Christy Clark will seek her B.C. Liberal Party’s fifth consecutive term in office next spring along with her personal sixth consecutive year as premier. But victory this time is far from a sure thing.
Historically, British Columbia’s ballot-box races have just two contenders: the right-wing Liberals, who are more Tory than Liberal, and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). A winner here takes the roses often by a nose or less because a swing of just a few percentage points among undecided voters often decides the outcome.
Regardless, the B.C. Liberals’ success over the past four terms has simply been a matter of money. Or, more to the point, its management. They’ve sold themselves as competent custodians of taxpayer dollars who can balance budgets or, at least, come as close as global economic times allow.
Simultaneously, the B.C. Liberals have branded their opponents as spenders and taxers or, as the late, great B.C. premier W.A.C. Bennett put it: “The NDP couldn’t run a peanut stand.”
Now, however, values appear to be shifting among many B.C. voters, thanks to Justin Trudeau, who won federally last autumn by promoting deficit spending for the direct benefit of taxpaying families, fixing public infrastructure and by boosting family-focused benefit programs.
Thus, the message from taxpayers is becoming clear: good government is more than just balancing books. Fix the big problems that plague most middle-income families and, if that means taking on deficits temporarily, so be it.
Now, B.C.’s NDP is signalling this is the way it will go next May. Opposition leader John Horgan already has announced he’ll raise taxes on the rich to fund $10-a-day childcare, for example. An NDP government will phase out medical service plan premiums by incorporating them into income-tax collection, he adds. Those two items alone carry a $4-billion price tag.
And while many B.C. voters now show less concern for austerity and balanced budgets at a time when the province remains among the nation’s top economic performers, the voters are very concerned about the environment.
Consequently, the proposed $6.8- billion twinning of Trans Mountain Pipe Line Co. Ltd.’s pipeline from Edmonton to the company’s marine export terminal in Burnaby also will be a hot B.C. election issue. The extension of the pipeline will almost triple its oil flow to 890,000 barrels a day and result in a sevenfold increase in oil-tanker traffic to about 300 ships a year through Georgia and Juan de Fuca straits.
The worst nightmare here is a catastrophic oil spill amid the orcas, salmon stocks and major Pacific flyway migratory bird environments. And the recent experience of a sunken tug up the coast off Bella Bella, B.C., offers solid proof that attempts to clean up even a small spill are woefully inadequate – especially in often stormy coastal weather.
Consequently, Clark’s insistence that a world-class spill response be in place – that was one of five required conditions she outlined in 2012 to win B.C. government support for Trans Mountain’s expansion – is unlikely to be met.
Even if the federal government gives its go-ahead to Trans Mountain in December as expected, the NDP will have lots of voter support in opposing the pipeline next spring.
Of course, the B.C. Liberals will balance their new budget next February. But that, by itself, is unlikely to be enough to win again.
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