What the B.C. Liberals forgot on the way to the election

Anyone who’s been paying attention to politics in the western world can see that the winds are changing.

In most though by not all recent elections, more progressive parties have triumphed over their conservative rivals.

The highest profile case came in France, where Socialist candidate Francois Hollande defeated incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy.

That election, more than any other, signalled that neoliberalism is in decline in the western industrialized world. Part of the reason is that nonwhite voters, as a group, tend to be less likely to vote for hard-right candidates than prosperous, middle-age white males.

And the nonwhite voters, many of whom are more economically marginalized, are increasing in numbers in most countries.

South of the border, President Barack Obama won a convincing victory over his Republican rival, Mitt Romney. Obama was helped enormously by Hispanic and African-American voters.

Meanwhile, a centrist, Enrico Letta, is the new prime minister in Italy. And in the U.K., Conservative prime minister David Cameron is on the defensive against a reinvigorated Labour Party.

Exceptions to the trend have occurred in financially troubled Spain and Greece, where more conservative parties succeeded.

The recent death of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher was mourned by neoliberals in Canada and abroad. But her departure may well have coincided with the death of the free-market, antiunion, antigovernment ideology she so heartily advanced.

So it should come as no surprise that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have also seen their popularity fall significantly in Canada. Two years ago after Harper won a majority, nobody predicted that the federal Liberals would catch up to the Conservatives in the polls by the end of April 2013. But that’s exactly what happened.

Meanwhile, the most right-wing party lost four closely watched provincial elections last year in Canada. The neoliberals' more progressive rivals won in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.

This is the backdrop to this year’s B.C. election campaign.

Christy Clark campaigns from the right

Since becoming premier in 2011, B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark has introduced some progressive measures. She raised the minimum wage, granted earnings exemptions to welfare recipients, boosted taxes on high-income earners, and raised the corporate tax.

But rather than talk about these moves, Clark has chosen instead to market herself like a 21st-century Thatcher, promising to eliminate the debt.

It appears as though Clark doesn’t want to talk about anything progressive for fear of alienating right-wing businessmen who are financing her campaign.

(That’s aside from the fact that Clark’s claims about the provincial debt are not credible in light of the B.C. Liberals’ record.)

The Vancouver NPA made the same mistake when Suzanne Anton was running for mayor against Vision Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson in 2011. Anton could have laid claim to being an environmental candidate based on some of the things she had done in the past. But the NPA campaign was surprisingly right wing in a city full of centre-left voters. No wonder Robertson won by nearly 20,000 votes.

Dix sends a finely tuned ideological signal 

At the provincial level, the NDP’s Adrian Dix has carefully calibrated his message to appeal to the prevailing centre-left ideology in the western industrialized world.

He hasn’t gotten wild-eyed. Far from it. There are no promises of a higher minimum wage, a restored B.C. Human Rights Commission, or massive spending increases on health care, education, childcare, or social housing. Welfare recipients can only look forward to a $20 per month raise, which will be phased in over two years, though they will also receive cost-of-living increases in the future.

The tepid tone of the party platform has no doubt rankled some of the B.C. NDP’s strongest supporters.

But there are enough moderately progressive promises to create some distance between the B.C. NDP and the neoliberal free-market ideologues in the B.C. Liberal party.

For instance, Dix will increase the minimum part-time employee shift length to three hours, up from two hours. This will impose a bit of pain on business but improve the lives of those who work for a living.

Dix also plans more public spending on home support. And because some home-support workers’ shifts will be longer, the health authorities are going to need more funding to pay for this.

Hospitals will likely be required to buy more locally grown food, according to the NDP platform. This, too, may impose some higher costs on health authorities.

But many of the B.C. NDP’s more dramatic moves may not cost the public treasury very much at all. That includes replacing Foundation Skills Assessment testing, creating provincewide code-of-conduct standards to thwart bullying, containing prescription-drug spending, and allowing welfare recipients to keep child-maintenance payments without having their benefits clawed back.

Even the NDP’s position on pipelines is designed to retain as much provincial revenue as possible. Rather than promise to curtail natural-gas extraction by curbing the use of hydraulic-fracturing drilling techniques—otherwise known as fracking—the NDP has trained its sights on oil pipelines.

The benefit is that the party can win environmentalists’ votes while not seriously undermining provincial resource revenues.

That’s because oil revenue royalties go to the Alberta government, which will face the greatest losses if the proposed Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines to the West Coast are never built.

If Dix had taken a harder line on natural gas—for instance, by opposing the plan to liquefy fracked gas for export to Asia—that would have forced a re-evaluation of future royalties that might flow into the B.C. treasury.

Dix likes talking about change for the better, one practical step at a time. It sounds moderately progressive, which is in line with the prevailing voter ideology.

Clark, on the other hand, is riffing on a tune that was far more popular in the 1980s during the heyday of Thatcher. And her strongest supporters and allies in the media are jumping all over Dix’s recent announcement on Kinder Morgan—as if it was a major campaign error—when all it did was reinforce to voters that he’s not some sort of neoliberal stooge.

Message to the premier: this is not 1983 and you're no Bill Bennett. He pulled off a surprise come-from-behind victory for the Socreds by being in tune with the times.

The failure of Clark to recognize that neoliberalism is dead—as much as anything else—will explain why her party’s candidates are likely in for a rude awakening when B.C. voters go to the polls on May 14.

Only after the upcoming electoral slaughter will the B.C. Liberals finally realize that maybe, just maybe, they should have been a bit more vociferous about that big jump in the minimum wage.

Comments (22) Add New Comment
Valerie
Great post! Thanks.
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Ivan
I like the last paragraph best, about the upcoming electoral slaughter.
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Rickstar
You are delusional is you think dix will be good for anybody who doesn't work for a government union.
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GAR
CHRISTY SHOULD NOT HAVE RUN THAT RED LIGHT IT WAS STUPID. DIX SHOULD NOT HAVE SNEAKED ON SKY TRAIN WITHOUT PAYING THAT WAS SMART COSTING THE TAXPAYER HIS FARE
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Kensington 1
What a lot of bull!
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SPY vs SPY
Just WHAT THE F_CK IS A Neo-Liberal. Is that like a Neo-Anderthal or a Neo-Cromagnon????

I have been a Canadian Liberal all my life and have always voted NDP in BC as there is NO PROVINCIAL LIBERAL PARTY IN BC!!!

The
C - anadian
C - onservative
R - eform
A - lliance
P - arty or C-Crap - be all the Crap that you can be
is their moto, have been hiding behind the Name Liberal for 12 years, Yah big joke on us - Huh.

Liberalism, is all about Intelligent, Modern and Compassionate Government. Gordon Campbell was a Corporate Thug, who impresses his Owner/Bosses by being an even Bigger Thug, that they could have ever imagined.

And now Prime Minister "Shit Head" has sent him off on his just rewards as Canada's Ambassador to Great Britian, so he can get an even bigger salary and a Gigantic Federal Pension to go with his Enormous Provincial Pension.

The BC Liberals have violated every principal of Liberalism there is for the last 12 years. After the election, the BC Liberals will die and re-name themselves Conservatives, which is what they have always been.
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anonymous
Hey Charlie, your on the right track but this is the other part of the Progressive political story. Positive politics is how we are going to win.
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Colleen Robbins
Wake up BC take a look at Manitoba. NDP tax and spend province. Not have province and will be as long as they govern.
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GM
B.C. Liberal's have sold out BC, If they would get back in, they would sell out Hydro and anything else they could. The micro hydro projects in this province are just cash give aways for their friends.
Why would anyone, unless you are the top two percent of the rich, vote for Christy Clark
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L Leeman
An interesting read Mr. Smith. But in reality, the biggest challenge Dix has is avoid situations where he opens his mouth. If he can do that, then the lie-berals have done plenty enough to be perceived as too untrustworthy to govern but Dix has to avoid giving people a reason to compare their thoughts on the NDP's last fiasco of a government with the fresher wounds inflicted by the likes Basi and Virk. He just has to keep mum so as to let the governing history of the last few years resonate when Christy speaks.

It should all work out for him.
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Borninapirateship
...or any other BC Liberal. They are all corrupt "Yes Men and Women", towing the Party line at British Columbians expense.
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cHriSTy
GAR,

You forgot to say, Gordo should not have driven while drunk.
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cochrane
it's regrettable that the NDP (Dix) do not challenge the mantra that the "Fast Ferries" were a financial fiasco. Those ships, in operation today, throughout the world, are fast, economical and do not create the wash that the "corpies" alluded to. The only financial fiasco was perpetrated by the ensuing liberal government with their fire sale sell-off of those ships for peanuts. And now we are approaching the sunset years for the ferries that we now operate, and must come up with a new ferry supply program.
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Valerie
Christy Clark is in over her head. All the glib responses and spin will not save her. One blunder after another has come up with the kick off of this campaign. She makes a lewd joke about her ex husband when a microphone would not stand up. She expresses on a radio talk show that she is proud to be a MILF instead of a cougar. In her heart she is Filipino. She also compared herself to Margaret Thatcher. Sheesh - Good thing she wasn't running for premier when Elvis died! Each one of her blunders create ironic analogies that blatantly display the current Liberal mentality. Oh - and how about the lie she told about having the support of the head of CSIS!! Now that's a doozie, since it was a blatant lie, and the leader of CSIS must remain apolitical. But the lies roll off and then when she is caught red-tongued - she remains sunny and optimistic! Like water off a ducks back. That's their style all right.

The Liberals have run the red lights of the laws from the beginning, thinking no one sees or comprehends. To them, we are the dumb ones, easy to trick, easy to explain away all the nasties. She is proud to be a MILF. She looks out at a sea of voters and to her - we are nothing but VILF(s).
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Pete
so here in BC Liberals get booted ,and Fed.Libs are liked ??? are they not on the same road ? Treudu is a child,and his dad was not loved for his arrogance toward the voters,remember the finger.
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Forward Thinker
Rickstar
I see little in the NDP platform that would encourage the public sector unions. I recall under Glen Clark, a distictly anti public sector tone and I suspect we will see much the same from Dix. Having said that, I think that the public sector may see an modest increaes to the public sector to restore some of the services cut by the Campbell administration but that is needed in order to do the job adequately. If you do not have enough staff to meet the objectives of government you might as well dismantle the public service completely and save all that money. That would mean no services but now the services are very poor. I would not expect much in the way of wage or benifit increases though.
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Casper
We certainly live in interesting times. For years the art industry (movie, gaming and design) has been shrugged aside, for limited resources like lumber, oil and fisheries. Our government doesn't stand behind an unlimited resource of talent that is capable of replenishing a dying economy. That's been the problem with the "bean counters" is their ideas are out-of-date; they have nothing new or insightful to offer the Province.
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Vancouver 5487
Privatize BC Liquor now!!
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Jim
I just hope that Dix and the NDP are reasonable when they look at tax increases for business, the approval of major projects, raises to union workers and the creation of more social programs. I'm sure they will do their best to balance the interests of community and business. The Liberals had 12 years and it's time for them to take a seat. It feels a little like turning over the car keys to a teenager - but I'm sure that the NDP will be responsible with their power.
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Susan
Why do we continue to give press to parties that break all the rules of government! Let's rally for a government that actually learns from it's mistakes....wake up BC!
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