There is an old saying in politics that governments are compared to perfection at the start of an election campaign but simply the best alternative by the end of it. BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark is certainly hoping this is the case as she attempts to carry an election for a second time, running against polls that suggest the New Democratic Party is poised for victory.
Of course these prewrit public-opinion surveys will not intimidate Ms. Clark, who came back from a 20-point deficit in the last election to claim a majority. So wrong were the polls, in fact, that most people are treating those being churned out now with extreme suspicion – if not outright disbelief.
There are lots of maxims in politics. Here's another one: Oppositions don't win elections, governments lose them. If that is the case, it's hard to believe that a government that has boasted arguably the strongest economy in the country over the past four years, unquestionably the best record of fiscal management among the provinces and an enviable job-creation record could possibly be booted out of office. But that's precisely what could happen.
We emphasize "could."
Despite what the polls may indicate, it is never easy for the NDP to win elections in British Columbia. It has only happened three times in the past gazillion years, or since dinosaurs roamed Stanley Park. (I'm not sure that ever happened. In fact, I'm sure it didn't, but I like the imagery nonetheless.) In the past 60-plus years, the NDP has held power for only 13 of them. The rest of the time the province has been ruled by a free-enterprise coalition of conservatives and liberals. For almost 30 years that coalition was represented by the Social Credit Party, and for the past 16 it has been the BC Liberals.
As a rule, the only time the NDP has a chance of winning in British Columbia is when the coalition cracks and fractures enough (generally it's been the party's right flank that has been upset enough to leave) to allow the province's left-wing party to win. There is certainly no sense that Ms. Clark has done anything to cause conservatives to abandon her; she has run one of the most conservative administrations in the country.
If that is the case, where does the path to victory lie for the New Democrats?
There have always been those who voted for the coalition, under whatever banner, while not being completely comfortable with the party or its policies. (Usually these people identify as fiscally conservative but socially progressive.) They were once known as "10-second Socreds." Now they are referred to as "10-second Liberals" – people who go into the voting booth, hold their nose and vote in their self-interest rather than with their conscience.
It is these people residing in the mushy ideological middle who could offer up a surprise in this election.
For all its fiscal and economic accomplishments and evident competence, Ms. Clark's government does not exude a great deal of optimism. Beyond the incessant recanting of the latest job numbers, behind the fake smiles, there is not a lot of heart or soul or intrinsic goodness to be found within this administration. In fact, you could easily make the case that it has become the most arrogant and politically tone-deaf of any in the country. That it too often caters to the party's powerful, wealthy political donors (who help ensure the Liberals have a massive financial and electoral edge in every election) at the expense of the little person, who is seen to be of little value.
It matters not to Ms. Clark's party that most other governments in the country (and around the Western world) have turned their backs on the type of sleazy, campaign financing arrangements the BC Liberals support. It's all about holding power – at any cost. They believe that even fair-minded people who inherently know the current rules are corrupt will nonetheless "hold their noses" and vote Liberal because free-enterprise coalitions know best how to run the provincial store, while the NDP might rack up huge debts on the government credit card.
And the Liberals may well be right. After all, they have decades of electoral history on their side.
It will be an intriguing campaign to follow regardless. While Ms. Clark is betting the status quo will prevail once again, her political opponents believe their message of change has never had a better chance of resonating with voters.