Martyn Brown: Out on a limb for an NDP win

    1 of 6 2 of 6

      One week down in the B.C. election campaign, three weeks to go. Time to get out my crystal ball, which as we all know, is worth exactly what you have paid for it.

      Another free long one, folks. 

      Is it too soon to dare predict who will triumph when the dust settles on May 9?

      Not for bettors, madcaps, oracles, or soothsayers. 

      Fate is made to have fun at the expense of those who revel in guessing what the future might hold. Especially when they are well aware of the folly in calling the Fat Lady’s number before she sings.

      Anyone with an ounce of sense will rightly tell you, no election is a done deal until it is done. This one least of all.

      It will go down to the wire and will ride entirely as all elections do: on hard work, sound strategy, organizational prowess, strength of leadership, mistakes and missteps, teams that won’t quit, each party’s platform, the public will for change—and a whole lot of luck.

      The fate of any campaign can always turn on a dime, as each new day unfolds and as Cruel Reality threatens to make losers of sure winners. No one understands that better than me.

      A careless comment, a weak showing in a debate, a defining “moment” or image, a lack of energy or enthusiasm, a brutal attack ad, an inability to identify and get out the vote, or any other number of wild cards can always sink a campaign.

      Until 8 p.m. on election night, all bets are off. I get it. So should anyone with the good sense to heed that advice.

      Still, it is so much fun to speculate. So what the hell.

      After the 2013 “miracle on stupid street”, I should probably know better than to hazard any guess about how things will shake down after the ballots are counted in 2017. But here goes.

      With fully three-quarters of the campaign yet to go, I will venture this reckless prediction: John Horgan’s NDP will form a slim majority government.

      I predict that his New Democrats will hold onto almost all of the 35 seats they held going into the election, and they will pick up at least the nine net additional seats they need to win, from the following 21 constituencies:

      Boundary-Similkameen, Burnaby North, Cariboo-Chilcotin, Cariboo North, Chilliwack-Kent, Courtenay-Comox, Delta North, Fraser-Nicola, Kamloops-North Thompson, Kootenay East, Maple Ridge-Mission, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, North Vancouver-Lonsdale, Parksville-Qualicum, Port Moody-Coquitlam, Shuswap, Surrey-Fleetwood, Surrey-Guildford, Surrey-Panorama, Vancouver-False Creek, and Vancouver-Fraserview.

      OK, so that is a large target list.

      It has to be, to offset any seats that might be lost in getting to the magic number: 44 of 87 seats to form a majority government. Really, anything less than 46 seats is almost unworkable, practically speaking, in managing the legislature in our system of responsible government.

      Most of those 21 target seats are traditional swing seats. Eleven of them were seats Christy Clark’s Liberals won in 2013 by a margin of victory that was less than what the Green party candidates garnered in those ridings.

      Others seats on that list are more winnable for the New Democrats this time, I suspect, due to electoral redistribution, to the loss of Liberal incumbents, or to the local popularity, high profile, and strength of the NDP candidates.

      In several of those ridings, I expect the Green party might disproportionately hurt the Liberals, as it might also threaten the NDP in some of its existing seats. Issues like tolling, affordable housing, and Kinder Morgan will also likely favour the NDP in most of those seats in Metro Vancouver.

      Of course, Horgan will have his sights set on winning many other seats not on the above list, such as Prince George-Valemount, North Vancouver-Seymour, or even Andrew Weaver’s Oak Bay-Gordon Head. Those all look like NDP longshots at this point, but who knows?

      If the desire for a change in government becomes the dominant ballot question, look out. All those seats and many others could be in play for the NDP.

      Right now, sadly, that appetite for change does not appear to be quite as pronounced as I think it needs to be. Nor has it fully coalesced around the NDP.

      There is much work to do on both fronts.

      Rather, the desire for change has been subdued by apathy and complacency, as most voters seem to be sleepwalking through this campaign. That desire for change is also weirdly conflicted.

      Some people mostly want a change in government, which only the NDP credibly offers.

      Others, it seems, just want to vote for something different, regardless of whether doing that—by voting for the Greens—will indirectly serve to reelect the Liberals or hurt the NDP.

      Funny how voting for “change” in that latter sense can mostly serve to entrench the status quo.

      Such is often the nature of protest votes, if they are aimed more at sending governments a message of discontent than they are at actually booting them out of office.

      So why would I go out on a limb for an NDP win so early in the game?

      Just a hunch, really.

      Call it a somewhat educated guess, based on years of sorting through the political tea leaves. Sometimes correctly, other times not, but this time, largely because someone needs to stand up and state the bloody obvious: the NDP deserves to win, and should win, if it plays its cards right.

      By and large, I think Horgan is doing that and should succeed. That is, if he can get a little more support from his largely new campaign team, and above all, from those who claim they want an NDP government.

      Supporters fuel momentum. Large crowds turn the tide in close contests like this one, which tend to default to the teams that build strength through their visible strength of numbers.

      The NDP campaign is not currently winning that battle, through no fault of Horgan. He is campaigning with lots of personal energy and is coming across as personable, passionate, strong, pragmatic, and sincere in his campaign appearances and videos.

      His campaign just needs better made-for-TV visuals that are more active, more obviously connected to their ostensible subjects, and more enthusiastically supported by people. Lots of them.

      Small roundtables, coffee klatches, and burger-eating photo ops are all fine and dandy. But not if they trip over the intended daily news takeaways, or fail to reinforce the subjects they are intended to address.

      Or worse, if they allow Clark top TV billing because her visuals are simply more compelling, however contrived they are and look.

      It is early yet. Very early.

      But if I have one criticism of the NDP campaign, it is that it has not yet made the most out of its many excellent populist commitments in visual ways that hit home as they should, or that demonstrate organizational strength.

      This Sunday’s NDP rally at the Commodore Ballroom stands to change that. It is long overdue.

      So far, the Greens’ rallies featuring David Suzuki have been the most impressive events in this campaign. The challenge for Weaver is that he will be hard-pressed to replicate that type of rally outside of a couple support pockets. But the support shown at those events bodes well for his party, at least among a very select demographic that is largely very young, or quite the opposite, and overwhelmingly white. 

      Show up, Orange Crush, and you will succeed. Stay home, and you will once again hand the election to the Liberals on a platter. 

      Only time will tell if the New Democrats’ supporters have the fire in their bellies to take the fight to their opponents and to win their war by leaving nothing to chance. 

      All things considered, I like the NDP’s odds and I do expect its momentum will build. 

      All right, so my scryer’s vision might be a bit clouded by the most recent opinion polls that show the NDP with a single-digit lead over the B.C. Liberals.

      Word to the wise: in this day and age, only fools fully trust those dubious tools.

      Polls are also only as good as their methodology. Choose your poison.

      It is a mistake to swallow any poll in the way it is usually force-fed to us by the media, typically without any critical scrutiny, or sometimes, without even the usual caveats on sample sizes and margins of error. 

      We have heard a lot so far in this campaign about the “surging strength” of the Green party on Vancouver Island.

      Fair enough. But in addition to those polls’ methodological differences and weaknesses, beware their regional sample sizes, and sizable margins of error, which are rarely if ever published by the media.

      Whose numbers are most accurate? Drill down into any of the polls’ small regional numbers and you often get a very different story. 

      Which is why I do not place much credence on any of the surveys that are commissioned by the media to sell a horserace aimed at selling newspapers and television advertising. And neither should you.

      They might be fun to look at and they might give you a snapshot of broad trends that may, or may not be real or accurate. But the only polls that really matter are the ones the parties commission to gauge their support in target seats, with daily, rolling tracking surveys.

      Those nearer-to-real-time nightly snapshots give them detailed and useful information to adjust their campaigns accordingly, in those seats and provincially as well.

      Believe me, those internal party poll numbers often yield far different results than the provincewide numbers commissioned by the media, which are so often not worth the paper they are printed on, except to the extent they drive and distort public opinion.

      Polling is a mug’s game. If I were Horgan, I would certainly not get too vexed about most of the published numbers at this early stage in the campaign. 

      Polls aside, let me offer five reasons why I am so bullish, so early, on John Horgan’s election chances.

      John Horgan would benefit if more of his NDP supporters showed up more frequently at campaign events.

      1. As the election wears on, it will increasingly hinge on a question of change.

      The change narrative that I think is at the centre of this election will ultimately align with the NDP’s unique selling proposition: only that party stands to deliver real change that depends on electing a new government. 

      You want to focus on polls? Focus on this finding from Angus Reid’s self-commissioned recent survey.

      Some 55 percent of the 804 adults surveyed agreed with the proposition, “It's time for a change in government—the BC Liberals under Christy Clark should be replaced by a different party.”

      Only 27 percent felt that “It's not time for a change in government—the BC Liberals under Christy Clark should be re-elected.”

      A recent Global News Ipsos poll similarly found that 56 percent of the 1,388 British Columbians it surveyed agreed that “It’s time for another provincial party to take over.”

      That desire for change is the main indicator that I will be watching as the campaign rolls on.

      I expect it will ultimately coalesce in support of the only party that stands to make it happen in government: the NDP.

      As time goes on, I also anticipate that Horgan will be successful in advancing his claim that a vote for the Greens is tantamount to a vote for the status quo.

      To the extent it undermines the NDP as the only realistic government in waiting, it changes nothing. It only dilutes the strength of numbers needed to replace the Clark government.

      Surely the first step to achieving the changes that so many people want is to change the government.

      Both the NDP and Greens have lots of good ideas that will go nowhere if they are ignored for another four years by the same government that dismissed them in the first place.

      That message will increasingly sink in with undecided voters over the next three weeks. At least I hope it will.

      So far, the B.C. NDP platform is winning the policy war in this election.

      2. The NDP is easily winning the issues war. Its platform is way stronger than the Liberals’, on so many levels.

      Want another less talked about poll result?

      The Angus Reid poll also asked “As you consider the choices in this election, which of the following considerations is MOST important to you in making up your mind as to who to support?”

      Some 68 percent of respondents said that the parties' policies on the issues are most important for them.

      Only 17 percent said it is the party leaders that are most important to their decision. And only 16 percent said it is the individual candidates running in their constituency.

      Like all campaigns, this one is a battle of issues and ideas that often motivate peoples’ voting choices. Unlike 2013, this time, the NDP is handily winning that battle. So far, so good.

      Its key populist offerings are mostly what voters are talking about. They are not talking about Clark’s “business as usual” message, or even her focus on jobs and the economy.

      At least, not in seat-rich Metro Vancouver, or in the majority of the target ridings I noted above that hold the key to an NDP government.

      In many ways, British Columbia’s buoyant economy in seat-rich Metro Vancouver and the province’s healthy fiscal position give lots of voters new licence to look at other options. Lots of Liberals will be looking to take “a flyer” this time on John Horgan’s NDP, as a balanced and responsible alternative for change.

      To the extent that either voters or the media are talking about anything much yet in this rather sleepy campaign, they are mostly talking about the prospect of realizing changes advocated by the NDP.

      They are talking about $10 a day childcare; a $15 minimum wage; a new speculator’s tax; eliminating tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges; banning Big Money in politics; eliminating MSP premiums; investing in affordable housing; reducing ferry fares; freezing Hydro rates; minimizing ICBC costs; a new surtax on the wealthiest 2 per cent; a slightly higher corporation income tax; outlawing the grizzly trophy hunt, new interest-free student loans; new $1,000 student completion grants; raising income assistance and disability rates by $100 per month; and raising the income assistance earnings exemption to $200 a month.

      All of those are ideas that John Horgan has proposed, to be either immediately introduced, or phased in over time, within the context of balanced budgets.

      They are pocketbook issues that materially affect people’s standard of living and quality of life.

      They complement other NDP priorities for patients, students, seniors, working families, aboriginal citizens, persons with disabilities, vulnerable children, people living in poverty or on lower incomes, transit users, and communities that the Clark government has ignored or rejected.

      They amplify the opportunity for real and needed change, to promote sustainable job creation and sound fiscal management that is environmentally, economically, and socially responsible.

      A greener future starts with a greener government that is intent on taking meaningful climate action to reduce emissions and on properly stewarding B.C.’s precious natural resources.

      Change is thus the one issue that matters most in this election. Not Premier Pixie Dust’s LNG pipe dream, or her new fairy tales of an economic world that is entirely beholden to Big Money and Big Oil.

      Horgan’s New Democrats are winning that issues war, which stands to make the need for a change in government the key ballot question.

      Andrew Weaver is a smart scientist and mathematician, but he's not nearly as competent when it comes to communications.

      3. Horgan will win the leaders’ TV debate, which will burst the Green party’s election breakthrough bubble.

      The leaders' only televised debate will be held next Wednesday (April 26). Much will obviously ride on their performances. I predict that Horgan will kick ass on television.

      For many voters, it will really be the first opportunity to get a measure of Horgan, just as it will be their first real exposure to Weaver.

      In 2013, Clark was the main beneficiary of those debates. Even though she had been the premier for a couple of years, those forums provided her with an unprecedented chance to newly reintroduce herself and to defy expectations.

      Compared to the nervous and ungainly looking NDP leader, Adrian Dix, and to the eccentric looking Green party leader, Jane Sterk, or to the aging and strident Conservative leader, John Cummins, Clark looked like rock star—likable, effervescent, and always on-message.

      This time, Horgan stands to win the most. And I will bet he is more than up for the challenge.

      He is not intimidated by the forum, by Clark, or by the pressure of the spectacle.

      He has a winning change message, backed by a suite of very popular platform proposals. He is physically commanding, but also easily likable, warm, funny, and reassuring as a premier in waiting.

      Plus, he has way more targets to attack Clark than Dix ever had, and he is not going to shy away from going after them. As Clark said, this time, she is running on her recordand in so many respects, it sure ain’t pretty.

      This time there will be no Conservative leader, which should allow Horgan more time to take Clark head-on, as he also calls Weaver out in ways that I think he will have a hard time defending.

      Weaver is a super smart guy, but anyone imagining that he will repeat the “Wilson knockout of '91” should give their head a shake.

      Neither Horgan nor Clark will allow that to happen. And though Weaver is an expert on climate science and math, he is anything but an expert communicator.

      Moreover, voters are now wise to Clark’s shtick. All smiles and chuckles, and lots of big talk that does not amount to a hill of beans, when push comes to shove.

      My money is on Horgan to at once introduce himself to most voters as a trustworthy, caring, forward-thinking, and strong agent of change. And also, as a prospective premier who is uniquely positioned to deliver the goods that so many voters want, starting with a change in government.

      I expect the NDP will easily come away from next Wednesday’s debate with the most new momentum. And that will boost the NDP’s crowd support, enthusiasm, and polling numbers, heading into the home stretch. 

      Nobody knows who Andrew Weaver would support if the B.C. Liberals or New Democrats don't achieve a majority of seats in the B.C. legislature.
      Stephen Hui

      4. The fear of a minority will increasingly resonate and will drive many voters “home” to the NDP.

      The prospect of a minority government is real. It will be all the buzz as the campaign wears on in this election, which will probably be won by a razor-thin plurality.

      In the highly unlikely event of a 43-43 seat tie between the B.C. Liberals and NDP, I really would not want to bet which way the Greens’ likely lone MLA, Weaver, would swing, to give either party a minority government.

      Same goes if the Greens manage to win an extra seat or two, and control the balance of power. Which at this point, I would still bet is unlikely.

      The more that those voters who mostly want a change in government come to grips with the enormity of the risks associated with a minority government scenario, the more they will return “home” to the NDP and vest their trust in Horgan’s team. 

      By the same token, I expect the Greens will grow their strength largely at the Liberals’ expense, including in constituencies that they have no realistic chance of winning.

      Many disaffected Liberals simply cannot bear the thought of voting for the NDP. I will predict that Horgan’s debate and broader campaign performance should help mitigate that resistance. 

      But for those who want to send a message to the Liberals, and who don’t care if the Clark government is reelected, the Greens might stand to split the Liberal vote. Indeed, that fact likely explains why the Liberals only won two of 14 seats last election on Vancouver Island, which the NDP nearly swept, winning 11 seats to Weaver’s one.

      Self-avowed “free enterprisers” who are fed up with the Clark government will not have the Conservative party to fall back on this election in almost any constituency. What are they to do, if they mostly want to register their protest, and do not want to take ownership of directly helping to elect the NDP?

      Even people who do not at all support the Greens’ main policy proposals might be inclined to vote for that party, past Liberals included.

      Voting “green” allows people to feel good about themselves, in regard to a value they care about, without having to take ownership of the policies that would be anathema to them if they were ever acted upon by government.

      Fact is, many of those people don’t give a hoot what the Greens’ platform says, assuming that none of it will be acted upon.

      The more antsy disaffected Liberals get about the Greens’ potential policy impact on a potential NDP minority government, the more that many of them will simply “roll the dice” and cast their ballots for Horgan’s party.

      The key to the NDP’s success in that regard is twofold: it needs to target the Greens’ proposed tax hikes on homeowners, their proposed capital gains tax especially; and it needs to heighten voter concerns about vote-splitting, particularly in the context of Weaver’s past avowed Liberal leanings.

      The message to those wanting a change in government is thus a double-edged attack.

      One, splitting the ABC (Anybody But Clark) vote only increases the chances of reelecting that government. And two, in the event of a minority government, it might be Weaver’s Greens that toss the balance of power right back to Clark.

      Christy Clark's 2017 campaign lacks the razzle-dazzle that she demonstrated in 2013.

      5. Voter apathy and complacency should hurt the B.C. Liberals this time more than it hurts the NDP, which could make the difference in tight swing seats.

      One person who wrote me observed that this is so far a campaign of “meh”, meaning it has not yet captured most voters’ attention, concern, or interest. Hard to dispute that.

      Unlike in 2013, Clark’s program has mostly put people to sleep.

      It offers nothing to get excited about and very little to vote for beyond a promise of  “good government” that is defied by too many facts and by a record of scandal, secrecy, duplicity, and the wanton abuse of taxpayers’ money for partisan advantage.

      By contrast, those who want a change in government, to usher in needed policy change, should be more motivated today than they have ever been in the last 16 years.

      New Democrats should be sick to death of losing by a hair, because too many of them sat on their hands.

      They can sense that government is within reach and within their individual abilities to help deliver, to the extent that every vote really does matter in contests that might hinge on a single vote. The Green votes compounds that urgency.

      NDP supporters also have the history of 2013 to guide them and they do not want to burned again.

      They have every reason to turn out in force and vote.

      For real changes that will materially benefit their families, communities, and the environment.

      For tangible measures that will put more money back in their pockets and that will make things more affordable.

      For a new government that makes desired change possible.

      They also have more reason than ever to vote against the governing party.

      Sixteen years is just too damn long for any one party.

      The Clark government’s policies are compounding too many problems that are too often problems of its own making.

      There is every reason to punish a government that has so demonstrably lost its moral compass, which actively stands in the way of broadly supported changes that the NDP and Greens alike have both advocated.

      If those considerations do not motivate more people to get out and vote this election, to bring about a change in government, I don’t know what will.

      I have to believe that this time, apathy will not reign supreme, especially for young voters who have so much riding on the election outcome.

      But, hey, that is just my analysis.

      Perhaps it is all wishful thinking and the polls will prove me wrong again, as they did last time on election night.

      No matter, there are worse things in life than eating crow. Trust me, it is sure easier to swallow than its attendant humiliation: another four years of the Clark government.

      Nothing ventured, nothing gained. In any case, better to dream big and act, than to sleep silently and invite another nightmare.

      I don’t mind going out on a limb for any idea that is worth fighting for.

      That cracking sound I hear is either my patience wearing thin with those who are already wringing their hands about a repeat of 2013.

      Or it is the sound of the Liberal coalition snapping in slow motion, as its votes fall away to a more hopeful vision for change, under a majority NDP government.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic advisor to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2005, in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, and he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact Brown at