Watching Premier Christy Clark beaming from ear to ear on stage with India’s celebrities at last weekend’s Times of India Film Awards, I couldn’t help but think, for someone who the opinion polls suggest is supported by only 16 percent of British Columbians as the best choice for premier, with only a 25 percent approval rating, she sure looks genuinely happy. It makes you wonder, is she really that confident? Is she just in denial? Or is she just really good at putting on a brave face?
Of course, when you’re rubbing shoulders with the Bollywood glitterati, in front of a stadium full of their adoring fans, knowing that millions more might soon be watching, it’s likely enough to make anyone smile. The boos for her when she took the stage were a predictable minor distraction. And though Mike de Jong stole the show with his hilarious dance moves alongside Boman Irani, and with the best line of the night (“You never know when you might be looking for work!”), overall the premier had to be happy with the overall extravaganza. It was well done and lots of fun.
Sure, it could have been better for Surrey and for all of British Columbia if it had not been kept a secret until the 11th hour. No doubt, we could have got more bang for our tax buck if it had not been politically manipulated to coincide with the election. And it’s too bad that the Clark government’s ethnic outreach scandal also undermined its more legitimate motive in bringing that spectacle to the newly refurbished B.C. Place Stadium.
All of those mistakes sadly tarnished the spectacle for British Columbians and exposed the B.C. Liberals to lots of well-deserved criticism. As such, the TOIFA awards probably didn’t work quite as intended to help the local B.C. Liberal candidates with voters in the South Asian community.
Nevertheless, hosting that show was a coup for Vancouver and it was probably worth the $11-million taxpayer-funded price tag for all that it generated in global marketing for British Columbia and for the iconic new stadium that is trying to drum up international business.
Something tells me that the upcoming 30-minute Christy Clark Show will not be nearly as wildly popular, or as dazzling, when it airs on Global this Sunday night (April 14). It’s tough to compete with shows liked Chopped or Worst Cooks in America, or whatever else might be on at that time.
Because it is running before the writ is issued, the ad’s air time won’t count against the B.C. Liberals’ allowable campaign spending limit. And like the NDP’s new ads, running that extended commercial outside of the writ period also allows its production costs to be prorated, so as to minimize the amount that the party will have to claim against its spending cap in using it throughout the campaign.
Watching the brief promo video for Christy’s upcoming show, two things struck me. One, was that, undaunted by her supporting role in the infamous ethnic memo scandal, Pamela Martin was exploiting her celebrity status as a former news anchor to do a partisan promotion for her boss. The other, was Dave Babych’s pitch: “Christy is gittin ’er done!”
Done, like dinner, is more like it, if he’s talking about her party’s current electoral chances.
With the latest polls showing Clark still lagging in the basement as Canada’s most unpopular premier, it’s hard to fathom what keeps her smiling. The happiest guy in Canada today is Adrian Dix, whose own approval level is twice as high as hers, despite the failed efforts of the faceless “Concerned Citizens for B.C.” to vilify him by harping on his admitted transgressions from the last century.
Those ads mostly succeeded in making Dix look good by not responding in kind. They also made the B.C. Liberals look desperate, mean, and out of touch.
Yet it remains to be seen whether Dix can suitably captivate public interest and attention when he takes centre stage after the writ is issued next Tuesday (April 16).
His own latest TV ad has a nice, positive message, but it would not win any awards. It also does little to meaningfully define him to voters in a way that is authentic, emotionally evocative, or persuasive. British Columbians will be waiting to get a “glimpse of his soul” that is backed by clear vision, concrete ideas for action, and more proof of his readiness to lead and govern.
Still, when you are sitting 20 points ahead in the opinion polls with only a month to go until election day, it’s easy to believe that you cannot lose. And that is the surest way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
When your main political rival has concluded that its best asset is actually its biggest liability, it is also hard not to be smug. First the B.C. Liberal Party tried to rebrand itself as the “B.C. Christy Party”. Now it hopes to rebrand itself again as “Today’s B.C. Liberals”, dropping Clark’s name off the marquee altogether. So the decision to put her in the limelight for a paid 30-minute television pitch is an interesting gambit, and I’ll bet she will perform well.
At least taxpayers will not be stuck with the bill for this extended political commercial. After so many months of relentless government advertising, paid for with $16 million of our money, it is hard to imagine that many voters will be willing to tune into yet another partisan promotional ad fronted by Premier Clark. But it’s worth a shot, because like it or not, for most voters today, she is the B.C. Liberal Party.
In this day and age, leaders rule. Just ask Justin Trudeau, who is suddenly a hot commodity. He has single-handedly taken his party from the basement to the limelight by simply looking “mahvelous!”
Some say “he’s all sizzle and no steak”. Whether or not that’s true, it can be enough to become the prime minister. Or a premier, apparently. Although no one would accuse Adrian Dix of having too much sizzle and most are still trying to fathom his substance, which mostly looks safe, sensible, and neither fish nor fowl. It’s time for all of the party leaders to step up and shine as far as possible.
As the B.C. Liberals’ public campaign director in the last three elections, I was also told that we should avoid putting Gordon Campbell in our television ads and on our lawn signs. I was warned that it was a mistake to use 60-second spots, instead of having twice as many 30-second spots. The armchair quarterbacks also chided us for airing several different spots on multiple issues.
But history showed that having our leader speak directly to voters on a variety of positive issues that also answered criticisms about him and his party, worked pretty well in contrast to the negative spots that the NDP ran. The longer spots allowed Campbell to convey more about himself as he also spoke in greater depth about the issues than voters usually see in eight-second sound bites on the news that are generally not even addressing the party’s preferred topics.
We ran only positive spots in both 2001 and 2009, even though the “pros” said we’d eventually have to “go negative”. We didn’t do that.
In 2005, we did run lots of NDP attack ads in the aftermath of the televised leader’s debate, when our numbers started to drop in the wake of Carole James’ relatively strong performance. We ran fairly hard-hitting spots aimed at branding the NDP as “Negative. Destructive. Pessimistic.” In retrospect, those ads mostly subverted the general message that Team Campbell was trying to convey, as a governing party that was hopeful, optimistic, and creating jobs and opportunities in “the Best Place on Earth”.
Yes, we also used taxpayer-funded government ads to drive that narrative before the election. We wanted to create confidence in our economy and to celebrate pride of place in promoting B.C. tourism to British Columbians. And those “Best Place” ads served their purpose, economically and politically. They were generally well-received, and did make people feel good about their province and its rising fortunes. We also went from trailing the NDP in the polls for most of 2004 to leading the pack by the time the writ was dropped.
The negative campaign ads in 2005 had the opposite effect. As the nightly tracking results came in and I read the so-called “verbatims”, I became convinced that those attack ads had backfired. They did nothing to hurt the NDP or to arrest our slide in the opinion polls as James’s numbers went up. We should have stayed positive—a lesson learned for 2009 that is no less true today for all parties.
Regardless, in each campaign, we knew that one of the B.C. Liberals’ defining advantages was Premier Campbell’s perceived strength of leadership, relative to his opponents.
Whatever anyone thought about Gordon Campbell, they generally respected his strength of vision, resolve, and proven ability to convert ideas into action. With each election, his forcefulness as a leader became ever more of an asset—one that he successfully developed for most of the 18 years he was at the helm of his party, building an ever-shifting winning coalition with clear agendas for positive change.
Christy Clark has been challenged in that regard, while Adrian Dix is still largely a mystery to many.
Premier Clark’s tribute to Margaret Thatcher in her speech at this week’s impressive fundraising dinner was no doubt partly intended to evoke Preston Manning’s characterization of her a year ago as B.C.’s own “Iron Snowbird”. Mostly it served to remind everyone of the leader she failed to honour and of the skills she lacks in all of her innate personability. Still, she had a good night that buoyed her team and showed she’s better than most at entertaining from the podium.
The NDP are wise to make leadership a contrasting strength for Adrian Dix, even though he may not share Christy Clark’s undeniable star power.
Then again, if Clark can’t convince B.C. voters to support her, at least she will shine in good company on Indian television if and when the TOIFA awards are eventually broadcast. And I, for one, look forward to her acting this Sunday night. As reality TV goes, it’s sure to be a hoot. Her celebrity apprentice will be watching, too, and waiting in the wings, hoping that on May 14 the voters will say to the B.C. Liberals, “You’re fired.”