You don't hear this stated much these days: The B.C. Liberals will win in 2013.
You heard it here first. In one of the great resurrections in B.C. political history, on the evening of May 14, 2013 premier-elect Christy Clark will be grinning from ear to ear in front of a packed room of supporters in downtown Vancouver. She will thank her NDP opponent for running a spirited campaign, and graciously thank the voters of British Columbia for giving her a new four-year mandate.
Whoa. I can hear the derisive comments already,"Mike, what are you smoking? You're just a partisan hack!"
I admit that based upon the latest polls I'm walking onto a very long plank. Indeed, my prediction may be wrong. But with just a little knowledge of Canadian political history, I can prove that claims NDP Leader Adrian Dix will be B.C.'s next premier are similarly speculative and unfounded.
Let's look at the pattern of elections both in B.C. and across Canada. There are countless examples of political parties bottoming out in public opinion only months before achieving victory.
For example, few people today will remember the massive labour uprisings and public antipathy toward Premier Bill Bennett in the months prior to the 1983 election. Bennett was enemy number one for many British Columbians, yet he turned around terrible poll numbers and led his party to victory.
Same for Gordon Campbell as premier. By 2004, his B.C. Liberal party had incurred the wrath of big labour unions. Cutbacks in services made Campbell's government extremely unpopular. However, in May 2005 Campbell & Co. won a strong new mandate on the promise of a "Golden Decade" to come.
Beyond B.C. there are several other examples. Last year Ontario's Dalton McGuinty was surely going to be defeated by that province's Progressive Conservatives led by Tim Hudak. Pundits predicted a PC majority. Instead McGuinty's incumbent Liberals won, only one seat short of a majority government.
As well in Manitoba, Greg Selinger, a new leader for the three-term NDP government defied the pollsters and pundits by defeating the Progressive Conservatives and winning a fourth mandate.
In Alberta, Premier Alison Redford took over as leader of the incumbent Progressive Conservative party after a divisive leadership contest. The PCs had their share of scandals, and a new conservative opponent -- the Wildrose Party led by a dynamic leader named Danielle Smith -- that was deemed by many to be the government in waiting. Polls right up to the final week before election day had Wildrose in majority territory. Redford's massive majority win must have been all that much sweeter when she made the pollsters look like amateurs.
Lastly, if you have followed the news out of Quebec over the last several weeks, Jean Charest's Liberals were dead on arrival. Corruption charges ended Quebecer's appetite for more Liberal governance. Furthermore, they were perceived as tired and out of ideas. The Parti Quebecois were on track for a majority, with the upstart Coalition Avenir Quebec led by Francois Legault taking second place. On the night of the election the Liberals surprised everyone by coming just a few seats short of beating the PQ.
THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
In election after election, voters choose "the devil they know" over an alternative. Privately, even B.C. NDP insiders admit they fear this outcome next spring.
Here at home, the prevailing view is that the B.C. Liberal premier is at the helm of a sinking ship. Governments in British Columbia so rarely win a fourth mandate that by default it is assumed you cannot win. The truth is as long as you do not demonstrate gross incompetence, steal, or die in office, British Columbians will likely give you a fourth mandate. It happened to W.A.C. Bennett a generation ago, and to Premier Richard McBride's government early in the 20th century.
Some might like to compare the current B.C. Liberal government to that of its NDP predecessor, but I see few similarities. Through the '90s, the B.C. NDP had four leaders. After the Bingogate scandal led Premier Mike Harcourt to fall upon his own sword, his successor Glen Clark proceeded to resign from office following allegations that he had accepted favours in exchange for approving a casino application. Interim leaders Dan Miller and Ujjal Dosanjh presided over the final days of their mandate, but in the end frustrated B.C. voters reduced the NDP to two seats.
Today's B.C. NDP have only slightly changed their stripes since the '90s. Acolytes of the Glen Clark administration like Dix are still running the party. Interestingly, the B.C. NDP have grown their popularity by not announcing a single policy initiative. But their recent proposal for a provincial review of the Northern Gateway pipeline, and vague stance on secret ballots for union certification has opened them up to a lot of criticism. Expect more of the same in the months ahead.
Until recent weeks it was widely felt that the B.C. Conservative Party would significantly eat away at the B.C. Liberals' support. However, there are few signs that the BC Cons will be able to mount any kind of credible campaign. They are broke, disorganized, and their leader John Cummins is widely viewed as an intolerant grump.
The B.C. Liberals have surely had their ups and downs. The so-called Hated Sales Tax was a significant political blunder, but a referendum gave the public their say on HST and the tax is soon to be history. Clark has yet to gain her stride politically, but those who've watched her career know that Clark is a helluva campaigner. The reality in politics is, polls eight months out do not matter as much as the final three weeks of an election campaign.
Though the dynamics are there for a victory, no one would suggest that the B.C. Liberals do not have a steep hill to climb. Clark's government needs to spark a fire in the public mind about the future of our province. The B.C. Liberals need bold strokes in terms of public policy that would set them apart from the Gordon Campbell legacy.
What kind of "big ideas" can rekindle voters' interest in a free enterprise coalition government? I'll offer some suggestions in an upcoming post.
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