Friday, December 31, 2004

What to watch for on the political front in '05

VICTORIA - Nine things things to look for as we head into another year of politics, and perhaps both federal and provincial elections.
First, can NDP leader Carole James escape the party's past and her own fuzzy image in voters' minds and achieve some sort of breakthrough in the May election?
My guess would be that an election today would produce a clear Liberal majority, with about 45 seats to the New Democrats' 35 or so. Bad news for the 30 Liberals who stand to lose their seats, but a convincing win.
But there are 15 weeks before voting day, and a lot can change. The ability of James to win voters' confidence is a key variable. Right now about 32 per cent of voters approve of James' work as opposition leader, and 27 per cent disapprove, according to the latest Mustel poll.
Those are likely the voters already committed to a party. James' ability to convince the 40 per cent who haven't made up their minds that she's a credible leader - or her good fortune in coming up with a Gordon Wilson-type breakthrough moment - could change things dramatically.
Second, will an NDP candidate list that includes too many tarnished veterans - like Glen Clark advisor Adrian Dix and former MLA Harry Lali - make it easy for the Liberals to convince voters that the voting New Democrat is risking a return to the incompetent past?
Third, can Gordon Campbell convince voters that his government isn't mean-spirited, does have a social agenda and can be trusted? The polls indicate voters have serious doubts about the government's interest in struggling British Columbians and don't believe Campbell when he promises a new direction. (The big broken promises on gambling, BC Rail and respecting contracts haven't helped.)
Fourth, can the Liberals stick together? The party - a coalition of free enterprisers with a wide range of views on health, education and social policy - has stayed unified. But they were helped because they were focused on cutting taxes and spending. Now the surpluses are large, and the choices more diverse. The divide between the traditional small 'l' liberals, who want to spend on a social agenda, and the conservatives who don't really see much of a role for government, is threatening to widen .
Fifth, can the Liberals deal with their own candidate problems? The emergence of social conservatives - like Mary Polak and Cindy Silver - is already being criticized by sitting Liberal MLAs. Stephen Harper learned painfully how much damage that candidates who are seen as extreme social conservatives can do to a party's hopes.
Sixth, will the B.C. economy continue to perform? Most indicators point to decent growth in 2005, with the only worrying factor the risk of a decline in U.S. housing starts and problems for the forest industry. Economic growth means more jobs and gives voters a reason to stay the course with the current government.
Seventh, will the BC Rail scandal emerge as a significant issue. The corruption charges are serious and allege that the $1-billion sale was compromised, and that taxpayers and other bidders lost money as a result. The Liberals' claim that this somehow had nothing to do with government makes no sense. A huge public asset was sold in a tainted process, prosecutors charge, and that has everything to do with government. The fact that the case is before the courts will help the Liberals deflect questions, but it also means regular headlines.
Eighth, will Paul Martin's minority government survive the year? The best bet is that it will, and that British Columbians can expect more attention from the federal Liberals in preparation for a vote in 2006. But the problem for Martin is that the longer the governs, the more adrift the federal Liberals seem to be. The strategy of putting off the eventual election is looking politically dangerous.
And ninth, will a positive referendum vote on electoral reform change everything in B.C.
Stay tuned.
Footnote: The other things to watch for are the risk of school disruptions as the BCTF negotiates its contract and the potential for mounting problems in the health care system. Health and education are critical areas for voters who are already skeptical of the Liberal record.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How can anybody write about 9 things to watch for in B.C.'s election year, without mentioning the fall-out from the R.C.M.P. raids??

Either ministerial trafficking, fraud, and money-laundering are too ho-hum to bother our pretty heads about -- or -- there's a mysterious epidemic of myopia sweeping the mountains and valleys of British Columbia.

It gives new meaning to "Silence is golden." Right?