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The B.C. pundit panel talks about the parties’ campaign strategies

Dawn Black, left, and George Abbott are former B.C. MLAs.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Each week during the campaign, former MLAs George Abbott and Dawn Black join us for an online chat about the hottest issues of the election. This week, our panel of experts discusses the parties' campaign strategies with The Globe's Justine Hunter. Visit our live blog next Tuesday at 10 a.m. PT for the next instalment.

We've seen some real contrasts in the approaches taken by each of the four parties so far. Has that been expected, or has any party surprised you so far?

Abbott: No, I haven't been surprised by campaign strategies to date. The NDP has more flexibility in approach than the B.C. Liberals, due to the trust issue arising from clumsy implementation of the HST. The Liberals needed to unveil their platform early to drive their demand that the NDP do the same. They clearly want the ballot question to be on fiscal competence and confidence, hence the emphasis on debt management.

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Black: The Liberals are on the attack and the NDP is laying out policy. That's to be expected in the first week of the campaign when most of the Liberal agenda was laid out in the Throne Speech and budget.

Do voters give the NDP more credit for being "substance" based in the early campaigning?

Abbott: I think voters vote for a large variety of reasons. Some will respond to what they see and hear during the campaign, and some will have made up their minds months or years ago. The challenge for the campaigns is to move the voters that can still be moved. The leaders attempt to minimize the unexpected and the uncontrollable. The further they venture outside the bubble, the greater the risk that such an event might happen.

Black: You're absolutely right, George. The polls have been the same now for almost two years – they'll probably tighten up but we're talking about a small slice of the electorate that is movable.

If you're the Greens or Conservatives, how do you get the media's (and public's) attention in this race?

Hunter: These debates will be four-way, so it is probably the best exposure Jane Sterk of the Greens and John Cummins of the B.C. Conservatives will get.

Abbott: Given the positions of the Greens and Conservatives in the polls, focusing on potential winnable seats is a wise strategy. Attempting to capture the interest of the media is a challenge and is probably only possible when linked to potentially winning candidates.

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Let's talk about Kinder Morgan. Did the NDP make that surprise announcement because they are worried about losing support to the Greens?

Black: I don't think the announcement was much of a surprise given the public mood on the pipeline question.

Hunter: It was a surprise because Adrian Dix has insisted until now that he wouldn't prejudge the application.

Abbott: I am sure the NDP is attempting to seal the deal in terms of the Burnaby seats they would like to take from the B.C. Liberals where the Kinder Morgan issue is huge. They risk, however, the suggestion that, as the B.C. Liberals claim, their hostility to new economic enterprise will hurt the province. Kinder Morgan has not even entered the environmental assessment process yet. It's an existing pipeline that has operated almost entirely without incident for many decades. In the balance of economic growth versus environmental risk, what is the penalty that B.C. would pay for blocking it?

Does the NDP announcement diminish hopes the Greens had of picking up seats on Vancouver Island?

Abbott: I predict tight three-way races in Oak Bay-Gordon Head and in Saanich North and the Islands. I now live in Oak Bay and there are many Green signs through the area. I don't think their chances of winning would be enhanced by mimicking NDP moves. Much of their support depends on unhappy voters.

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Speaking of unhappy voters, what do you think are the Conservative chances of picking up seats from disaffected right-of-centre voters?

Abbott: The Conservatives showed some growth back in 2012, then lost their momentum due to the leadership controversy. They have not shown any growth since then and I don't think they have sufficient strength to win any ridings.

Black: I think the Conservatives do have a chance to pick up seats – the debates will be critical. If John Cummins has a good debate, there could be a small movement from the Liberals to the Conservatives. But neither Jane Sterk or John Cummins remind me of Gordon Wilson.

The debates loom large for all the leaders, it seems.

Abbott: Christy Clark is depending heavily on her campaign communication skills to build some momentum. At this point Clark needs to do very well in the debates to decidedly shift momentum. Dix, I am sure, will attempt to play it safe, but it will be a huge test for him.

Black: The onus is on Clark and she's a very skilled debater – I expect her to do well.

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