Right wing morality and the Adrian Dix campaign

For many years, I've believed that extreme right wingers win a disproportionate number of elections because they play dirtier.

The long list of examples includes the Watergate break-in, the disgraceful advertising assaults on Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion, Conservative robocalls sending voters to the wrong polling stations, and bogus claims that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States.

Conservatives don't have a monopoly on dirty tricks. Democratic Party presidential candidate Lyndon Baines Johnson won his landslide in 1964 with a famous "daisy" attack ad suggesting that his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, would detonate a nuclear weapon.

But for the most part, it's the reactionaries who are the most vicious—with the Republicans' 1988 Willie Horton ad serving as a case study in twisting the facts to whip up the public against a politician.

With less than two weeks to go in the provincial election campaign, I'm expecting the B.C. Liberals to follow in this tradition.

We already saw them buy the front page of a commuter paper with a misleading ad suggesting that Christy Clark won the televised leaders debate.

I can only imagine how many times we'll see her on the cover of Vancouver commuter papers next week, given how much money the B.C. Liberals have raised over the years.

In England, there's a controversy over Conservative dirty tricks involving an election pamphlet. A fake leaflet was printed featuring the opponents apologizing for their mistakes.

This is the type of thing that happens when there's a lack of morality at the top—and campaign workers are left to believe that the ends justify the means.

In our province, expect the attack ads against NDP Leader Adrian Dix to intensify as B.C. Liberals do whatever they can to retain their grip on power. In their fact-free campaign—as Dix so eloquently put it—anything is possible.

The NDP could have fired back in its advertisements. It could have bombarded the airwaves with messages about the B.C. Rail sell-off and the government's decision to pay $6 million to cover the legal bills of two corrupt B.C. Liberal political aides.

A recent Angus Reid poll showed that 67 percent of British Columbians feel that is an issue that matters to them. That's higher than the 66 percent of respondents who felt that the implementation of the harmonized sales tax mattered.

So those types of attack ads would have probably resonated and likely suppressed the B.C. Liberal vote.

But rather than do that, Dix has run a positive campaign, appealing to the electorate's better instincts.

In some respects, this election is coming down to a referendum for voters on morality.

Do they want to reelect the B.C. Liberals, who've steadfastly refused to enact provincial-campaign finance reforms?

If the B.C. Liberals win, the message to future candidates will be to raise as much money as you can from any and all sources, and then go thermonuclear on their opponents. Otherwise, you'll lose.

Or do voters want to give Dix a chance, ensuring that there will be a ban on corporate and union donations?

This will take some of the big money out of politics, which funds the character assassination that some voters have become inured to.

So far, Dix has taken the high road, as has B.C. Green Leader Jane Sterk.

If Dix ends up being punished for this by losing, we probably won't see this for another generation in a B.C. election campaign from one of the front-running parties.

Politics would be further debased in this province, and for that, we would only have ourselves to blame.

Comments (21) Add New Comment
Too nice
Dix is being too nice. While I admire his decision to take the high road, there is a big risk that lazy voters will believe the tall tale that Liberals are competent managers. Without resorting to personal attacks, the NDP should run ads showing the unprecedented increase in debt under the Libs and the number of unbalanced budgets they have produced. They should also explain the pending financial disaster of BC Hydro rates, thanks to the Libs' energy policy.
Just the facts, no character assassination.
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I read the Angus Reid Poll results and...
...they are mostly favourable to the NDP. You won't see this reflected in the mainstream media which is spinning this as mainly positive for Clark.

http://www.angus-reid.com/polls/48778/british-columbians-would-ban-union...

A sizeable proportion of British Columbians (70%) support the idea of banning political donations by unions; 69% would ban political donations by corporations; and 62% would ban third party political advertising.

[Dix is proposing to end such donations, not Clark]

Confidence in Leaders: Christy Clark had her highest score on handling the economy of the province (37% express "complete confidence" and "some confidence" in her).

However, less than a third of BC residents trust Clark to tell the truth and be honest (29%), put the interests of people first, and not those of lobbyists, businesses or unions (28%), and keep promises made during an electoral campaign (25%).

Adrian Dix received roughly the same marks on handling the province's finances (36%), but was clearly ahead of the incumbent head of government on the questions related to truth and honesty (35%), keeping election promises (37%) and putting the interests of people first (40%).

While at least three-in-five respondents who voted for the NDP in 2009 endorse Dix's abilities to deliver on the four tasks tested, only 45 per cent of BC Liberal voters in the last provincial election trust Clark to keep campaign promises.

Read the whole thing. I'm not seeing much confidence in Clark at all.
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DavidH
The final paragraph is bang-on. The deterioration of politics in this province and country is entirely due to voters. Pavlov would have a field day.

My question/problem relates to why voters react as they do. My best guess is that "we" don't always understand the critical difference between winning, and winning for the right reasons.

Many people still believe that "the end justifies the means". In other words, political lies and distortions are okay, if they result in the election of the desired party. That's almost always wrong, of course (to a thinking adult), but the false theory continues to exist.

I think Dix is on the right track, but I also think he needs to say more about his opposition to attack ads. He needs to say something like:

"I really want the NDP to win this election. But I don't believe that the end justifies the means. If I did believe that, then I would lie, cheat and steal to win. But I'm not willing to wake up, the morning after the election, and remember the immoral and unethical things I did to win. Sometimes, winning is for losers."
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MarkFornataro
Your lead sentence is right on Charlie and when I think of the Crosby, Stills and Nash lyric"teach your children well...teach your parents well" this subject comes to mind.
Part of the blame for 'extreme right wingers winning a disproportionate number of elections' is also due to not enough people reading beyond the headlines, apparently the reason for the commuter paper headline that screamed Clark was the comeback kid-when it was actually a partisan ad.
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RealityCheck
I think this article underestimates the electorate, and tries to project your own issues onto the candidates. People rarely vote based on one issue or one ad...it's almost always a combination of issues.

If Dix loses this sure-bet election, it will be because of the very poor campaign he's run. He's had an opportunity to instill confidence with voters in his party & leadership. He hasn't. He's had a chance to spell out a clear vision of what kind of government he'd run. He hasn't. His plan of holding a multitude of reviews with uncertain outcomes, doesn't build any confidence amongst working people worried that their taxes will rise yet again. That's why his poll numbers are stuck.

He will likely win, but not with the clear majority and mandate he could have. He's had a golden opportunity to blow the Liberals out the water, and he'll fail because of his lack of competence in leadership. Somehow, I feel that would not have happened if the NDP were led by John Horgan.
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HellSlayerAndy
A bit dishonest?

Suggesting that the NDP not going 'negative' is an ethical decision is a bit rich -- their motive is that it would be a bad overall strategy and would probably hurt them.

Dix IS critical of the Liberal record, but they can't 'attack' Clark directly and the most obvious 'attack' would be Campbell, but he's NOW an Ambassador!, so it would be unseemly to be too hard on the old boy.

Not being able to go 'negative' is not necessarily a decision.

(Mind you, would anyone have criticized Dix if he DID get a little chippy in debate and said shit like "Again with the 90s, everyone else wants to talk about YESTERDAY! Bitch!!" ;-)
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DavidH
@HellSlayerAndy: You said "Suggesting that the NDP not going 'negative' is an ethical decision is a bit rich -- their motive is that it would be a bad overall strategy and would probably hurt them."

And let me guess - you have zero evidence of that, right? No leaked documents or emails, right? Nothing. Zip.

In reality (!), you are just trying to make your opinion look like fact, because your desired end justifies your manipulative means.

Now that's rich.
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Ken Lawson
The number one problem is we have to many assholes in either party, so I'm not Voting Liberal or NDP I would rather waste, the problem is the people we have working in government as government employees or as bureaucrats, did you both to think about that? Poor selection of candidates no background checks
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P Kelly
Liberals have hit back at this article on twitter, suggesting that "NDP sympathetic" mag suggests that liberals are "birthers". Whatever.
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Missing the mark
There's a difference between being positive and talking about the record of a government. And the line has not been drawn in the right place.

The Liberal record should be fair game to talk about. Because if you can't talk about what the decisions they have made over the last 12 years, then what is there left to talk about? This is a government that has delivered round after round of attacks on working people. It's wrong and they need to be held to account for those decisions and the hurt they've caused.

If Adrian doesn't want to talk about what running a red light with your kid (and a reporter) in the car says about one's judgement, fine. But DO talk about firing health care workers, about cuts to education, about using tax dollars illegally to "buy" the ethnic vote. Those issues need to be on the table and in the minds of voters as they go to the polls.
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James G
A good article and one with which I am largely in agreement. There is a serious oversight in the contextualizing of corruption by failing to also mention the Liberal Party of Canada. Surely at least $100 million in taxpayer money disappearing in the Adscam swindle merits note? Feelings just might be hurt among those who crave the return of a Liberal Party government as another chance at the public purse. Moreover, the CRTC named at least one Liberal M.P. for robocalls. The Conservatives in Canada have no monopoly on dirty tricks -- if anything, they have learned from the Liberals.

I also recall too the whispering campaigns against Svend Robinson (not for his naive position on the Middle East nor for stealing but these questioned the morality of any gay man) followed up -- bizarrely -- by an e-mail fear and panic campaign where the very same Liberals were presented as the great defenders of gay marriage. I never knew for certain if these last two had official sanction or were conducted by surrogates. There was no doubt about what party these actions were meant to benefit!
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chuckstraight
I still have enough confidence in the voters of BC that Christy will be removed as premier, and likely lose her seat.
That said it is important that Mr Dix make some good points about the BC Liberal record, that doesn`t have to be negative or nasty, only factual.
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cathy
Who says the NDP are taking the "high road"? They support fracking don't they?

Here in South Delta so far Dix hasn't shown up. Maybe he doesn't want to face the voters on proposed Port Expansion with the majority of the community opposed to it?
The only road he took here was the one out of town after a brief early Sunday photo op with the NDP candidate before the campaign officially began.

Whether it is fracking up North or Port expansion in South Delta, the NDP is going to sell out the environment for the so called economy and there is nothing "high" and noble about that.
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DavidH
@ James G: Like too many voters, your facts don't match reality.

According to the Gommery Commission, $2 million was awarded in contracts without a proper bidding process, $250,000 was added to one contract price for no additional work, and $1.5 million was awarded for work that was never done, of which $1 million had to be repaid.

Not $100 million. Get a reality grip.
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DavidH
@ Cathy: So ... your preference would be the BC Liberals, who are enthusiastically in favour of all resource extraction (especially fracking) and transport (like a huge coal terminal)?

Or do you prefer the Green Party, which couldn't form a functioning government if their lives depended on it?

Or maybe the Conservatives - a party that thinks the BC Liberals are too hesitant about resource extraction?

Or the Communist Party? The Dimwit Party? The Bob's My Uncle Party?

Come on Cathy. Tell us where voters should mark their "X". Who has the "vision" that satisfies you?
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ursa minor
"A sizeable proportion of British Columbians (70%) support the idea of banning political donations by unions; 69% would ban political donations by corporations"

Of course: the 1% will do anything to cut Unions down at the knees...
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Tom Perry
Good editorial. Mature voters (those who have voted many times and observed the differences between conscientious and ethical elected representatives and between different governments) recognize that democracy is about trying to govern for the interests of everyone, and making choices that best address the real needs of people and the planet - and for the longer term, not just tomorrow. Media often portray elected representatives in a way that demonizes or diminishes them, thus undermining true representative democracy.

Having served for 7 years as MLA and 2 as a Cabinet Minister, I know that government decision making is at least partly determined by the kind of people we elect as MLAs. I saw many instances where individual MLAs contributed to wiser government decision making, by using their voices both publicly and privately. Voters who supported me may not always have been happy, but they knew I respected the diverse views of constituents and like any good MLA, tried to reflect that diversity within the government.

One neglected aspect of history in this campaign is how much the NDP has contributed to environmental protection since the 1960's. Having been an NDP member since 1968, and active within its environmental wing, I am certain that the doubling, then quadrupling of B.C.'s parks and wilderness, establishment and protection of Agricultural Land Reserve, expansion of recycling, support for bicycle lanes, and various other initiatives would not have happened under right wing governments.

Similarly, NDP governments in B.C. brought us Pharmacare (1973), expansion of womens' rights and the rights of minorities (1972-75, 1991-2001), protection for renters (1972-75), and freedom of information (1992), imperfect as the latter may be.

In this election, I look forward to voting for constructive, thoughtful government. I am too old to expect perfection, but I do anticipate a degree of competence and thoughful decision making which we have not seen for many years.

I support Adrian Dix' positive approach, because it can lead to less hyper-partisan and knee jerk policy making by government.

We get the governments we deserve. If you value democratic decision making and respect for the needs of our entire society as well as our environment, get out and vote. And think about your vote, and what it will mean on May 15th.

Tom Perry, M.D., former MLA

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James G
Thanks to David H for the catch. I had been thinking of the Auditor General's report on the missing $100 mil rather than the Gomery report.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/auditorgeneral/report2004.html

While I am apologizing, I accidentally used 'too' and 'also' in the first sentence of the last paragraph!

The haggling over the amount stolen aside, I still maintain that the federal Liberals, not due to their nature so much as their longevity in power, have indulged in and attracted substantial corruption -- during elections, in office and sometimes with public funds. They still fit the model described by Charlie Smith because they have also become a right wing party. It isn't just the rise of Justin and his quick surrender to the oil and gun lobbies. Trying to describe the difference between the records of politicians as similar as Christie Clark and Joyce Murray and then argue that this would constitute the line between 'progressive' and 'conservative' -- now that would be delusional.
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yowza
This philosophy of morality, is just a campaign tool Dix is using to get votes. I foresee after he's in power, his angel wings being discarded and we the people will see a Gordon Campbell side...er, wolf-in-sheepskin side to him. Plus recent insights into NDP focus is questionable and incompetent. Don't get me wrong - Liberals shouldn't even be on this ballet, but, the NDP, just like the rest, is simply playing us to win it.
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No truer words
There are no truer words than those written in your column that "Conservatives don't have a monopoly on dirty tricks."

Robocalling and data mining are central activities in most campaigns these days, and the Dix team has its own specialists. These are the guys that stay in the shadows and enables the modern technology of digital proxy campaigning. guys like Apollo Chung who was outed in a news story last week all the way out on the other side of the country. Some readers might denigrate the source of this, but Toronto Sun writer Sue Ann Levy didn't mince words in her column at:

http://www.torontosun.com/2013/04/30/mammoliti-shelves-environment-day-o...

Truth be told, there have been sightings of Mr. Chung around Dix headquarters and at other events over the past several weeks. There must be some cash involved, otherwise why make efforts to remain hidden?
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