To no-one’s surprise, she made an early visit to northeast B.C., where she could talk about her plan to exploit the region’s natural gas, which she estimated could be worth more than a trillion dollars and help to make B.C. debt-free in 15 to 20 years.
The party also went to the expense of hiring a satellite-transmission truck so television reporters could get their footage out more easily from remote parts of the province.
“Pictures were extremely important,” Mr. McDonald says. “We had a candidate who looked great. We wanted to take advantage of that.” Mr. Sweeney says the Liberals also were better at marrying their message to the pictures. “If you looked at the 6 o’clock news, we were annihilating them every night.”
One early campaign stop was Burns Lake, a remote community northwest of Prince George that a year earlier had lost its sawmill in a fire. It is small and out of the way, but Ms. Clark had personal reasons for going: Her visit to the town just after the fire had been one of her tougher moments as Premier, says communications adviser Ben Chin.
“She tells the story of walking into the community centre and having everyone just looking at her,” he explains. “Without saying a word, their eyes said: ‘What are you going to do for me?’
“The whole town depends on this mill. She couldn’t promise the mill would reopen because she didn’t know.”
The government assured the U.S.-based owners they would have a ready supply of timber, so the mill is being rebuilt. Watching his boss speak at the ground-breaking ceremony, says Mr. Chin, 49, brought tears to his eyes. “That’s when I knew I was working for the right person.”
Meanwhile, the NDP was behaving as though the election were a foregone conclusion. It also had a very different take on the economy, and spent the first 10 days of the campaign laying out a platform that would include deficits the first three years of its mandate and hundreds of millions in spending promises.
This was just what the Clark team had been waiting for.
The Liberals had released their platform before the campaign, praying the NDP would angle for sustained media coverage by unveiling its program over the first week or so. This would allow them to create the image of a party willing to rack up bills with no real plan to pay them.
“It just made that out-of-control spending dynamic that we were trying to reinforce that much more powerful, and frankly easier,” Mr. Guy says. “It played right into our hands.”
To track the spending spree (and drive home the point), the Liberals erected the Spend-o-Meter, a grandiose electronic billboard, in a prominent location south of Vancouver.
Then came the coup de grâce.
4. ‘Kinder surprise’
The NDP campaign was in Kamloops on Monday, April 22. It was Earth Day, and Adrian Dix decided to commemorate the annual show of support for environmental protection by making a surprising announcement.
If elected, he declared, the NDP would thwart a proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline carrying Alberta crude oil to suburban Vancouver.
Mr. Dix had already stated his opposition to Northern Gateway, the controversial new pipeline being planned, but had taken a different view with Kinder Morgan. He had said that, as a matter of principle, he would wait to see the company’s complete proposal before taking a position.
Now he was reversing course, saying he had decided in January he was opposed – a view not shared with his NDP colleagues, many of whom were stunned.
Initial reaction from the Liberals was muted. “We were confused at first,” Neil Sweeney recalls. “We couldn’t believe that he just woke up that day and decided to make that move ... We were trying to figure out why he did it, what was in it for them. Eventually, however, it occurred to us the gift that he’d given us.”