Heading into the 2015 federal election, Stephen Harper's Conservatives felt they had a solid record on which to run.
While Mr. Harper's personal governing style left a lot to be desired, the Conservatives believed that their résumé, certainly as it pertained to growing the economy and managing the treasury, was an attractive one. The country was viewed enviably by nations around the world. Why would voters want to mess with success, to turn things over to a centre-left party that would rack up ruinous debt and destroy all the hard work that went into making Canada the wondrous country it had become under the Tories?
And that, effectively, was the Conservatives' campaign message: Vote for Stephen Harper! Vote for the status quo! Well, as we now know, as strategies go it was a horribly failed one.
Which brings us to the B.C. election now under way. What is curious about this one is that Christy Clark's Liberals have adopted a re-election battle plan that looks oddly similar to the disastrous one that the federal Conservatives employed.
Instead of a new vision, some dynamic second act on which to sell voters, Ms. Clark and her party have chosen a more staid, safe approach: If you liked the past four years, we'll give you four more of the same. As slogans go, it's not exactly catchy. Worse for the Liberals, it looks tired and intellectually vacant up against the populist platform released by the New Democratic Party on Thursday.
In the early going, it has been the New Democrats, not the Liberals or the Green Party, who have crafted the terms of this election, who have begun framing the ballot-box question. NDP Leader John Horgan has painted the Liberals as the party of the rich, as the party for those in society already well taken care of, compared to his, which will look out for the vast swaths of the middle and lower class that are struggling to survive, that are living paycheque to paycheque.
And this group includes millennials, an often forgotten generation that has had one of the worst hands dealt to it of any generation in recent memory. The Liberals may not care about these kids because history shows young people don't vote. That may be the case. But that may also change. And the parents of these young people do vote and likely appreciate any effort by a prospective government to unburden their children of their many encumbrances.
And this is why the NDP's promise to eliminate interest on student loans is potentially an attractive vote-getter.
While the Liberals and the Greens will try and poke holes in the NDP's fiscal plan – and indeed, there are legitimate questions that need to be answered – over all, the New Democrats do seem to have constructed a balanced-budget platform that stands up to scrutiny. And the party's pledges around housing, $10-a-day daycare, eliminating bridge tolls and medical services plan premiums, among other assurances, make the Liberals' campaign manifesto look joyless, safe and uninteresting by comparison.
In fact, it makes it look a lot like the one on which Stephen Harper's Conservatives campaigned a couple of years ago.
Now, that said, John Horgan is not Justin Trudeau. And Mr. Trudeau's charisma played a part in the outcome of the last federal election as well. And while Mr. Trudeau had a crumbling federal NDP to help him, Mr. Horgan has to deal with a surging Green Party. In other words, there is a lot that the New Democrats have to overcome to take power in British Columbia again.
But the B.C. Liberals have given the NDP the best chance it has had in some time to do just that. Eventually, the Liberals' old saw of saying the NDP will take the province back to the horrible nineties will fail to work with voters. Eventually the public will decide that it is time for a change, that it's a "risk" worth taking because the party in power has begun showing signs of an institution corrupted by too many years in office.
Given the opulent, obscene fundraising buffet on which the B.C. Liberals have engorged themselves – a sight as ugly and distasteful as there has been in B.C. politics in a long time – it has never been easier for the NDP to frame an election around class and class struggle.
This will be the biggest challenge for Christy Clark to overcome. And it's a hurdle made more difficult by the fact she is running on a promise to keep things exactly the way they are.