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Realistically no. Only the NDP can make the NDP lose now.

Let me state my own political position. Since I have one, you’re entitled to it. I will support the NDP and hope the Liberals only get sufficient numbers to form a decent opposition. If we had proportional representation I would support the Greens.

I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the NDP. I ran against them (twice, winning both times) and if Bill Bennett were still premier with a party that made a centre-left Red Tory person feel comfortable, I would be with him again. If you’re in any doubt about how good Bill Bennett was, just look at what we’ve had since.

And if you give a damn, when my deputy minister, Tex Enemark, and I teamed up, we completely overhauled consumer and business laws. Premier Bennett backed us, as he did when we made the new wine change from dreadful rot gut by licensing and financially supporting the cottage wine industry. As environment minister I brought the ranchers (most of whom were Socreds) to mouth-foaming anger by stopping the wolf kill. I put a moratorium on uranium mining and saved the lovely Skagit River from being made into a huge lake by the City of Seattle raising the Ross Dam as they were entitled to by a 1941 agreement with the province.

My support for the NDP is not wholehearted. I think they are dead wrong on the liquefied natural gas (LNG) issue. I don’t believe they have adequately looked at the environmental issues nor the problems finding a market where natural gas is not already a glut, especially where the LNG people hope to sell it.

I’m sorry to trouble you with self-aggrandizement but as I give opinions you are entitled to question my record and I’m entitled to state it.

‘Atmosphere’ of a campaign

Let’s then look at the forthcoming election with the NDP holding a huge lead in the polls. The biggest ever. Even bigger than the one Gordon Campbell blew going into the 1996 election.

A barrister (now more commonly given the ugly term litigator), which I was for 15 years, knows about what is called the “atmosphere of trial.” You can have an apparently airtight case with all your witnesses in a row but lose the case for reasons you can never explain to your clients.

As soon as you walk into that courtroom you feel a chill. The Judge and jury seem to be put off by a smile and before you know it witnesses start to crumble. Any who watched the trial of Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey will see what I mean. There are few worse feelings than those of a barrister watching his slam dunk case go down the ‘loo.

Three bits of relevant history

I can think of three fairly recent campaigns where the atmosphere of the campaign changed dramatically upon a single event.

In 1975, the year that the Socreds tossed out the one-term NDP, the race felt close at the outset. In the result, the Socreds won by 10 points with 49 per cent. When we on the winning team assessed the reasons we had won, all of them pertained to our “free enterprise” philosophy against the “socialism” of the NDP. Absent from the campaign — the formal one at any rate — was labour. Somehow, to us, the warm greeting we got from workers was evidence that they too saw the infinite benefits capitalism would bring.

I well remember standing outside the gate at Bethlehem Copper, near Logan Lake, freezing the family jewels off, with nearly all of the departing workers telling me I was wasting my time freezing because they were going to vote for me anyway.*

Looking back now at that election it’s clear that the moment the “atmosphere of the campaign” changed halfway through the campaign when Dave Barrett ordered 50,000 striking labourers back to work. With a wave of the legislative wand Barrett had alienated his core support and he never recovered his footing. From then on, Dave Barrett, the workingman’s friend, had to concentrate much of his effort not on beating up on Socreds, but explaining to his core supporters why he had sided with the bosses.

In 1983 Bill Bennett was well behind Dave Barrett and the Socreds were behind the NDP.

Bennett campaigned on the issue of “restraint.” There was a recession and the books were getting redder and redder. By mid-election, this issue seemed to be off the radar — until NDP leader Dave Barrett made an off-the-cuff remark on TV disparaging the “restraint” issue. You could feel the change. It was palpable and amazing to watch. It seemed to put into play the NDP’s reputation for being casual in the use of public funds while in office. From being considerably behind at the beginning of the campaign Bennett coasted to a solid win.

Interestingly, when back in government Bennett started to implement “restraint” all hell broke loose with a general strike and a mass demonstration at Empire Stadium.

In 2009 the NDP were favourites. The campaign was a plodder for a long time. There didn’t seem to be a dominant issue but in my opinion, based upon many public meetings around the province during the campaign, the environment was a much bigger issue than the pundits had it. The reason the media didn’t get it was that pollsters never asked real questions.

This came into focus midway during the campaign when NDP leader Carole James took an infamous plane trip with half a dozen media folks to look at a private power project. This was not a bad idea — not at all. But it turned out to be a disaster. I was there to see it.

The plane was fixed wing so that the media could not  take pictures, and if they tried, as some of them did, the windows were too small to see much. The pilot went to the wrong place and there was no one on the plane to point out the “sights.” I noted that it thoroughly pissed off the working press who could easily see more important places they could have been at instead of this screw-up.

I don’t believe that this in itself cost James the election — it was generally a lousy campaign that did her in, the worst campaign I’ve ever seen.

What did happen was that the media saw utter chaos in the NDP campaign. There had been persistent rumours that James did not have the full support of the party. She was not a forceful leader and to many it seemed that the party brass — at least such of it that was managing the campaign — had a death wish for her. Indeed the leadership revolt that followed bore out the fact that many in the party believed that James had cost them the election.

If Clark quits

Will there be a moment of truth in British Columbia’s coming provincial election, something that suddenly changes the flow?

I doubt it, but it could happen. Even when one party leads by 17 points going in.

What if, as may happen as I write this, Christy Clark resigns and, say, George Abbott leads the Liberals into the May election? Would that create the “change in atmosphere” for the Liberals?

Actually, if Clark quits not much happens. A change in “atmosphere” is unlikely because the Liberals are still in bad shape.

The only kind of change in atmosphere that can really help the Liberals would be one caused by the NDP — by creating an issue as Barrett did for Bennett in 1983.

That’s the only hope now for the Liberals.

Upsets happen but for the Liberals to win there would have to be a miracle along the lines of the fishes and the loaves.

As Damon Runyan said, “The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong — but that’s the way to bet.”

One Response to “Could Clark Quitting Revive Liberal Chances?”

  1. […] to previous votes of confidence of a more qualified nature from the likes of Mark Jaccard and Rafe Mair. And let us not forget former Sierra Club BC executive director George Heyman, who is running as a […]

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