Martyn Brown: B.C. Liberals unchained
One of the funniest scenes in Django Unchained is when the character played by Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz first arrives on the scene in his horse-drawn carriage, lantern swaying, with a bobbing tooth on top. The side of his cart advertised he was a dentist.
For all the world, he looked more like a snake oil salesman—until we learn it was all ruse to mask his true occupation as a bounty hunter. His travelling office was to hide the bodies.
Watching the B.C. Liberals’ campaign bus is just as funny. There, blazoned on the side, is the equivalent of the bobbing molar: a picture of Christy Clark with the promise, “For a Debt-Free B.C.” Coming soon to a street near you.
Don’t let the smiling figure fool you. She’s not laughing at you. And she is certainly not smiling because so many of her candidates refuse to use her name or picture. In some cases, they won’t even use their own party label. Christy is just happy. Nothing gets her down.
Yet inside that smiling face beats the heart of a bounty hunter. She’s gunning for Adrian Dix, supported by a cast of B.C. Liberals who are now unchained, anxious to get even with the NDP. Or at least, to save their hides.
The bodies, like the ghosts that haunt the B.C. Liberal Party, are buried within the bus. At each stop they spring out to shoot the “bad guys”, as the partisan faithful cheer.
But we all know where this plot is headed. We’ve seen this movie before and it’s not pretty. For the anti-heroes, it won’t end well.
In an election that is likely to be a slaughter, the B.C. Liberals are doing their best to make the case for the fundamental reason why people have turned away from them. It is painful to behold.
They are following a script that only reinforces voters’ lack of trust and desire for change. It never helps when your central campaign promise is laughable. Clark’s “vision” for a “debt-free B.C.” is as unhinged from reality as any of Quentin Tarantino’s neo-noir classics. Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds come to mind.
Maybe she got that idea from Brad Bennett. Perhaps he remembers his granddad firing the flaming arrow at that barge in Okanagan Lake to burn the bonds that held B.C.’s debt. He missed, but no matter. They still went up in flames—just like this goofy notion has already done. It has already been dismissed by the vast majority of voters, along with the B.C. Liberals’ claim to a balanced budget.
Today, no one would believe that we can, or should build schools, hospitals, roads and other capital infrastructure without borrowing. Yet eliminating debt is suddenly Christy’s cause célèbe.
She feels so strongly about that, her platform promises to commit 50 percent of future surpluses to paying down the debt. What happened to the 2009 B.C. Liberal platform commitment that “100 per cent of all future operating surpluses will be used first to eliminate the operating debt”?
The Gordon Campbell government cut that direct debt in half, before the 2008 global economic crash. With the record deficits since then, that debt from accumulated deficits, like all types of debt, is going up under the Clark government, not down. With a debt that will have increased by over 50 percent by 2015 under Premier Clark’s watch if her government is reelected and all goes according to her plan, one has to marvel at the audacity and absurdity of making debt her party’s central campaign issue.
Like the silly throne speech speculation about eliminating the provincial sales tax through the miracle healing powers of liquefied natural gas, the latest “debt-free B.C.” boast only serves to highlight the Liberals’ fundamental problem.
Namely, a lack of trust. It is a problem they have largely wished upon themselves through claims that can’t be met, through promises belied by actions, and through hypocritical behaviour, especially in the premier’s office. Instead of acknowledging and addressing that problem, “Today’s B.C. Liberals” are making it worse.
They continue to resort to hyper-partisan attacks that mostly shoot themselves in the foot. They continue to blame others for their own mistakes. They are campaigning with juvenile “Spend-o-Meter” stunts and wild lies about NDP positions on issues like natural gas fracking, spending costs, and tax hikes. And they have tabled a 94-page platform that offers little in the way of new ideas that might create new interest or enthusiasm.
It is telling that the governing party released its entire platform even before the writ was issued. As the NDP is showing, parties that have something new to offer generally unveil their platforms over several days. They use those ideas to help focus their campaigns and to drive the daily agenda, so that those prescriptions for change won’t be lost or ignored.
For the most part, Dix has won the campaign news coverage by targeting attention to issues that are popular, sensible, and easy to communicate in a clip. And contrary to what his opponents would have voters believe, not all of those ideas necessarily involve more spending.
Outlawing partisan government advertising will save taxpayers’ money, not the opposite. Banning political donations from corporations and unions will reduce potential conflicts of interest and will force parties to rely more on individuals for their funding support rather than on special interests. That’s a good thing.
I expect that most voters will welcome Dix’s new position on the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, politically motivated as it obviously is, to the extent that they agree Vancouver should not become a major oil export port. If that was his position, he should have said it clearly in the first place, but for most voters, it’s better he did so now, before they cast their ballots.
If the NDP follows through on its commitments to increase investments in skills training, reduce log exports, ban cosmetic pesticides, support local farmers, strengthen social programs, et cetera, so much the better. Not many taxpayers are going to bitch about the NDP’s plans to pay for its promised service enhancements with higher taxes on banks, large corporations, and upper income earners, or even with larger short-term deficits.
The difference between the two parties’ approach is not just strategic and tactical. It’s substantive.
With every new serious, popular, and contrasting commitment that Adrian Dix makes, he is also amplifying his chief opponent’s weakness. Clark’s “same-old, same-old” partisan attacks and shop-worn ideas are mostly reinforcing that she and her party are very nearly yesterday’s news.
From Day One, the premier’s main problem has been her lack of vision, focus, and credibility, her inability to shoot straight, and her penchant for firing at the wrong target and still missing the mark.
By contrast, Dix has built voter confidence by showing that, his Kinder Morgan pipeline shift aside, he is not inclined to shoot from the hip. He is answering the B.C. Liberals’ rickety road show and its quietly backfiring campaign strategy with one winning message: “Free at last.”
Time will tell if he can seal the deal through his performance in this Friday’s leaders’ debate and in Monday’s Great Shoot-Out. He should have fun with the B.C. Liberals’ “bobbing molar”, as he also remembers that, in politics, no one’s ever bulletproof.