B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan framed by his opponents
This past weekend, I was jarred by a televised attack ad on B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan.
But I shouldn't have been surprised because the next provincial election is just three months away.
The message was paid for by a group called Future Prosperity B.C. Inc., which is fronted by former B.C. Chamber of Commerce head John Winter.
He's an old hand at this game, fronting another group called jobsforbc.ca in 2009, which hammered the B.C. NDP.
The goal of these types of campaigns is to frame opponents in the public's mind, thereby ensuring that your candidate wins. (For more on framing, read this article by SFU professor emeritus Donald Gutstein.)
Under provincial legislation, jobsforbc.ca was not required to reveal its funding sources.
Similarly, Future Prosperity B.C.'s website, which was launched last month, reveals nothing about its funding or who sits on its board of directors.
The goal seems to be to show Horgan as a venal politician who will say anything to get elected.
The cartoon image of Horgan makes him seem small and insignificant, not the type of man who should be premier of B.C.
Site offers opportunity for data mining
The website encourages people to fill in their name, email address, and, most significantly, their postal code to receive regular updates.
It's a textbook tactic for political data miners.
Partisans love collecting postal codes because it offers the opportunity to target information to the registrant about their preferred candidate in that area.
If the NDP or the environmental movement want to do some monkey-wrenching, they would advise their supporters to sign up to undermine the effectiveness of the database.
The website's message, SayAnythingJohn, appears to be lifted from a John Cusack movie called Say Anything.
The ad that's aired on TV suggests Horgan has been saying one thing to the labour movement and another thing to environmentalists.
In fact, the B.C. NDP under Horgan has been remarkably direct about its positions on the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and the Site C dam. The party has pointed out that both are fraught with financial and environmental risks. And it has spelled out how it will address these issues if it forms the government.
Site C and Kinder Morgan pipeline are highlighted
It's worth noting that the SayAnythingJohn website focuses almost entirely on these two projects, which are supported by the B.C. Liberal government.
The ad suggests that thousands of jobs are at risk if Horgan becomes premier. But it's not as simple as that.
While it's true that many construction jobs are being awarded as these two projects are being built, each offers very few long-term jobs for British Columbians.
According to 2014 report for SFU by the California-based Goodman Group, the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion will only add 50 permanent jobs and 12,000 person-years of construction work in B.C. The pipeline company has claimed there would be 36,000 person-years of construction in B.C.
If there's a major oil spill from one of the hundreds of tankers travelling through Burrard Inlet and Juan de Fuca Strait, that could cause tremendous job loss to the Vancouver or Victoria tourism industries. First Nations economic interests are also jeopardized, as is the fishing industry's.
There are also very few permanent jobs operating a hydroelectric dam.
B.C. Hydro's website highlights that there are 1,916 workers at the Site C project in December, creating an employment boom in the Peace River region.
However, NDP environment critic George Heyman has pointed out that moving to a more distributed system of renewable power generation, including everything from solar to geothermal, might create far more long-term jobs in communities across the province.
We don't know if that's true, however, because the B.C. Liberal government refused to subject the Site C project to a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission. This provincial energy regulator has a mandate to examine alternatives, including demand-side management, to meet future electricity needs.
Moreover, demand for electricity has been flat in B.C. for a decade. In fact, the Site C dam could come back to haunt ratepayers if B.C. Hydro ends up selling its surplus electricity for decades at prices that don't cover the cost.
That's to say nothing of the price to the economy of losing flooded farmland just as climate change is undermining food production in California.
These nuances are not addressed on the SayAnythingJohn website.
Instead, its creators are betting that it will persuade British Columbians to latch onto its simple message that the B.C. NDP leader is a job destroyer.
It's shameful but it's what politics has become in B.C. in the 21st century.
Expect to hear a lot more of this before May 9.