Monday, May 20, 2013

Synopsis of BC Election Result: We Should Have Known

{The following has been submitted for publication in the Omineca Express and Anahim-Nimpo Messenger--MC}

I accept my share of humble pie for not predicting the re- election of the B.C. Liberals on May 17, 2013.  While I saw the narrowing gap in the polls as the day of decision approached, I told myself that polls  often narrow at that moment, and that the NDP should still be able to hang on to a 5% lead and with that receive a healthy majority of seats in the Legislature. But we should have known: the Conservative vote had collapsed, and the Green vote hadn’t—a sure fire sign that the Free Enterprise coalition was back together again, and when truly united they have never fallen.

Ironically, the huge lead that the NDP  had  long enjoyed had the effect of dissolving Conservative support while encouraging Greens to demand more—splitting the progressive vote.  Meanwhile, Clark herself—rightly criticized for being more comfortable with the media spotlight than she is with the nuances of policy or the details of administration---came into her own during the campaign. She stayed "on message", always equating the Liberals with a good economy, and the NDP with the “bad economy” of the 90's.

This myth-making was silly and intentionally misleading, at best.  The truth is that the economy on the whole was not made worse by the NDP in the 1990s: if it was difficult to compensate for the effects of  the Asian financial crisis, it was because of softwood lumber quotas which made it difficult to switch production  to the US market, and not because of anything the NDP did wrong. Conversely, the economy was not made much better by the Liberals since 2001: if B.C.  was able to compensate for the bottom falling out of the U.S. housing market in 2007-2008, it was because of the huge surge in demand from a very different Asian economy, and not because Gordon Campbell shifted the tax burden away from business and wealthy people with his carbon tax and HST.

So why couldn’t the NDP effectively fight back?  Dix must have been blinded, as we all were, by the poll numbers.  But he  also made a clear mistake. Once he had unequivocally rejected the planned Northern Gateway pipeline and had endorsed the implementation of Justice Cohen’s Report on fish farming, he should have stopped trying to satisfy the greens and endorsed both Kinder Morgan and the idea of gaining revenue from Liquified Natural Gas.  The best policies of the 1990s came from just such a balancing act between environmental and economic interests: think of the CORE process, the Land Use Plans, Forest Renewal and the Treaty Process.  (Yes, Virginia, there were some good policies in the 1990s.)  When Dix lost that balance, thereby lending credence to his opponent, he lost the election.

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