Smyth: NDP still vulnerable on economy, a year after election debacle

By Michael Smyth, The Province May 12, 2014

Smyth: NDP still vulnerable on economy, a year after election debacle

John Horgan, the new leader of B.C.’s NDP, must find a way to assure voters that his party will not damage the economy in its efforts to protect the environment from damage by megaprojects such as the Site C dam.

 

One year ago today, pundits and pollsters everywhere predicted the imminent demise of Premier Christy Clark and her Liberal government.

One year ago tomorrow, those same political prognosticators sat down to a super-sized meal of humble pie, as Clark pulled off the greatest comeback in B.C. history.

The election of May 14, 2013 — exactly one year ago Wednesday — confounded analysts mesmerized by the 20-point lead in pre-election polls enjoyed by Adrian Dix and the NDP.

How did the NDP blow such an advantage? One year after the shocker, a couple of answers emerge.

For one thing, despite what voters might tell pollsters before an election, most people don’t make up their minds on how to vote until the sustained heat and glare of a campaign.

It’s clear now that most of those voters didn’t think much of Dix once they took a good look at him. One image that sticks in my mind: the way Dix slouched against his lectern during the televised election debate. Not a good look for him.

But perhaps the greatest lesson of last year’s election-night surprise was the proof it provided for an old political axiom: It’s the economy, stupid.

From the beginning of the campaign, Clark hammered home an optimistic message of private-sector investment, thousands of new jobs and unparalleled prosperity for B.C.

Will even a fraction of her grandiose promises — such as a trillion-dollar natural-gas gold rush and enough riches to wipe out the province’s $60-billion debt — come true?

It’s still too early to say, but enough voters dared to believe Clark’s utopian vision to give the Liberals another majority-government mandate.

A year later, it’s easy to see how the Liberals plan a repeat performance in the next election: by painting themselves as the party of prosperity, and the NDP as the party that will say No to jobs and investment.

Clark will continue to promote her liquefied-natural-gas miracle. And now the government appears poised to back another megaproject: the $8-billion Site C dam on the Peace River.

On Monday, new NDP leader John Horgan attacked Site C in the legislature, insisting B.C. doesn’t need the new power it would generate.

While Horgan demands that the project be turned over to the B.C. Utilities Commission for more study, it appears Clark’s Liberals will push ahead with it anyway.

And that’s just the way Clark likes it: The Liberals saying “Yes” and the NDP saying “No” all over again.

Here is Horgan’s new challenge: If he chooses to fight controversial megaprojects such as the Site C dam, the Prosperity mine, and the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines, he must find a way to simultaneously reassure voters that the NDP will not damage the economy.

Horgan must also learn another lesson from Clark’s victory of a year ago: Attack ads work, and the New Democrats can’t go easy on her.

Horgan has vowed to “highlight the shortcomings of the Liberals,” saying the NDP’s failure to do that was a “singular failing” of the 2013 election campaign.

A year later, Horgan has only begun to fight. Clark will be ready for him.

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