuous, at best. And she has not advanced an agenda beyond bumper sticker platitudes such as "Families First."
The BC Liberals are a tired government, for sure. But beyond cynical public relations and attacks on the opposition, Christy Clark has done nothing to put a substantive policy stamp on her government. She's had over a year and there has been no agenda to speak of other than a few bumper sticker pronouncements.
"Christy!" has gone out of her way to distance herself from the past decade of Liberal governance under her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, who despite his deficiencies, is widely admired for his stewardship of B.C.'s economy. Business leaders would have at least liked to see a vigorous and robust defense of the policy framework that has made B.C. a national success story. At the same time, they have all but given up hope that Clark has the capability to do that, much less put her own stamp on government and articulate a clear vision for the future.
For good reason business is absolutely dreading the thought, but are increasingly resigned to the NDP forming the next government. So it was against this backdrop that Adrian Dix, Leader of British Columbia's NDP, had his coming out party in front of a full house of B.C.'s business elite this week at a luncheon of the Vancouver the Board of Trade.
For the Board of Trade audience, this was the first real look at Adrian Dix. He spoke extemporaneously and took questions for at least 40 minutes and talked about education, health care, trade, training, taxes.
On that front, the news wasn't good; Dix said that he would stick to his commitment to raise corporate taxes to 2008 levels and to impose a minimum tax on banks. But he gained respect from his audience for leveling with them, despite the fact that they hate the message.
Much of the Liberal case against the NDP is predicated on the "socialist" bogeyman narrative. That line of attack isn't working with the average voter and I don't expect it to work with the business community. Their paid advertising campaign attacks on Dix are infantile and an insult the intelligence of the voting public. Dix is shrewdly taking the high road and declaring an end to "gutter politics."
Dix tried to put the well-founded fears about the NDP's ideological to rest by telling his audience that he and his party believe in the importance of business, the market economy, and will not seek to radically reshape the provincial economy. It was a virtuoso performance in front of a hostile audience. Dix was speaking on
weighty topics unscripted and with real insight. He was also self-deprecating and funny.
One CEO of a large publicly traded company I spoke with expressed surprise. "I didn't come here expecting to think, much less say this, but he is an impressive guy."
Dix has reportedly spent a lot of time with former NDP premier, Glen Clark. Dix was Clark's chief of staff, and for a decade now, Glen Clark has been successfully running a large part of The Jim Pattison Group, an $8 billion conglomerate that employs 35,000 worldwide. It has been a remarkable transformation for Clark, who was reviled by much of B.C.'s business crowd.
They are all hoping that Glen Clark is a moderating influence on Adrian Dix and the NDP. And they pray that some of Jimmy's star dust somehow finds its way to Adrian Dix.
At the moment, the Dix and the NDP are getting a free ride. A large part is attributable to the policy shallowness and painfully weak performance of "Christy!" Clark. As long as she is leader, the probabilities are very good that we'll see the NDP back in power in BC. That is a scenario that strikes fear in the heart of the business community. And I can't blame them one bit.