As someone who has been a supporter of Premier Christy Clark ever since she was my local MLA and I was a teenager it greatly pains me to say this: unless some immediate and drastic changes are made the NDP will form British Columbia’s next government. Yet it appears to me today, as it has for some days recently, that the present government has fundamentally misread the contours of the battlefield and is instead determined to maintain a steady heading on a course that can only lead to defeat.
Before we get into how the government can recover its bearings, we need to pause for a brief history lesson.
42.1, 41.5, 21.5, 39.5, 40.7, and 42.6 – those are the percentages of the vote won by the NDP in every provincial election in my lifetime. With the exception of the disastrous 2001 General Election, the NDP have won between 40-42% of the vote every time British Columbians have gone to the polls in the last three decades. The three times that the NDP have formed a government in this province they’ve done it with roughly 40% of the vote. In other words, there is a substantial portion of the BC electorate that is willing to vote for socialism but there has never, in the history of this Province, been a majority for it. This seems to carry over to the present day. In the most recent poll the NDP has a large lead over the government. What are the NDP polling? They’re polling at 42%.
If roughly two in five British Columbians are for socialism, what are the rest for? Most of the rest, leaving aside a tiny ultra-radical minority, are for the free market to some degree or another. We have plenty of Federal Liberals and we have an abundance of Federal Conservatives. In a lot of places there are still many old-time SoCreds. BC’s free market coalition has always been a discordant and dissonant group but, throughout its history, a common bond has united us all: the desire to, pace WAC Bennett, turn back the socialist barbarians at the gate.
This Province is incredibly rich in resources: natural, human, and geographic. We don’t need a government to create prosperity in British Columbia, we just need a government that is willing to get out of the way and let prosperity create itself. In recognition of this fact we have a long tradition, stretching back to the Second World War, of coalition governments that represent the interests of all factions who support free enterprise. Those who have served in these governments have represented different parties at different times, but, for the most part, they have done a workmanlike job of conducting our affairs and ensuring that business remans the business of British Columbia.
Every once and a while this coalition has a tendency to splinter just a little bit. That’s when the NDP gets into power in Victoria and makes messes that take forever to clean up. Forget talking about what the NDP did when they were in power in the 1990’s – much of the nonsense that they got up to when they ran things in the 1970’s, such as ICBC, haunts us still. As much as I am quite substantially to the right of the Premier I, for one, am ready to forgive a great deal so long as she keeps the New Democrats from running Victoria.
That is why this week’s budget is such a tragically lost opportunity for the Premier. If this government is to keep the coalition together is cannot tack to the centre: the NDP aren’t winning more votes than they have in any recent ordinary election and, conversely, the odds of getting any substantial number of people who voted for the NDP in 2009, 2005, 1996, 1991, and 1986 to vote for the Liberals next time around are essentially nil. If the Premier is to be re-elected she must tack to the right and win back those disillusioned supporters of the coalition who have defected to the nascent Conservatives.
To secure re-election this government ought to adopt a three-pronged strategy:
First, a major effort needs to be made to win over right-wing voters. This means more than hiring Federal Conservatives as staffers. It means new policies – tax cuts, reduction in the size of the government, and new privatization initiatives – to appeal to the right.
Second, the government would do well to recall another popular element of the historic platform of our coalition: building British Columbia. Our ever-growing Province still needs more infrastructure and a continued commitment to major construction projects will give the government a positive agenda to tout.
Third, it’s long past time to take the gloves off and go after Adrian Dix in the same fashion that the Harper Conservative shredded Dion and Ignatieff. Throw a million dollars at ads talking about the memo that Dix forged to try and cover up the misdeeds of Glen Clark and the late-night shenanigans involving bags of cash at the NDP headquarters that made Dix the leader. That’ll get people talking.
Something – anything, really – must be done and done quickly to ensure that the government comes to appreciate the gravity of the situation. Hundreds of thousands of disillusioned members of the coalition may still be rallied to the cause and we might be safe still – but the window is closing.