So here we are once more, right back where British Columbians were in the spring of 2013: with a provincial election in its final days, the New Democrats leading and the incumbent Liberals staring defeat in the face.
Four years ago, poll after poll had the NDP cruising to victory. Those polls turned out to be dead wrong. Instead of an NDP government, Christy Clark's Liberals were returned to office.
This election has so far played like a sequel, with a few fresh plot twists. The NDP led the polls going into the campaign, but in contrast to 2013, that lead appears to be narrowing and may have disappeared.
Further plot twist: The Green Party, a distant also-ran in past elections, is a factor; if polls are to be believed, it's backed by as many as one in four British Columbians. If it can persuade voters to follow through on those intentions – a big "if" – the third party could end up deciding the election. Possible scenarios include a minority government, with the Greens holding the balance of power.
On Tuesday night, can the Liberals win their fifth general election in a row? A comparison of the parties, their records and their platforms suggests that's what should happen. Ms. Clark's Liberals, though far from perfect, are better than the alternatives. On balance, they deserve to win.
However, before praising the Liberals, allow us to enumerate some of their deficiencies.
The greatest of these is political donations. On Ms. Clark's watch, B.C.'s fundraising Wild West became wilder than ever.
Even as other provinces brought in tough rules curtailing the influence of money in politics – banning dollars from unions and corporations, bringing in hard donation limits, and generally curtailing the ability of favour-seekers to buy the government's attention – B.C. remained an outlier. Cash-for-access was business-as-usual.
Yes, the NDP also took advantage of the province's virtually non-existent rules, fuelling up on union money. But the free-for-all primarily benefited the party in government, the Liberals. Last year, they raised $12.4-million, mostly from corporations, including the sale of high-priced tickets to small, private gatherings with the premier.
That Ms. Clark and her party for so long refused to alter this cozy state of affairs was not just a moral failing. NDP Leader John Horgan has been able to paint his party as representing real people, while characterizing the Liberals as the party of plutocrats. Unlimited donations are the gift that keeps on giving – to the Liberals' opponents.
A few months ago, the Liberals finally conceded. Ms. Clark promises that, if she wins the election, she will create an independent panel to rewrite B.C.'s fundraising rules, in concert with the other parties. Reform is coming late to B.C., but it appears to be finally coming.
On the campaign trail, the Liberals would rather not talk about any of that. They are running on their fiscal and economic record, where they have successes to point to.
The provincial unemployment rate? Canada's lowest. Economic growth? Tops in the country, two years running. The Liberals didn't cause this, but at least they didn't get in the way. A low hurdle, sure, but one many governments can't clear.
The budget? Balanced. Debt? Low and stable. It's at half the level or less of provinces east of Saskatchewan.
The B.C. Liberals can also claim to have brought in the country's most credible and economically efficient climate-change policy: the carbon tax on fuel. The Justin Trudeau government is basically trying to cajole the rest of the country into catching up to B.C. The B.C. carbon tax is also close to revenue-neutral: the money raised is largely returned through other tax cuts. Other jurisdictions (hello, Ontario) treat carbon cash as a government windfall.
One of the drivers of the B.C. economy in recent years has been housing, and despite the obvious signs of speculative overheating in Greater Vancouver and Victoria, the Liberal government long declined to intervene. When it finally did, it made one politically popular mistake. But it also made two sensible moves, while avoiding one big, tempting misstep.
Mistake made: Introducing taxpayer subsidies for first-time home buyers. These may appeal to some voters, but they only pump up the housing market.
Sensible step taken: bringing in a 15-per-cent foreign buyers' tax, and allowing Vancouver to tax empty homes. The first measure has already been watered down, but it's still a move in the right direction.
Misstep avoided: The B.C. Liberals, unlike the government of Ontario, haven't used high housing prices as an excuse for expanding politically appealing, but economically destructive, rent control.
On resource development, the Liberals have tried to walk a sensible middle path. Their dreams of windfalls from the development of a B.C. natural gas export industry have yet to come to fruition – blame global energy prices – but on oil and pipelines, they've tried to strike a balance, favouring new projects but demanding environmental assurances and financial returns.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has become a measure of the contrast between the province's two leading parties. In 2013, the NDP flip-flopped and then promised to kill the project; that may have cost them the election. The Liberals backed the pipeline, with conditions. Four years later, a deal has been negotiated, Ottawa has given its approval and promised significant new money for spill prevention and remediation – and the NDP is still opposed.
No, the B.C. Liberals aren't perfect. But on Tuesday in British Columbia, perfect's not on the ballot.