The NDP looked way ahead before voters went to the polls in British Columbia. Then it all changed. Why? One word: "Pipelines." Or more precisely, two: "Kinder Morgan."
Until two weeks ago it was the election of the NDP's Adrian Dix to lose. Then he got greedy. Worried about an emerging Green threat, Mr. Dix sought to pre-empt the party by going greenier-than-thou, specifically by promising to ban significantly greater tanker traffic out of the port of Vancouver, which would doom the export of Alberta oil to the Pacific. This was a stunning turnabout on a clear promise to withhold judgement until the pipeline application had been filed with details made available.
His gamble failed and, more importantly for the future of the NDP, the Greens elected their first MLA. This will split the vote on the left for years to come.
Even more portentous for this election, it was the beginning of a major switch in voting intentions – missed by the pollsters, but surely clear enough last night.
Why the significance of this change in policy? It crystallized a number of fears in the minds of voters. The Liberals had run a brutal campaign based on fear. Fear of what? Fear of the NDP economic record in the last government. Fear of Adrian Dix and what he might do.
This was all water off a duck's back until Kinder Morgan. Mr, Dix ran a wonderfully smooth campaign based on "change." He wore dark suits, conservative ties, black shoes. He told us we had nothing to fear – the NDP would just do a few moderate things, all "fully costed."
But there were lots of hopes held out.
The Liberals, by contrast, were relentlessly on message. It was all about the economy, and the ability to pay the bills for health care and such. (Need resource development for that, doncha know?)
The Kinder Morgan flip-flop sent a message that the NDP would prefer the enviro-left to the development-right. The voters got the message, judged that the economy would suffer and made their choice.
Of course the enviro-left will reject that thought. An NDP representative commenting on the results actually said that people who fail to achieve their ends via elections will gain them in other ways and referenced the "War in the Woods," a famous BC environmental confrontation. We shall see.
But never mind, there we are. It was a good night for the Liberals and a bad one for the NDPs. The Gordon Campbell HST curse has been lifted; the Adrian Dix curses of document modification in a law case in the nineties and riding public transit without paying for a ticket (a trivial thing that everyone can understand) had an unmeasurable but certain effect.
It was a terrible night for pollsters, who have a lot of explaining to do.
It was another apparent proof of the maxim that nice guys don't win ball games, because Mr. Dix did run a polite campaign. But I don't take that message out of it. I put it more to the voters' common sense on the economy.
Finally, it was a good night for Canada. Mr. Dix would have stopped the movement of Alberta oil to the Pacific. By contrast, Premier Clark says maybe, with conditions. So, an essential dialogue can continue.