It wasn’t long after Christy Clark was elected leader of the BC Liberal Party that the coalition that her predecessor Gordon Campbell carefully constructed began to fracture.
Some of the party’s more conservative-minded supporters decided to look at the BC Conservative Party under John Cummins. Some centrists went to the New Democrats. There was a chunk that left to explore what the Green Party had to offer. And then there was a group that chose to sit on the sidelines and wait to see what happened.
Thanks to a highly effective campaign, Ms. Clark has begun to patch the Liberal coalition back together. This has been evident in various polls, which have shown the embattled governing party making dramatic gains over the first three weeks of the 2013 election battle. But with just more than one week left before voting day, it’s uncertain whether the Liberal Leader has enough time to finish the rebuilding job.
Ms. Clark’s election themes of job creation and debt reduction have resonated most effectively with former allies of her party that had drifted over to the Conservatives. She has also been aided by two factors: the disastrous campaign being run by Mr. Cummins, and the decision by her main opponent, NDP Leader Adrian Dix, to come out against the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.
The fact the Conservatives have been battling bad publicity almost from the day the election fight began made Mr. Cummins’ followers vulnerable – especially those who’d come over from the Liberals. When Mr. Dix gave the Liberals a juicy election issue in Kinder Morgan – one that allowed Ms. Clark to say that the NDP would kill jobs and wreck the economy – it permitted those Conservatives who were susceptible to run back home to try to save the Liberal government.
Kinder Morgan also likely helped Ms. Clark lure back some of those old backers who became uncommitted under her leadership. And Mr. Dix’s stunning about-face on the matter also likely alienated some centrists who were perhaps inclined to give the NDP a shot this time around, but got spooked by Ms. Clark’s incessant assertions that Mr. Dix’s stand on pipelines was just the tip of the iceberg and that resource development would come to a standstill in B.C. under his reign.
So why would the NDP give Ms. Clark such a choice opening? What was in it for them? Well, the answer is votes. And in particular, Green Party votes.
The NDP have envisaged a scenario in which the Liberals mounted a comeback in this campaign. And if the NDP was going to fall back to its traditional range of support – anywhere from 39 to 42 per cent – then Green Party backers would likely be needed to put the party over the top.
In the 2009 election, the New Democrats stupidly stumped on the promise to get rid of the Liberal-introduced carbon tax, a policy that was widely applauded by environmentalists everywhere. Not only did the New Democrats’ axe-the-tax crusade alienate Green Party enthusiasts who might have been inclined to help Carole James defeat Gordon Campbell in that campaign, but it led to the estrangement of many members of their own party.
Four years later, the NDP faced a quandary. While many in the party enthusiastically endorsed Mr. Dix’s opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline, they couldn’t understand why he hadn’t taken a similar position with the Kinder Morgan expansion proposal. A healthy sliver of what the New Democrats believed to be accessible Green Party support was of the same mind.
So what was the NDP to do? Change positions on the pipeline in the hopes it would impress potential Green voters while realizing it could help the Liberals, or stay the course and pray the election didn’t get tight enough that Green support was needed? It was a case of pick your poison.
Of course, we know which way the NDP decided to go. The question is, will it pay off? If polls that have been published since the Kinder Morgan decision was announced are any indication, Green Party support is solid and staying put. It doesn’t appear that Mr. Dix has benefited at all from the decision and, in fact, has lost support as a result of it.
But the New Democrats also believe that as long as that reachable Green backing thinks that the NDP is going to cruise to victory on May 14, it will stay put. If Green devotees accept that the Liberals might get in, then the Kinder Morgan position makes it easier for them to mark their ballots for a New Democrat.
We’ll soon know if the NDP was smart or simply too clever by half.