With their full platform released and no new policies to announce, B.C. Liberals on the campaign trail are settling into a sustained attack mode against the B.C. NDP, which is far ahead in the polls.
Since the writ dropped for the May 14 election, Liberal Leader Christy Clark has tended to attack the NDP on big-picture issues with individual ministers taking more targeted jabs at the opposition party.
On Monday, Environment Minister Terry Lake was designated to lead a Liberal attack on comments that NDP energy critic John Horgan allegedly made to a Jan. 31 forum expressing skepticism about Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion project.
Energy Minister Rich Coleman was also deployed to respond, in a statement, to NDP Leader Adrian Dix’s declaration that he is opposed to Kinder Morgan’s plan to expand its pipeline from Alberta into the Lower Mainland, suggesting it reflected a dramatic change in Mr. Dix’s policy.
The campaign agendas on Monday showcased the parties’ different approaches.
While Mr. Dix was unveiling his environmental policy, the Liberals had no new initiatives to announce because all were published the day before the campaign started.
Some observers suggest the Liberals’ tactic has placed the party in a risky position, especially as they try to catch up with the NDP.
“They have a 28-day campaign and they don’t have much new to say,” said political scientist Hamish Telford of the University of the Fraser Valley.
“They’re a well-known commodity. Everybody knows everything about them and somehow they have got to chip away at the substantial lead the NDP has built up over the last number of months, and they are doing it in the way we have seen, particularly by trying to go after Adrian Dix.”
Prof. Telford said it doesn’t seem to be working so far, but that the next round of polls will measure the situation.
“If it doesn’t [work], I don’t know what they do. I don’t know if they have got another trick up their sleeve.”
Ms. Clark has made a virtue out of laying all her cards out ahead of the NDP, which is more gradually revealing its policies on a timeline of about one a week.
The B.C. Liberals say they won’t be announcing new policies to win votes, leaving them to work with the ideas they have already outlined.
They are following a game plan crafted by a team that includes campaign director Mike McDonald and Don Guy, a chief of staff to former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty who helped engineer his three wins.
Pollster Mario Canseco of Angus Reid Public Opinion, said the Liberals now risk being in a position where they are asked about opposition initiatives, rather than their own.
Because they have touted the release of their full platform, the Liberals are in a “dangerous” position where voters and the media may tune out what they say.
“It’s not going to have the same effect as the opposition party saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do on the environment,’ for instance, because it’s fresh information and it’s new.”
Still, Mr. Canseco said the Liberal tacticians may be calculating that their approach may win back the 15 to 20 per cent of their 2009 voters who have drifted to the NDP.
On Monday, Ms. Clark defended the early release of the Liberal platform.
“It’s important that British Columbians know where we stand, where I stand and where we want to take this province so I felt it was crucial we get this platform out the day before the election, so people could see it and we could be absolutely up front,” she said.