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The B.C. Liberals Could Easily Win The Next Election

01/19/2016 06:14 EST | Updated 01/19/2017 05:12 EST
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Can Christy Clark, the Gumshoe (Rich Coleman) and the other sad cast of characters occupying the cabinet offices in Victoria win the next election, about 17 months away?

You're damn tooting they can and the way things look right now, I think they will.

This certainly isn't what I want to happen nor, if the social media are any indication, is it the wish of the public. Experience tells us, however, there are other traditional forces at play that somehow always surprise us when they happen.

"Not a dime without debate"

The "right" has done a masterful job of convincing a substantial segment of voters that the NDP are wastrels and incompetent when in office.

This takes me back to younger days and I went to a federal Liberal rally where one of their cabinet ministers, Lionel Chevrier, gave the main speech. He made just one point: "It is said, ladies and gentlemen, that Liberal times are good times and Tory times are bad times -- the Tories claim this is just a coincidence but I ask you, which coincidence will you be voting for?"

Not a terribly honest question but winning politics.

If the Liberals can make the case in 2017 that they've been good stewards of the public purse and that business is good, it won't matter that they have actually done neither.

I still read about Bill Bennett and his "not a dime without debate" caper and how he demonstrated, back in 1975, that Dave Barrett was a wastrel.

As a procedural matter, the NDP had proposed that debate of ministers' estimates be confined to 135 hours in total.

This was an entirely reasonable proposition but the Socreds deliberately slowed down the debates until the minister of finance was reached. Now the minister of finance himself spends very little money -- his job is to dole it out, not spend it, and often he's not even questioned. This was different!

The Socreds kept questioning, until, as expected, the Speaker stopped proceedings, saying that the opposition had run out their 135 hours, ending debate on estimates. The Socreds, keeping up the facade, protested lustily and Bennett went around the province hollering "not a dime without a debate."

Just in case that wasn't enough, Premier Barrett cut off his legislative stipend making him a martyr to democracy. More than anything else, this won the 1975 election for the Socreds, including me.

The label still sticks

After we got in, it occurred to us that this 135-hour rule was not a bad one so we dispatched our House Leader to meet with the NDP House Leader to make arrangements to bring it in. The NDP leader, Dennis Cocke, almost died laughing, as did the entire NDP caucus, and, in fact, they extended estimates longer than ever before in the history of the legislature!

During the NDP administrations of Mike Harcourt, Christy Clark, Dan Miller, and Ujjal Dosanjh, the opposition Liberals worked overtime to demonstrate that they couldn't run a peanut stand. The NDP co-operated often enough to make it stick.

One need only look at the last election to see how Clark and Brad Bennett, at the last minute, played the business card, stating to all who would listen that business would vanish from British Columbia if the NDP were elected.

A modicum of chicanery

British Columbia voters are divided, roughly 35 per cent right wing, 25 per cent NDP, the balance switching according to the mood of the moment. It's very instructive to look back at the Barrett years - in 1972 he upset WAC with a popular vote of 39 per cent, achieving a near landslide.

In 1975 Barrett lost to Bill Bennett but received -- are you ready for this -- 39 per cent of the popular vote. It takes very little for the Liberals to get from 35-40 per cent. A modicum of chicanery does it very nicely.

If the Liberals can make the case in 2017 that they've been good stewards of the public purse and that business is good, it won't matter that they have actually done neither.

The myth of the "balanced budget"

The critical ingredient of Liberal self-congratulation is a balanced budget. Everyone who thinks about it knows that's because they've cut social services dramatically, or not increased them as necessary. But that argument won't prevail with the 10 per cent who naively accept a balanced budget as the litmus test of success, no matter how it's achieved.

Statistics will be trotted out to show how good business is even though it's hard to find what the Liberals did to achieve this -- they will say that just by not being NDP was enough, the Lionel Chevrier rule.

All can be forgotten

Gone will be all the arguments about LNG, dead children in government custody, deleting of emails, the shocking health department scandal, the Mount Polley debacle and so on and so forth.

This month's announcement by the Liberal government that it's opposing Kinder Morgan's pipeline proposal is a reminder that they're not to be underestimated politically and creates yet another messaging problem for the Official Opposition.

I wish I had some words of consolation for NDP Leader John Horgan - I've tried words of advice but he pays no attention.

Elections are always a crapshoot and anything goes when the whistle blows. But if the Liberals go into the next election with reasonably full employment and a balanced budget, no matter what fiscal artifices they used to balance or mumbo jumbo they use as explanations, they go in stronger than the Horgan bunch and the words of Damon Runyan come to mind: "The race is not always to the swift, nor the contest to the strong, but that's the way to bet."

(A version of this blog originally appeared on The Common Sense Canadian.)

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