B.C.'s embattled Liberals are striving to reboot Leader Christy Clark's image on the eve of an election campaign as the party that has governed since 2001 tries to claw its way back from as much as 20 percentage points behind the NDP opposition in opinion polling.
Ms. Clark was the star of a slick 30-minute video production that aired in prime time on Sunday in a slot that cost the Liberals $100,000. It featured Ms. Clark at a diner in her Vancouver-Point Grey riding, sitting with supporters who later praised her for her handling of the economy, her savvy and leadership skills.
Ms. Clark has struggled to connect with voters since becoming Premier in early 2011, but she and her supporters have argued they can turn things around during the 28-day campaign. The effort begins in earnest Monday with the release of the full B.C. Liberal platform followed by the election call on Tuesday. At dissolution, there were 45 Liberals, 36 New Democrats and four Independents for a total 85 seats.
At stake in the May 14 vote is the leadership of Canada's Pacific province and the drive to deliver Canadian energy resources to Asia. Ms. Clark has tied approval of such projects as the Northern Gateway pipeline to certain conditions, but NDP Leader Adrian Dix has sounded deeply skeptical about the plan.
Mr. Dix has proposed a provincial environmental assessment in lieu of the federal review.
The Liberals and New Democrats are generally hugging the centre fiscally. The Liberals are touting a balanced budget tabled earlier this year while the New Democrats dispute the numbers, saying there is actually a deficit while adding that they are prepared to run deficits for at least three years.
The New Democrats have yet to table a full platform, but have said they would raise various taxes, including the reinstatement of a capital tax on financial institutions and an expanded carbon tax to cover vented oil and gas emissions. The NDP agenda includes more generous tax credits for film and TV production to bolster the industry, and – in a measure borrowed from Ontario – having the auditor-general vet government advertising for excessive partisan content. They would also reallocate $562-million in Liberal spending to help pay for a new childcare and early childhood education plan, a poverty-reduction strategy and other measures to be laid out during the campaign.
Brad Bennett, the grandson of B.C.'s legendary Social Credit premier W.A.C. Bennett and son of premier Bill Bennett, said Sunday's 30-minute TV spot launches a pointed comparison between Ms. Clark and Mr. Dix, a two-term MLA, committed to a modest approach embodied by his party's slogan, "Change for the better. One practical step at a time."
Brad Bennett, who will be with Ms. Clark on the campaign tour as an "adviser, supporter, political antennae" said he expects voters, despite the polls, are now just beginning to focus on the issues. He noted his grandfather and father won nine elections between them, not always running ahead of their rivals in the polls in the pre-writ period.
"Anything can happen in B.C. politics," he said in an interview.
Shaw Media proposed a one-on-one televised town hall debate last week between Mr. Dix and Ms. Clark. Ms. Clark accepted on the spot, but Mr. Dix said it was a nonstarter without the leaders of the B.C. Conservatives and B.C. Greens.
Mr. Dix announced Sunday he would ban corporate and union political donations by Jan. 1, 2014, if he is elected premier. A legislature committee with members from all parties that get 5-per-cent support in the election or more would also look at financing of B.C. politics
Earlier on Sunday, Mr. Dix said he wouldn't be watching the Liberal television message because he doesn't have cable at home, and had other things to do.