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David Parkins
David Parkins

Dispatch

B.C. Liberals have some heavy paddling ahead Add to ...

The theme of the recent B.C. Liberal convention was “Positive Energy.” It was printed on periwinkle blue stickers for delegates, a cheery message to counter the dreary polls that had been weighing on the party faithful for so long.

That sentiment was carefully backed up in the speeches and strategy sessions. At its core, the advice is: Don’t worry, because voters don’t really make up their minds until the election campaign buses hit the road; for now, it’s safe to ignore the “holy trinity” of pollsters, pundits and political scientists.

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After all the boisterous cheerleading, many Liberals emerged from that convention believing their fortunes were on the rise. Still behind, sure, but as one senior Liberal said the other day over a cup of coffee, you don’t want to peak too soon.

Setting the tone for all this was a brash e-mail from Liberal campaign manager Mike McDonald to B.C. Liberal activists on the eve of the convention: “Give me 10 points to make up at election time six months from now and we’ll eat the NDP for dinner.”

In his e-mail, Mr. McDonald grasped at the usual sports metaphors: The B.C. Lions came back to win the Grey Cup last year after losing their first five games: “Is it any different? Believing in yourself to accomplish a goal when the peanut gallery has written you off? That’s us, folks.”

He also compared the current polls to the movie Apocalypse Now and promised the Liberals are going to fight their way back out of the heart of darkness. “Reading the press coverage some days, you would think that we were heading up river to the Cambodian border for a meeting with Colonel Kurtz. But hey, Martin Sheen did make it home, right? Kurtz, not so much. Remember that.”

But to reduce the New Democratic Party’s lead in the polls to just 10 points by next April, the Liberals still have some heavy paddling to do.

The party has been buoyed by the sinking fortunes of the B.C. Conservatives. But not all of the support has drifted back to the Liberals. And even a diminished Conservative force could still split the vote in key ridings. Premier Christy Clark’s forces need to capture support from the New Democrats and to do that they are crafting a platform that aims to show that an NDP government would make B.C. less affordable for the middle class.

They hope, as well, to capitalize on their incumbency. The Liberals have governed the province for a dozen years, and they expect voters, when it comes down to the wire, will hesitate to bet on change at a time of economic uncertainty.

The New Democrats, not surprisingly, have been busy seeking to neutralize those points. Leader Adrian Dix says he would not bring about radical change if his party were elected. The tax increases he has talked about target corporations, although he hasn’t closed the door on hikes for high-income earners.

While Mr. Dix has taken his message of reassurance and modest ambitions to business groups, Ms. Clark has been targeting female voters – because the gender gap remains a crucial obstacle in the next election.

In recent months, she has met with groups of women in 14 towns and cities, from Nanaimo to Salmon Arm. Her next stop is Fort St. John. She’s met with everyone from mommy bloggers to the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs.

Not being among the 2,000 women she has met in these venues, I can tell you only what the Liberals say they are gaining. Which is that the Premier, when she engages with candour in these sessions, is able to change the negative perceptions that women voters have formed about her. One mommy blogger wrote after such a meeting that Ms. Clark was “brutally honest, if nothing else.”

The next round of B.C. political polls will be released next week and should give some indication if the Premier and her party are gaining support.

Mr. McDonald tells party supporters, “Polls, shmolls.” But the B.C. Liberals will want to see that they are at least heading in the right direction.

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