Why the BC Liberals could easily win the next election

Christy Clark announcing her cabinet in 2013 (Flicker CC Licence / Government of BC)
Christy Clark announcing her cabinet in 2013 (Flicker CC Licence / Government of BC)

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?

Your 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.

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 Harcourt, Clark, Miller, and Dosanjh the opposition Liberals worked overtime to demonstrate that they couldn’t run a peanut stand. The NDP cooperated 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 he NDP were elected.

A modicum of chicanery

British Columbia voters are divided, roughly 35% right wing, 25% 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%, achieving a near landslide. In 1975 Barrett lost to Bill Bennett but received – are you ready for this – 39% of the popular vote. It takes very little for the Liberals to get from 35-40%. 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% 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, lying ministers much including the Premier, the Mount Polley coverup and so on and so forth.

Today’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 Mr. 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”.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

24 thoughts on “Why the BC Liberals could easily win the next election

  1. Hey Rafe,

    I found a book in my local thrift shop that you wrote and had published in 2002. I think I’ll go back there and buy it. I’d like to know how many of your political predictions actually came true.

  2. B.C. can’t afford another 4 years of lies, deceit, fraud. incompetence and corruption. The only thing I can come up with to explain the 15 years of environmental and economic destruction is the illiteracy of the electorate. Very few people seem to read anything other than the usual MSM journalists (if that), and many more simply get their information from TV ‘personalities’ such as Keith Baldrey (and we all know which side his bread is buttered on).

    All one has to do is read the CBC article, “Ratify TPP or Canada will be shut out of foreign trade, Christy Clark says” to see how Clark spins her web of deceit. It’s so frustrating to find out how many ‘sheep’ actually swallow that nonsense.

  3. How does Rafe know that John Horgan isn’t listening to him? (Just asking…)

    Is Rafe objective in analyzing the Barrett-Bennet Jr contest? While tooting the horn of the winning Socred party whose subsequent government he was part of, he might consider a plausible alternative to why Barrett lost: he was abandoned by labour unions after he’d ordered them back to work for a 90-day “cooling off period”; at least this alternative might explain why the same 39% of the so-called “popular vote” didn’t produce the same result as the previous election.

    No doubt the BC Liberals will try to get away with a “good stewardship” argument, but the counter is pretty easy to understand: they aren’t good stewards, and there’s plenty of evidence to prove it. I do agree that if the NDP fail to get that evidence out there—like they did last time—they don’t stand a chance. Yet just because Horgan doesn’t vet policy with Rafe doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand what his party’s shortcomings were, or what to do differently this time.

    Arguments, especially about something that doesn’t exist yet, like certain pipelines, dams, and LNG plants, an are prone to be forgotten. Mount Polley, dead children, a dead healthcare worker, and government lying, however, are not arguments with two sides, they’re facts with only one side: they happened because of, or under the watch of the BC Liberals. Oh sure, the BC Liberals will lie about the facts not really being their fault, might even blame the NDP (certainly Christy doesn’t shrink from absurdity), or, on a stretch, they might make tacit admission by way of promising to “do better next time”. Again, simple facts will back the simplest argument of rebuttal: the BC Liberals have lied so many times before, there’s no reason to trust them on anything. Yeah, they’re not the NDP, they can say that truthfully, but the proof is pretty damning.

    I agree that the BC Liberals have introduced some curve-balls to give the NDP a messaging problem—they have to, they got nuthin else—but I’m sure Mr Horgan is apprised and advised to stay away from these obvious traps.

    As I suggested Mr Horgan myself (and he did pay attention to me—maybe cuz I didn’t used to be a Socred?…or a talk-radio host?…) that not doing what they did last time, and doing what they didn’t do, is the best all-round strategy. There’s no need to get into a pissing match with the most corrupt government in BC’s history, especially not on a field of their own choosing. We agreed that, in general, the next campaign will do well to cite the BC Liberal record (heck, last time Mr Dix would barely lift a finger to defend himself against spurious, ad hominem dung flung at him almost daily, much less attack the BC Liberal record—that would have been too “negative” for his “positive politics” campaign)—and I mean cite that record with determined aggression (sorry Adrian, we can do positive politics after—and if—the NDP wins, not before). And, to avoid the “party of NO” characterization the BC Liberals are already honing, maybe even while neutralizing the other penance for the last election, the Greens, is to present what the BC Liberals can’t: an environmentally responsible platform that creates jobs, jobs for everyone, not only for the crony-conected inside friends of the government that inflicted the $800 million Smartmeter scam on us, and for which BC Hydro customers will pay dearly. Rafe knows this is doable.

    There you have it. Sunny Days and Sunny ways—with colourful gloves and teeth on the floor. But it has to start rolling very soon, and not let up.

    Where’s Rafe going with electoral reform? If (and it’s a big “if”) we see any of that, it’ll be at the federal, not provincial, level. Let’s remember that BC twice rejected STV at referenda, not that long ago, too. But electoral reform has become popular for people frustrated by the governments they elect under single-member-plurality. It seems plain to me, however, that even though SMP got us Harper, it also held him to the bare number of majorities—one (and he only won that by default), after which his government was convincingly turned out and probably won’t be back for a while. It’s also plain to me that the reason the BC NDP lost last time was due to its utterly hackneyed campaign, not to the electoral system. In any case, the 2017 election won’t, unless the BC Liberals do something completely desperate, be done by anything other than SMP.

  4. Sad eh? I have been saying that about the NDP since James. they will not listen and they keep the old guard backroom ‘boys’ around for some reason too.

    The NDP across Canada provincially and federally except Alberta for now is done like BBQ Duck.

    I just do not understand them anymore. It seems they love being in opposition.

    1. The NDP does listen, but the MSM does not. Therefore the public dos not know what is going on. In the last election, Dix was slagged because he changed a memo in the 1990’s. H apologized for doing so, but the main-stream media gave Christy Clarkj a free ride for lying to us about the sale of BC Rail. The press still gives her a free ride even though she continues to lie to us. It is time for her to go!

    1. I noticed yesterday that the conference board says that British Columbia will have the largest economic growth in the country next year at about 3%.
      Naturally I was curious as to how this could be what with petroleum and gas prices of being what they are. Well, it turns out, that premier photo op and her government are very good at one thing particularly, soaring house prices in the greater Vancouver area. Almost all the growth next year will be attributable to that!

      I believe that comes under the category “damned with a very faint praise”

  5. One can’t blame the liberals, nor the ndp, for liberal success in the next election. It’s the ignorant, uninformed, navel gazing public that is to blame.

    1. I tend to agree—to a point. There’s a lot of complacency here. Vancouver, and a few other BC cities, are living in a mirage created by the demand for more bubble-inflator-gas; complacency in these places isn’t justified, at least not in depth.

      I also blamed some of the NDP loss last time to complacency that believed the NDP could not help but win. Even the NDP itself didn’t twig until it was so late in the campaign, Dix panicked and shit-canned Kinder Morgan (I notice a lot of pipeline proponents wanted to interpret this as a pipeline endorsement from the “majority” of BC voters—but other, subsequent polls put that notion to bed pretty quick—especially as they indicated a cross-party-line sentiment which the BC Liberals never, ever want to admit).

      But I still contend that, in the main, BC voters simply could not bring themselves to vote for a party—or, more likely, a leader—that would not put its dukes up for anything, offence or defence. I still don’t think people actually believed Christy’s LNG whoppers, then, and surely not now.

  6. The provincial NDP are lost in a haze of ennui and hubris and for all accounts have ceased being Her Majesty’s Loyal opposition.

    They are lost, so lost that they cannot see the forest for the trees and like Don Quiote, duel with windmills of debates long past.

    Horgan seems not to want the jog as leader, in fact Horgan seems as disinterested both in the role of and the function of the “opposition”.

    The list of bad advisers is long; Bill Tielman; David Ebby; Geoff Meggs, to list a few.

    The provincial NDP have become irrelevant as they do nothing, yet sit back and collect their monthly stipends. One can only blame the mainstream media so much, but the lack of action; the lack of anything from Horgan isloud and clear – he does not give a damn.

    Quan is gone and hooray, Harcourt has departed the NDP to become a legend in his own mind in some forgotten corner, somewhere no one cares.

    Transit, ferries, E&N, LNG, pipelines, Massey Tunnel replacement, ALR, Fish Farms, Site C, the all to often death of children withing the Ministry of Fear, utter corruption at all levels of government, the incompetent RCMP, etc.,etc. Where is the NDP?

    From the NDP, silence, except for unsolicited emails demanding money – yikes, how low can the NDP go.

    Then we have two ex leaders, who sit as MLA’s; losers and constantly remind me that the NDP are a party of losers and you act as if you were. They should be shown the door.

    At a time when BC needed honest leadership to counter the sleaze-artists, grifters, and that horror of a woman in charge of the Ministry of Fear, we get silence.

    The NDP has lost the 2017 election because they didn’t show up in 2016.

    Like it or not, the Greens will get my vote.

    1. When I learned first hand that Andrew Weaver favored Liberal crony, run of river hydro generation he lost me. I emailed him to let him know. He made this admission on CFAX radio in Victoria. How dare anyone acknowledge those disgusting, Gordon Campbell contracts that have us screwed for the next forty years. It can be argued that Site C dam is proceeding because of those very contracts. Right Rafe?

    2. One has to acknowledge the hostile attitude of MSM toward the NDP to understand why they get so little press. We’re left with hansard, but, even then, the BC Liberals don’t call the Assembly very much—little as possible, in fact.

      I heard Dix on the radio the other day. Man, I know, I know, we have to respect the voters who elected him, but jeez, he did such a poor job of criticizing Smartmeters, I almost went out and kissed the one that came with the house. Some people just don’t got telegenicity, and Dix is one. The NDP should put him on a non-public assignment, at least until he can busy himself with his own riding.

      Too bad about the Green vote. Not sure what good it will do.

  7. The BC Liberals are riding the wave of Trudeau’s popularity. Madame has been in there like a dirty shirt. Is she pragmatic or opportunistic? She wants to be re-elected plain and simple.

  8. Better the devil you know…but what does one do when both are known devils? I still believe a pro-business government is better for the economy than one which focuses on airy-fairy social programs which manage to spend a lot of money and employ a lot of unionized people but seldom accomplish much else.

    Overall, we are not doing too badly here in BC under the current elected thugs.

    As for the next election, your opto-pessimism about the next election may well be sabotaged by the premier her own self. At the moment at least, she is the NDP’s best friend and campaign manager.

    1. The term “pro business” is a thing from the past, today we are in thrall of the age of Oligarchs, who wholesale buy governments and pen government policy. The business they practice is more akin to a ponzi scheme than good business.

      Gone are the mom and pop operations that in their day, provided the jobs, and income that made this province thrive. Today we have major off-shore corporations squeezing the last pennies (sorry nickles) from people so their dividents can be $0.15% higher. The oligarchs move money at lightning speed, destroying peoples savings and lives. Oligarchs don’t care, as long as they make a billion or two every day.

      That we have bought into this neo-con bullshit is the greatest fraud ever perpetuated on people. Our entire financial system is a sham and sadly p[people are foolish enough to support it.

    2. Both are known devils ? You can with a straight face compare what the NDP of almost 20 years ago “did” to our province with the current Neo-Liberal party of BC.
      Pro business government are at their core anti social. I’m so sick of people railing about unions when they are benefiting every day from the things that unions have fought and yes died for over the decades. Weekends , 8 hour days, pensions , labor standards benefits and airy fairy social programs as you put them all lift up the working people of this province. If business had their way we would work 18 hours a day 7 days a week for 50 cents and hour, and you would be fine with that i suppose. And i’m not in a union by the way im just not stupid enough to believe business has my well being at heart. Not to get biblical or anything but Jesus did say businessmen and merchants will not enter my fathers kingdom. Our province is buried in debt and stripped of public wealth and overall we are doing very poorly but if things are good for you i guess everything is ok Bud. Go back to sleep now.

  9. Hi Rafe

    I think you are missing one key point. The Conservative voting base for the Liberals are staunchly pro-jobs at any cost. This comes from a pro-oil, pro-industry attitude. What the BC Liberals just did was send a message to Alberta and the BC conservative base connected to the oil patch that they are willing to submit to the left and are no pro-jobs.

    By doing this they have left themselves exposed to attacks as being anti-jobs by that same base and have created a vulnerability.

    If this was a political move by the Libs, as there moves always are, this has a good chance of backfiring by the time 2017 rolls around.

    Mr R

    1. Interesting point Mr R. I disagree for two reasons.
      I don’t think there are enough doctrinal conservatives willing to go on their own to matter.
      Second, doctrinal purity is almost always overtaken by the strong desire of the “right” to keep the NDP out, going back to the Coalition in 1941.
      There certainly are vocal Tories who woul tell the world that you’re right but in my long lifetime they’ve amounted to very little when the chips were down.
      An uneasy partnership with the Liberals, for 30+ years as Socreds, has always trumped the joys of independence.

      Thus it is in BC politics!

Comments are closed.