Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Shock. And people ask, "what happened?"

The British Columbia general election of 1996 was the thirty sixth provincial election in the Province of British Columbia. Called on April 30, 1996, and held on May 28, 1996. Voter turnout was 59.1% of all eligible voters.

The election was supposed to be a slam dunk for the BC Liberal Party. Most observers and voters had anticipated the Liberals taking power.

New Democratic Party leader and provincial premier Mike Harcourt had resigned as the result of a fundraising scandal involving one of the members of his caucus and Glen Clark was chosen by the party to replace Harcourt.

On the Liberal side, Gordon Campbell had become leader after Gordon Wilson had been forced out of the position because of his relationship with another Liberal member of the legislature, Judi Tyabji. After Wilson was defeated by Campbell in the convention to choose a new leader, he and Tyabji left the Liberal Party to establish the Progressive Democratic Alliance.

A total of 15 registered parties contested the election that year – only four running more than 65 (of 75) candidates. The problem for the BC Liberals was that there were three major parties: the BC Liberals (75 candidates), Reform BC (75 candidates) and the breakaway Liberal – Progressive Democratic Alliance (66 candidates) who managed to split the rightist vote in the province – a phenomenon exaggerated further by 17 Libertarian, 38 Social Credit, 14 Family Coalition, 8 Conservatives and 5 Western Canada Concept candidates also in the race.

Although the Liberals won a larger share of the popular vote, most of their votes were wasted in the outer regions of the province; they only won eight seats in the Vancouver area. This allowed the NDP to win reelection, eking out a six-seat majority government.

The result was a shock to most observers and voters. So what happened that year?

The voters knew the NDP were corrupt and scandal plagued, but they had severe doubts about Gordon Campbell.  Was he a raging conservative who would slash government services as the NDP fear-mongered? 

While those doubts would be erased four years later (when the BC Liberals swept all but 2 of the Provinces 79 seats, virtually wiping the NDP off the political map), in 1996 voters were unsure. Polls predicted a BC Liberal victory, but ballot box remorse led voters to choose the devil they knew over the one they didn't.

Last night's election bore a eerie similarity to that 1996 election, but in reverse.

This time around it was the scandal plagued BC Liberal's who were the governing party fighting for re-election.

They had a new leader, Christy (aka Krusty) Clark, paralyzed by party infighting and on-going scandals. Krusty had failed to move on the results of the HST referendum, a mistake in judgement that was already haunting her leadership. Had she quickly implemented the voter's wishes and called a snap election, most observers believe the BC Liberals would have easily won an overwhelming victory.

But factions in her party wanted her to delay and find loopholes for the tax.  More scandals emerged. Bitter factions from the Leadership race began fleeing the sinking ship with plans to oust Krusty after the election. Infighting and scandals were serving the election to the New Democrats on a silver platter.

So how did it all go so wrong for the NDP?

A decade before the BC Liberals came to power, another BC NDP party was angling to replace a scandal plagued BC government.  Leader Mike Harcourt recognized the concerns in the voters minds and assuaged them by seeking middle ground.  He minimized the socialist agenda to recognized the need to support business and it's place in the economy.

The first mistake the BC NDP made in the 2013 campaign was not adopting a similar strategy in the years leading up the the election. They chose Adrian Dix as their leader, a candidate with severe baggage from the scandal-ridden Glen Clark government.

Their strategy for the election? 

Mitigate the negative elements of Dix's history by running a 'positive' campaign. But 'positive' is a misnomer.  The campaign the New Democrats planned was a trojan horse. What they called "change for the better: one practical step at a time" was a weak attempt to soft pedal the tax and spend agenda that always strikes fear in the minds of the electorate.  

Dix planned to speak of glowing generalities, avoid the blunt tax and spend message and avoid the notorious "memo to file" affair that erupted 14 years ago when the police were breathing down then-premier Glen Clark's neck in the so-called casinogate case.

It was a bland, head in the sand campaign; keep the message vague and allow the public's rabid distain for the BC Liberals record to bring them down.

And it was working because the BC Liberal base was torn apart.

Unhappy BC Liberal voters were looking to the Conservatives as an emerging factor and the Greens were stealing some support as well. Just like in 1996, the vote was splitting.

But voters remained undecided about who they would vote for and were very leery of the Opposition NDP.

In this milieu it seemed the BC NDP could easily cruise up the middle. Keep it safe, don't make any mistakes.

This 'safe' approach all started to unravel when Charlie Wyse, the NDP candidate in Cariboo-Chilcotin, made a stunning statement at an all-candidates in Bridge Lake.
“The position of the NDP is that there will be a moratorium put on fracking for the next two years while the science will be brought together to find out the effect, if anything, that fracking has on the water table.”
These comments were in direct conflict with the BC NDP election platform.

Energy Minister Rich Coleman played audio of Mr. Wyse’s statement at a news conference Monday morning, using it to further the B.C. Liberal narrative that an NDP government would not grow the economy.
“Right now, in northeastern B.C., there are companies spending hundreds of millions of dollars drilling for natural gas to build the basis for this resource,” Mr. Coleman said. “They’ve just been told by the NDP that they intend to shut them down.”
Adrian Dix was forced to do damage control and claim that Mr. Wyse had simply “misspoke” about the matter.
“The words in our platform are clear, the words we have expressed for a number of years are clear,” he said at a campaign event in Vancouver. “We don’t support a moratorium on hydraulic fracking. One candidate made a mistake. The fact is, what we’re proposing is a science-based review [on fracking].”
But the explanation rang hollow and that's when the trojan horse nature of the BC NDP campaign began to crystallize in the minds of the wayward Liberal voters. There would be a 'review', no doubt.  And it would lead to a ban.

The NDP position on major energy initiatives began garnering a substantial amount of attention. Leonard Krog, the NDP candidate in Nanaimo, tweeted that the party wants a review of the existing Kinder Morgan pipeline. The next day, he clarified the party’s position, saying the NDP would not review the existing pipeline.

While never stated in the press, that image of a trojan horse campaign gained even more traction in the minds of those disaffected BC Liberal voters.

Dix was pressed by reporters for not being clear on where he stood on the Kinder Morgan pipeline project, despite saying earlier in the week he was opposed to it. This lack of clarity was the turning point for the election.

On one hand you had the lying devil's you knew in the BC Liberal's. On the other, a party clearly lying  about their campaign platform whose leader had, 14 years ago, left in disgrace for lying.

The BC Liberal's seized on this and moulded their message around it.

As for the Conservatives, several wing nut candidates now shook the resolve of the BC Lib disaffected. 

For the fractured Liberal vote it was decision time.  Choose a protest vote by going with the Conservatives, Independents or Greens... or worse, the NDP.

Or hold their nose, bite their tongues and vote BC Liberal.

The polling data was showing all of this.  The gap between the parties was dramatically shrinking and the BC Liberal message ramped up: a strong economy or change, you couldn't have both.

Dix's vague, 'positive' message now came across as completely fake and contrived.

The hand wringing of the electorate was being measured by pollsters in the rapidly closing gap. What the pollsters couldn't measure was the hand-wringing of those wayward Liberal supporters those undecided.  These voters now feared what their protest vote could do: split the vote and hand the election to the BC NDP.

As these voters entered polling stations on election day, many made their final decision in the polling booth. Ultimately they decided to hold their nose and vote BC Liberal.

Pundits and reporters were oblivious to the wide spread vacillation. Even as the polls closed, most were expecting an NDP coronation with up to 60 seats for Adrian Dix's party.

It was ballot box reckoning that sunk the BC Liberals in 1996. And it was identical ballot box reckoning that reached out to bite the BC NDP in 2013.

They say 'hope clouds observation', and observation was severely clouded yesterday.

There is an old sports adage that says,"that’s why they play the game.”It means the game isn’t decided on paper. One team might have more talent and might be favoured to win the game by oddsmakers, but when the game is actually played there is no certainty that the favourite will always win. “That’s why we play the game to see who’ll win”

On twitter it comes across as #itaintovertilthefatladysings.

Next post we'll look at the message for both parties.


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  1. Great summary Whisperer. The best I've read all day in fact. The winds of change did switch direction with fracking waffle.

    One it you missed from the 1996 summary. The shameless lies Glen Clark and NDP had published about balanced budgets just prior to the election. It was all spin and lies but the truth didn't come out until just after election night. This fired up the Liberal base and consolidated the Right with rage that seems to carry over to today. Just my 2 cents. And isn't it all the same old group of people behind the NDP that have been planning their campaigns for years?

  2. The NDP must get rid of Dix and cater to the left/centre vote. Dix has too much history with the NDP. Dump Moe Sahota while they are at it.

  3. Yeah, there are a lot of good history there. I think it might be a bit simpler though.. The NDP has a narrow base that it plays towards too enthusiastically. Teachers, ferries, environment, renters. They need to broaden their tent a bit.

  4. I am sick and tired of people telling me that unless I vote for the big two, it's a protest vote and it doesn't count.

    I swear it's a large part of why we have such low voter turnout.

  5. Brilliant synopsis, Whisperer... but your analysis omitted one [arguably the most] significant element.

    The 48% who chose "None of these f***ers".

  6. The good thing is that the NDP won't be blamed for the coming housing crash and accompanying recession. The liberals were in charge during the run-up, they should be in charge when the SHTF.

    1. Well, except for the small bit where the housing bubble is actually a global event driven by low interest rates forced by the US Federal Reserve. But hey, man, if you can find a reason to blame anyone locally then best of luck to you.

    2. Without CMHC/federal government backing, low or non-existent down payment etc. there would never have been a housing bubble in Canada. I think the backing of around $1trillion in mortgages is an amount that even the most ardent apologist can not dismiss.

    3. There are things that could have been done at the Provincial level that would have helped. For example, more housing permits (and faster approval for projects). Also, significantly higher property taxes for seasonal use or vacant properties, etc.

  7. 'tis true. The housing mess is all Liberal. In fact, this is why B.C. went Liberal. It's the under-water mortgage holders (and they grow by legions every day), that is saying to Krusty...'You got us into this, Now get us out'
    Debt piggies are rewarded, and savers continue to be punished.

  8. Exactly what I was thinking throughout the whole election!

  9. From what I saw the NDP platform came across as vague, as were the answers from (even senior!) candidates. Their bullpen wasn't deep and the electorate picked up on that.

    If the NDP does want to be a majority, as was stated in a previous comment, they need to broaden their tent. In my view the opportunity they need to plan, in the next two decades, is an eventual divorce of the previous generation's grassroots and form another party. That should be in the planning stages now; they missed their chance in the late 1990s and fell back on "solidarity". Their views will continually be guided by "social democratic" principles that inevitably give mic time to fringe views. Put another way, they need a "vision vancouver" like approach.

  10. Um, I have read elsewhere, Whisperer, that your are in fact a female. If so, I am APPALLED at your use of the term "Krusty" in reference to Christy Clark. Are you too dense that you do not know why men refer to her by this nickname?!

    My respect for you has dropped considerably, as your completely legitimate personal displeasure with the Liberals and their leader has been tainted by your very personal, disrespectful use of this really misogynist label.

    If you are in fact a woman, shame on you. Seriously.

    1. Well I don't get it. What does Krusty mean to you? I thought it was just a play off "Krusty the Clown" and nothing more.

      Are you reading too much into the term?

  11. News to me that Krusty is a misogynist label. Please enlighten. I just thought it was one of those meaningless nickname variants on Christy.

  12. Googling the term "Krusty Clark" seems to turn up numerous references.