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With Friends Like Gordon Wilson, Who Needs Enemies?

05/07/2013 12:28 EDT | Updated 07/07/2013 05:12 EDT
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So who's in worse shape? The BC NDP or the Canucks?

It's the Canucks, of course, who not only feel their momentum but their fan base slipping away in yet another dismal playoffs outing.

Now, switch to the "nerd playoffs" aka the election, where the party that looked like it would cruise to victory on April 15 remains in control of its support base, but will have to sing much louder for its supper amongst undecided and swing voters as the game clock winds down.

These have been tense and not particularly fun times for those steering the New Democratic campaign, as columnists and political watchers pick apart everything the party has done wrong to shrink a 20 point lead to just seven in a mere two weeks.

It's almost as bad as losing three games in a row - with home ice advantage. The NDP brain trust knows this, and will be tweaking party messaging in the days to come to reflect a harder line when it comes to their opponents, the BC Liberals.

For superstitious NDPers, there is little comfort in "I told you so." Ever since their party began consistently polling at or above 40 per cent, the magic number under which they have won previous majority elections, New Democrats who believe in good and bad juju have been loudly shhhshing anyone suggesting a ballot box victory looked certain.

For others, the key to victory has been hard work, and more hard work. They have privately expressed worries in the months leading up to the campaign that fellow candidates were spending more time envisioning what they would do in government and less time applying the elbow grease required to ensure victory.

From that perspective, a scare on the polling numbers may actually work to the NDP's advantage. After all, there is nothing more frightening, and more motivating, than a victory that could slip away. Advance voting begins this week, and the party may well use its shrunken lead as a rallying cry to get supporters to the polls early.

Delivering the vote has always been the strength of the NDP in this province. Still, the party's failure to use other political weapons gifted by the BC Liberals in themselves; in the form of the HST, dubious jobs and budget figures, the ethnic vote strategy memo or questions around BC's Wood Innovation Centre, is frankly baffling. But at NDP HQ, there's not time to reflect on the "why?". Only the "what's next?"

Speaking of baffling, I must confess to being entirely unsure what Gordon Wilson's endorsement of the Liberals actually does for leader Christy Clark or her party, who have been having the campaign of their dreams to this point.

For you millennials reading this, Wilson's greatest claim to political fame in B.C. came in 1991. 22 years ago. As then-leader of a much more left-leaning BC Liberal Party, he delivered a wildly resonating soundbite at a TV debate during that year's general election. It was enough to earn the party a come-from-nowhere 17 seats on election night, and status for Wilson as Opposition Leader.

Alas, there endeth the fairy tale. What followed was better than any story arc on 90's-era episodes of 90210.

Within two years, Wilson had alienated his Liberal caucus members with a reportedly aloof leadership style and a much-publicized extra-marital affair with fellow MLA Judy Tyabji. The affair in itself was perhaps less of an issue than the fact that he elevated the otherwise rookie politician to a powerful position within caucus, breeding resentment galore.

By 1993, Wilson had lost the leadership of the BC Liberals to another Gordon (he of the Campbell variety), stomped out of the party's convention where said loss occurred, and then quit the party altogether. He would go on to start his own political party, the Progressive Democratic Alliance, disband it, join the NDP, run for the NDP leadership, and then quit the NDP, only to "come home", as he calls it, to the BC Liberals this week.

Seriously, with endorsements like Wilson's, who needs Dave Babych? There have been musings Wilson can help shore up centre-left votes. But that will be very hard to do while the party runs endless TV spots of Clark sounding like a fiscal hawk. (Not, by the way, that there is anything wrong with being fiscally hawkish.)

Note to Clark and the BC Liberals: You don't need Gordon Wilson. You're doing just fine. You've brought the fight to the NDP. You've done a better job framing the ballot box question. So why these late-game distractions? Like the Canucks, you're running out of time to finish turning things around in this campaign. And as your volunteers are telling me, there are still plenty of undecided voters out there -- even in ridings where Liberal victory is supposed to be a lock.