Jim Shepard thinks it’s time to leave the battle to the politicians.
Mr. Shepard, a former $1-a-year adviser to Premier Christy Clark who is also known for turning around the fortunes of B.C. forestry giant Canfor, said he thinks the ad campaign he and his political action group launched to question NDP Leader Adrian Dix’s integrity has been a success and they can close up shop.
“Our objective, basically, is to set the election question: Can you trust Adrian Dix to be the premier? Yes or no. I think we’re establishing that question. We’re not running a political campaign. That’s for the Liberals and the NDP and the Conservatives to do,” said Mr. Shepard, 74, leader of Concerned Citizens for B.C.
The former Finning and Canfor CEO left the Premier’s Office in the summer of 2012, and says his group has since raised $1.2-million in what he described as small donations to make the case for free enterprise, largely targeting Mr. Dix on economics and such issues as his backdating of a memo while he was chief of staff to NDP premier Glen Clark.
The memo was aimed at suggesting Mr. Clark had no role in a controversial decision on a casino licence. Mr. Dix resigned.
Under B.C.’s electoral rules, Mr. Shepard’s organization would be able to spend no more than $156,896.55 during the campaign. Before the writs are dropped, no spending limits apply.
Despite the ads, Mr. Dix’s New Democrats are far ahead of the Liberals in the polls. Political scientist Hamish Telford of the University of the Fraser Valley suggests that any support the Liberals might have gained from the ads has withered away due to such setbacks as the scandal over a plan to appeal to ethnic voters.
Still, Mr. Shepard is bullish, saying he doesn’t believe in the polls. “Quite frankly, polling at this time is very, very suspect,” he said. “I don’t accept the numbers.”
He said Mr. Dix and Ms. Clark might agree on one point – that the election is going to end up being much closer than the polls might suggest.
He declined to say how many volunteers are in his organization.
“We shut down two days before the election begins,” Mr. Shepard said. “We’ll run full out until a week this Sunday, and then we’re done.” Mr. Shepard said he expects any leftover funds will be donated to charity.
The money largely went to pay for TV time, he said, although he added that print ads are coming. “You’ll start seeing print all over the province this week,” he said, describing the ads as a recreation of the TV and radio spots that focused on Mr. Dix’s memo issue.
Mr. Shepard said he was especially exasperated by the issue because it forced Mr. Dix’s departure from the premier’s office, and yet Mr. Dix now stands to become premier.
“I can’t imagine an executive who I would fire and bring him back with a promotion for doing something as dishonest as creating and presenting a fraudulent document for evidence,” he said. “In the business world, this would be absolutely so ludicrous.”
He said he stood by the ads. “I am not going to cop out by saying somebody else did it. My name is there and my name stands behind them.”
Earlier this week, Mr. Dix was pressed on the issue of the memo during a news conference, and asked if he thought people had forgiven him.
“I’ve made mistakes and I take responsibility for them,” he said.
The NDP leader told reporters he felt good about the fact that since his error, he led a non-profit organization, was twice elected an MLA, and served in critic portfolios before being elected party leader.
Mr. Shepard said he has not talked at length to the Premier since leaving her office, although he ran into her during the free-enterprise day of a B.C. Liberal convention in Whistler last October. He skipped the rest of the meeting, noting he is not a party member. Nor, he said, has he had any contact with the party. “I am working very hard to not have anything to do with them and I don’t.”
Mr. Shepard said he was impressed with Ms. Clark in the year he worked with her, but felt he could not properly make the case for her, so he decided to leave to help the free-enterprise cause. Ms. Clark announced his exit at a dinner last June. He took on a similar role for Gordon Campbell before the 2001 election that ended with a Liberal majority.
At the start, there was much talk about dealing with the B.C. Conservatives, who have been fracturing the centre-right vote to the detriment of the Liberals. Asked if they remain a threat, he would only say, “I don’t even have any comment on them.”
Mr. Shepard said he has realized that politics is much tougher than business because it’s necessary to go directly after competitors. “This is what democracy is all about. As long as we’re fighting with words and we’re not fighting with guns, that’s the way I like to have it.”