When Premier Christy Clark chooses a Friday in late August to make an announcement, you know she doesn't want it to attract much attention. That's because communications experts often say that many voters ignore newscasts on weekends. Especially during the Summer Olympics.
Last Friday (August 19), Clark revealed that she wasn't going to raise the revenue-neutral carbon tax beyond the existing level of $30 per tonne in 2018.
She rejected the recommendation of the Climate Leadership Team, which will delight cheerleaders of B.C.'s fossil-fuel industries. And it's red meat to B.C. Liberal voters in the B.C. Interior, who don't have as many public-transportation options as those living in the Lower Mainland or Greater Victoria.
The political calculus over seats appears to be driving many government policies these days. The new $3.5-billion, 10-lane toll bridge over the Fraser River is seen as a terrible idea by many transportation experts. Almost all Lower Mainland mayors with the exception of Delta's Lois Jackson oppose replacing the George Massey Tunnel with this colossally expensive monstrosity.
Yet the premier is barrelling ahead on this new toll bridge even though the Port Mann toll bridge is expected to lose more than $100 million this year.
Meanwhile, TransLink has suffered $35-million to $45-million annual losses on the Golden Ears toll bridge. It's because baby boomers don't drive as much as they used to and millennials are less likely than previous generations to get behind the wheel. Surely, Transportation Minister Todd Stone realizes this, but it doesn't mean there will be any going back on blacktop politics.
That's because the new Fraser River crossing could be extremely popular with many residents of Tsawwassen and Ladner, not to mention retailers in the new 1.2-million-square-foot Tsawwassen Mills mall.
Ladner, Tsawwassen, and the yet-to-open mall are smack in the constituency of Delta South, which is held by independent MLA Vicki Huntington.
So by supporting the new bridge, the premier is hoping that she will bring Delta South back into the B.C. Liberal fold for the first time since the 2005 provincial election.
The bridge construction project would also give Clark an opportunity to don a hard hat for photo ops during the 2017 election campaign. This will appeal to blue-collar males across the province.
Premier eyes seats in 250 area code
Similarly, not raising the carbon tax might help her MLAs from Prince George and Kamloops, as well as in Cariboo South, Cariboo-Chilcotin, and Fraser-Nicola. Those regions have all have gone NDP in the past.
Admittedly, the premier's unwillingness to advance carbon pricing could make things easier for NDP MLAs George Heyman and David Eby in next year's election. In 2013, Eby and Heyman took Vancouver-Fairview and Vancouver-Point Grey from the B.C. Liberals because Clark paid lip service to climate change.
This might explain why Clark's recent carbon-tax announcement came when few were paying attention whereas her housing announcements have been delivered with the goal of achieving maximum publicity.
The premier is hoping that her new tax on foreign buyers of Lower Mainland residential real estate will help the B.C. Liberals retake Vancouver-Fairview and possibly Vancouver-Point Grey, as well as Burnaby-Lougheed and two Coquitlam seats.
The B.C. Liberals know they're in serious trouble on Vancouver Island, where they only hold two seats. Michelle Stilwell may retain Parksville-Qualicum, but Courtenay-Comox could fall to the NDP, based on how well the NDP did in this area in the 2015 federal election.
In addition, the New Democrats have a decent chance of capturing B.C. Liberal-held Burnaby North, Delta North, and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows if the political winds blow in their favour.
Surrey is a key battleground
A close B.C. election could be won or lost in heavily populated Lower Mainland suburbs like Surrey.
Surrey South, Surrey-Cloverdale, and Surrey-White Rock should all be safe B.C. Liberal seats in 2017. Surrey-Whalley, Surrey-Newton, and Surrey-Green Timbers have reliably voted NDP since the 2005 election. That leaves Surrey-Fleetwood, Surrey-Guildford, and Surrey-Panorama up for grabs, as well as Delta North, which straddles the border with Surrey.
Of course, a pre-election announcement of a new rapid transit project in Surrey might take care of that for the B.C. Liberals.
Meanwhile, Richmond and New Westminster will share a new riding, which reflects growing populations in both cities. It's called Richmond-Queensborough and possibly offers the NDP its best chance in Richmond.
As well, the NDP is almost always competitive in Vancouver-Fraserview, which is represented by Justice Minister Suzanne Anton. She could survive next year's election thanks to her high profile in the constituency, various school-funding announcements, and provincial money for a new seniors centre.
B.C. elections are won one seat at a time. A new bridge can help the B.C. Liberals take one constituency. Perhaps a refusal to raise the carbon tax could contribute to victories in two to four more. Throw in a major rapid-transit announcement in Surrey and provincial largesse in Vancouver-Fraserview, and you start to understand how Christy Clark practises politics.
It's all about getting elected. In her eyes, a carbon tax is something that only the nerds worry about.