Make no mistake: this provincial election is all about pulling B.C. back from the financial precipice. Both Premier Christy Clark and Adrian Dix know it’s their way into office. In the coming weeks the gloves will come off as the hopefuls fight to show businesses how they’ll defend a fragile economy
There’s little mystery about the B.C. provincial election. It will take place May 14, 2013. The result is also predetermined—or has at least been narrowed down to two possibilities. Either the grim hordes of global socialism will re-establish a foothold in this province and enslave local enterprise under a yoke of state control, led by an unsmiling ideologue who bears a suspicious resemblance to Strelnikov, the fierce Bolshevik guerrilla from the movie Doctor Zhivago; or provincial voters will re-elect a feckless human weather vane who will continue a seemingly endless campaign of empty feel-good initiatives and aimless, opportunistic policy choices backed by taxpayer-funded propaganda. So the choice is, um, clear.
Nasty characterizations of NDP leader Adrian Dix and Lib- eral premier Christy Clark notwithstanding, B.C. elections have traditionally offered voters a distinct contrast. Our two main parties have tended to be strongly polarized between pro-business and pro-labour camps. Is it still true in 2013? When Premier Bill Vander Zalm headed the Social Credit party in the late 1980s the political divide was as clear as it’s ever been in this province. But more recently Vander Zalm has been better known for spearheading the successful referendum campaign against the HST—a campaign in which his comrades-in-arms were New Democrats and his opponents the ostensibly right-wing Liberal government. So Vander Zalm’s current political leanings may seem a little less obvious.
But in fact Vander Zalm’s priorities haven’t changed. He’s still a small-government advocate. And he doesn’t hear either major party singing his favourite tune. “Nobody is talking about eliminating programs,” Vander Zalm says. “The differences aren’t as great as in the past. The NDP and the Liberals are both trying to occupy the middle ground. The Liberals have been no better than the NDP fiscally—maybe even worse. The Liberals loved mega projects, most being of some financial benefit to big business and of relatively less value to the average British Columbian. The Olympics, the highway to Whistler, the jumbo German ferries, another, bigger Convention Centre, a retractable roof on B.C. Place, new toll bridges and more. Unlike the NDP’s corporate and personal income taxes, the Liberals introduced the HST, the carbon tax, massive service fee increases for most everything and increased gas taxes, hidden toll on sea to sky and toll bridges.”
Vander Zalm also cites large advertising expenditures during the HST referendum, and more recently for the Jobs Plan. “They haven’t been open or transparent,” he says. “Things can only get better.”
Vander Zalm does believe that industry might be frightened by an NDP win. “Certain businesses might hold back—the mining industry, for example,” he says. “And the fate of the pipeline projects will send a signal.”
According to Bill Tieleman, political consultant and former NDP strategist, the HST fiasco has fundamentally altered the political landscape in B.C.—and not just for the Liberals: “It changed political discourse in this province, probably for a generation.”
Unpopular as the tax itself was, the real impact of the HST fiasco was political. The Campbell government’s post-election reversal on the issue utterly destroyed the premier’s political credibility. “The HST was a political suicide note,” Tieleman says. “In the wake of that, provincial politicians are under tremendous scrutiny.”