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Premier Christy Clark speaks with employee's of Langley Concrete in Chilliwack April 17, 2013. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail) (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Premier Christy Clark speaks with employee's of Langley Concrete in Chilliwack April 17, 2013. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail) (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Commentary

Small business played big part in B.C. Liberal victory Add to ...

The re-election of the B.C. Liberals to an unprecedented fourth term in office surprised most British Columbians; especially those of us who read the polls and believed that Adrian Dix and the New Democratic Party would cruise to victory.

The Vancouver Province summed it all up in a front-page headline in March, featuring a photograph of Mr. Dix: “If this man kicked a dog, he’d still win the election.” He must have kicked a few, metaphorically speaking.

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As someone whose client base is made up of small– and medium-sized businesses, I’m not unhappy with the result. However, I imagine the polling industry may be rethinking their methodologies in light of opinion polls that proved to be far worse than a coin toss.

Mr. Dix’s surprising loss, and Premier Clark’s equally surprising victory, seems to be the result of four factors:

First and foremost, Mr. Dix virtually rejected the proposed $5-billion Kinder Morgan pipeline twinning, which may well have angered many members of the B.C. and Yukon Territories Building and Construction Trades Council, who were counting on the union jobs that the Edmonton to Burnaby project would create to help them continue to pay their mortgages. Politicians who campaign against economic growth do so at their peril and risk alienating their supporters.

Second, the B.C. Conservative Party collapsed like a cheap tent, so the “free enterprise” votes on the right weren’t lost to the (very) right wing Conservatives.

Third, the popularity of the Green Party split the vote on the left and pulled support from environmentalists, arguably helping Christie Clark win her majority with every Green vote that wasn’t cast for the NDP.

Fourth, Premier Clark demonstrated that she was an apt and formidable campaigner, and could stay on message – and much of the message involved jobs, the economy, the record of the NDP while in government during the 1990s, and Mr. Dix’s own record (he resigned as former premier Glen Clark’s chief of staff in 1999 because he backdated a document). She’s been accused of negative campaigning, but all of this is fair game

Perhaps there’s another theory as to why the Liberals won. Maybe small business and their employees had a lot to do with Christy Clark’s victory. Let me explain.

With the departure of Gordon Campbell, the failure of the HST, and an apparent appetite for change in B.C., many in the Vancouver business community expected an NDP win. In April, many of us filled a large ballroom at the Hotel Vancouver to hear Mr. Dix’s speech and to talk with others from Burrard Street and Howe Street. “Well, it can’t be as bad as last time,” I heard some people say, referring to the decade of NDP rule between 1991 and 2001. “His old boss Glen Clark has been Jimmy Pattison’s CEO for years, so maybe it’ll rub off on Dix,” said others.

However, one mining executive I know shrugged all this 'positive talk'  off and said that he had $4-million to invest in mineral exploration in B.C., but if the NDP were elected, he could just as easily spend his dollars in other mining-friendly jurisdictions like Saskatchewan or South America. This executive was from Howe Street and was arguably part of the ‘big business’ community of Vancouver. He said he could simply move his investment dollars to other parts of Canada – (or the world –) if the economic and political climate in B.C. changed for the worse.

But the B.C. small businessperson can’t simply pick up and move. She has rent to pay every month and salaries to pay every two weeks. There’s inventory and other expenses to manage and control. There’s marketing to take care of and bookkeeping to stay on top of and customers to keep happy. There are also taxes to be paid.

These costs have to be paid or the business fails. There isn’t ‘seniority’ to fall back on if the business falters. There isn’t a pension plan. And for the owners, there isn’t a union.

The small businessperson can’t easily pack up and move the company from Chilliwack to Lethbridge or from Kamloops to Calgary like the Vancouver mining executive could. Nor can she bring her five or 10 employees or all her customers to a more business-friendly jurisdiction when the political climate veers.

So perhaps the pulse of B.C. isn’t in the boardrooms of downtown Vancouver where lawyers, accountants and MBA’s might have good salaries and stock options. Nor is it in Victoria where many workers are employed by one level of government or another, and may well be protected by unions and pensions.

Maybe the real heartbeat of B.C. is in places like Langley and the Fraser Valley; the Okanagan, and Kamloops. And in the North. Places where you either start a small business or you work for one, and you can’t afford to risk political change if the economic change that comes with it also affects your business, your livelihood, your income, your family and your employees.

Being ‘against economic growth,’ whether it’s pipelines or other forms of economic activity, appears to be something very few politicians will want to risk again.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Tony Wilson is a franchising, licensing and intellectual property lawyer at Boughton Law Corp. in Vancouver, he is an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University (SFU), and he is the author of two books: Manage Your Online Reputation, and Buying a Franchise in Canada. His opinions do not reflect those of the Law Society of British Columbia, SFU or any other organization.

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