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British Columbia NDP Leader Adrian Dix during a campaign stop in Vernon on May 8, 2013. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
British Columbia NDP Leader Adrian Dix during a campaign stop in Vernon on May 8, 2013. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

JOHN RICHARDS

B.C.’s Dix was ready to govern, but forgot about the campaign Add to ...

The polls were unanimous: British Columbia voters were about to elect an NDP government with a solid majority. The last poll, the day before Tuesday’s election, was by Angus Reid. It gave the NDP 45 per cent of decided voters, the Liberals 36 per cent, the Greens 9 per cent, and the Conservatives 7 per cent.

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The pollsters got it wrong – all of them. So did the UBC election market. So did I. I believed the polls and the election market. The actual results: Liberals 44 per cent; NDP 39 per cent; Greens 8 per cent; Conservatives 5 per cent. A fourth term for the Liberals, with a solid majority.

What happened?

I suspect that the pollsters were basically right about committed voters. But they missed a late shift among soft NDP and undecided voters toward the Liberals based on Christy Clark’s portrayal of the NDP as a tax and spend party with a disdain for job-creating investment in new resource projects.

Clearly, Ms. Clark proved a superior campaigner to the stolid, earnest Adrian Dix. Mr. Dix was looking forward to governing not campaigning.

By the standards of campaign rhetoric, Mr. Dix was remarkably up front about his major taxation and spending intentions. The NDP platform spelled out new tax and spending priorities in detail. Mr. Dix would raise an additional $1-billion annually via a one-point increase in corporate income tax, an increase in the top tax rate on incomes above $150,000, an introduction of a capital tax and a modest expansion of the provincial carbon tax.

A billion dollars may sound like a lot, but given a provincial budget of $44-billion, it suggested Mr. Dix would run a moderate prairie-style NDP government. During the campaign he also stated explicitly his opposition to major expansion of an oil pipeline from Edmonton to Vancouver and construction of a northern oil pipeline to the Pacific. Again, this is hardly radical in the context of Canadian environmental debates.

Ms. Clark’s predecessor as premier, Gordon Campbell, resembled Mr. Dix in many ways. Both prefer policy to campaigning, whereas Ms. Clark’s forte is the latter. For the last two years, Ms. Clark has been more-or-less in constant campaign mode. First, she campaigned to succeed Mr. Campbell as Liberal leader. Then she campaigned to distinguish her style as premier as different from Mr. Campbell’s. And, over the last month, she has successfully campaigned to win an election that few thought possible. Now, the campaigning is over. It is time to govern.

As in all provinces, the combination of increasing intensity of service for patients and population aging means the B.C. health budget absorbs virtually all increases in government revenue. What will Ms. Clark’s government do to restrain the rate of health care spending and reform health care delivery?

B.C. resembles Norway. Both have a similar population; both have forests and fish, and both have access to a lot of hydrocarbon resources – primarily natural gas in B.C.’s case. Ms. Clark has championed natural gas exports. How far does she intend to pursue resource exports?

Perhaps the most significant achievement of her predecessor was creation of North America’s first significant carbon tax and a serious commitment to reducing B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions. As radio host prior to her return to politics, Ms. Clark opposed the carbon tax. Will she continue to ramp up the rate, as Mr. Campbell intended? Or will she quietly abandon Mr. Campbell’s concern with reducing emissions?

Both Norway and B.C. have a sizeable indigenous population that is poorly educated and many of whom live in poverty. What will her government do to improve Aboriginal education outcomes and integrate them into the labour force?

John Richards teaches in the SFU public policy school and is a fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute

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