It’s hard to believe that only two years ago the B.C. Liberals were riding high in the polls with a new leader who looked like a sure-fire winner. April Fools. Now the NDP are so far ahead that their leader is making mock attack ads about himself to make his assailants look like a bad joke.
That sound you heard a couple of weeks ago was Team Christy Clark’s waning credibility exploding. Adrian Dix scored a direct hit. The shot from the target worked like a charm. All of the media outlets covered the NDP’s humorous response to the “Concerned Citizens for B.C.” attack ads exactly as anticipated.
It was like that scene in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker blew up his first TIE fighter. NDP supporters were giving each other “high fives” and were tweeting merrily away through irrepressible smiles, “Got ’em!” And so they did. They might have heeded Han Solo’s advice: “Great, kid. Don’t get cocky.”
Still, when you are starting the election 17 points ahead, it’s hard for Dix & Co. to not to feel like the Force is with them. Yet in politics, all it takes is one serious mistake or a series of missteps to fall from grace. Although Adrian Dix has thus far played it smart and safe, election campaigns do have a way of escaping their subjects’ best laid plans.
As the B.C. Liberals’ public campaign director in 2009, I was feeling pretty cocky after the first 10 days of the campaign. After all, some polls also had us up by 17 points over the NDP, who crashed and burned in the early going. We were sitting at around 50 percent and were on track to win a massive majority.
Nothing Carole James did seemed to go right. The stars were aligned in our favour. The economy was light years ahead as the number one issue in an election that was all about leadership and the economy. Premier Gordon Campbell was hands’ down the preferred choice to Keep B.C. Strong—which was our campaign slogan.
Then the political gods intervened to turn the campaign on its head. Despite the most extensive and detailed candidate screening process in B.C. political history, we had failed to ask the right questions. Just like the NDP obviously did as well in regard to one of its candidates, then as today.
In the next week, we found ourselves on the defensive as four—count ’em four—of our new candidates had embarrassing secrets that were exposed in succession and threw us for a loop. Speeding became a major issue that I certainly never expected at the start of the campaign.
The coup de grâce was when John van Dongen had to resign as B.C.’s solicitor general because of his terrible driving record. Who knew the heavy-footed top cop was a chronic speeder?
Like most ministers who get caught in an impossibly compromised position, he was compelled to resign, even though he certainly wasn’t happy about that.
I know that I sure wasn’t happy either that he never divulged to the premier that, perhaps he should not be appointed as the guy in charge of ICBC and/or the Motor Vehicle Act.
He was already more than just your average Joe, so to speak—or “Moe”—as NDP president Moe Sihota also had his problems with speeding points, back when his party was in power.
We never did fully rebound from those setbacks in 2009, as the premier also slipped up in the televised debate with a comment that was widely interpreted as being condescending to James. From then on, all bets were off.
Sure, we still won by a sizable majority, with nearly a four-point edge in the popular vote. But not many predicted that the NDP would come as close as they did to winning in 2009, after trailing and failing so badly for the first third of the campaign.
In elections, it’s usually the mistakes you wish upon yourself that kill you. It’s over-confidence, lack of diligence, sheer complacency, and voter apathy. And it’s the candidate errors you can’t imagine will materialize.
As the NDP’s unwelcome distraction today shows, this is the B.C. Liberals’ greatest hope.
It is both the things that the latter likely do know and are waiting to “use” and the things they don’t yet know about the NDP’s candidates, which might yet make that party politically vulnerable in ways that today seem unimaginable. It is also that Adrian Dix and his candidates will melt in the heat of media scrutiny, with today’s slip-up being only the opening salvo.
Generally, these days, candidates in major parties are so well trained at candidates’ training seminars that they don’t as easily suffer foot-in-mouth disease as they used to before parties became so much better at minimizing risks and at managing messaging.
Yet, initially email and now social media—Twitter especially—are creating many more platforms for candidate error, as the B.C. Green party’s Andrew Weaver discovered a few months ago, much to his chagrin and smart as he certainly is.
Last campaign, it was Facebook that killed the NDP’s first sacrificial lamb.
Time will tell whether the parties’ candidates are disciplined and prudent in their communications or they are prone to say things they should not, if only by accident.
As B.C. Liberal “Kootenay Bill”—that “other” Bill Bennett—so well knows, late-night flights of email fancy can cost you your job. At least until the next leader gives it back to you and makes you their campaign platform cochair, even though you might not want to fly the party flag or label, or reference the leader’s name in your local campaign effort. Good job on the platform, by the way. It will be the gift that keeps on giving for the NDP.
Of course, candidate errors might also further sink the B.C. Liberals, despite their impressive efforts to recruit a renewed team that looks like a terrific bunch of candidates. I mean, if the premier’s former hand-picked chief of staff and deputy chief of staff are any indication of the example that office has set for political conduct, it might well prove to be political underlings that really cause the most grief for the B.C. Liberals in this campaign.
My hunch is, however, it is the NDP who have the most cause for concern. The media does like to balance the scales with scrutiny that stands ever eager to send the frontrunner into a tailspin.
Today, the media is locked and loaded and ready to shoot down any party, leader, or candidate who presents a ready target.
Team Clark has so far failed miserably in its attempt to make Dix the Darth Vader of B.C. politics. But as today’s events show, the NDP still has a lot of dangerous space to endure before it lands safely in this latest sequel to Campbell government’s last epic, The Empire Strikes Back.