Monday, May 09, 2005

Radio debate shows fierce final week ahead

VICTORIA - Too bad for the Liberals that the radio debate Gordon Campbell, fear tactics and all, didn't show up for last week's televised debate.
Campbell, Carole James and Adriane Carr held forth for 90 minutes - minus news and weather updates and commercials - on CKNW Monday, with most of the time spent answering planted call-in questions from supporters. (Vancouver Sun columnist Sean Holman, always tuned in, said he recognized a caller who asked James about giving teachers the right to strike as an aide to Liberal Shirley Bond, now working on her Prince George campaign.)
Campbell did well, although it was mostly a negative pitch, raising fears about the possibility of an NDP victory rather than enthusiasm for another four years under the Liberals.
That's tricky ground. Attack politics can be deceptive, destructive and ugly .
But Campbell's radio performance generally stayed on the right side of the line. It is fair to note that the NDP's slate of 79 candidates includes 16 people who served as MLAs or cabinet ministers in previous, discredited NDP governments. It's fair to note that 25 are union officers, or are otherwise active in the labour movement. It's fair to observe that Adrian Dix, Glen Clark's closest political advisor and the man who admitted falsely dating a memo during the casino scandal is running for the NDP.
And it is fair to ask voters if they really want former BC Teachers' Federation president David Chudnovsky, an NDP candidate, at the table if an NDP government - having restored teachers' right to strike - faces a showdown with the union.
There is still something depressing about the tactic. This is a sitting government elected with huge popular support - almost 60 per cent of the popular vote - that has driven away one a quarter of the people who elected it. Now the Liberals are reduced to campaigning as the least offensive option, at a time when unemployment is remarkably low and the economy strong.
James didn't do badly. She kept the focus on health, education and trust, all weak points for the Liberals. And she can probably be flattered by the shift in focus. In this debate, the NDP was treated like a party that might actually be the government, not just a strong opposition. That brings much closer scrutiny.
The radio show was also a good outing for Carr. In the TV debate, she was often part of a tag-team attack on Campbell, inevitably as a junior partner. This time she criticized both of the main parties, but the sharpest daggers were aimed at the New Democrats. "You can vote for what we've got now, you can vote for what you threw out four years ago, or you can vote for something new," Carr summarized, a good pitch.
The radio debate, with its limited audience, doesn't have anywhere near the impact of the TV debate. But it still matters as one of only two times that the public gets to see the leaders in action together. Clips from the debate, and observations by people like me, keep it at least somewhat in the public eye.
And it offers a good preview of what's ahead for the final week of the campaign. The Liberals have gone on the attack, acknowledging the strength of the NDP campaign, and their own vulnerability.
Partly, it's a stance aimed at rallying the campaign workers, and discouraging protest votes. Set out to create a strong NDP opposition, and you just may elect a James government, Campbell will say at every stop for the next week.
But it's also an admission of failure. Despite a strong economy, and initial goodwill, the Campbell government is now saying it is in a real fight to be re-elected.
It promises to be a hard-fought final week, and an election night more interesting than anyone would have predicted in the heady months after the 2001 vote.
Footnote: The Liberals should still win a significant majority, barring last-week surprises. But Campbell emerges from this campaign in much weaker position. In 1996, and again this year, Campbell has failed to improve the party's position during a campaign. That will encourage leadership challengers to emerge long before the 2009 election.


Anonymous said...

I agree Paul, that there is something disturbing about this fierce attack strategy from a party that is certain to return to victory with a comfortable majority. This is what bothers me most about the Liberals. They have some good ideas and intentions, but I find their inability to tolerate any opposition, dissent, questions, criticism, etc really creepy. It's also the root cause of their biggest screw-ups, like the Coquihalla and the MCFD disasters. I actually think they would have done a far better job in the last four years if they'd had a strong opposition.

I also agree that questions about the links of NDP candidates Chudnovsky and Dix should be fully discussed (faking a memo to cover something up reflects the kind of sleaziness that we take for granted all too often in politics). I wonder, though, why this isn't ever done for the other side. Did anyone ever ask about the conflicts facing all those Liberal MLAs with links to business, land development, farming, etc. when Campbell & co set about deregulating and creating a more "business-friendly" BC? Surely that's been hugely relevant, particularly now that it seems all those changes disproportionately benefitted those very same interests at the expense of regular British Columbians.

Gazetteer said...


I too cannot disagree with Mr. Willcocks that everyone's ties and affiliations should be open to scrutiny.

But your point about the other side is a good one.

The problem is, that given the nature of the format, and, I would suggest, the producers running that format (ie. 14 of 18 calls against James - see Schreck), of yesterday's 'debate' that was never going to happen.

And that is the real problem here.

A balanced view of that problem can be found in Joel Connelly's column from yesterday's Seattle PI that I commented on and the Tyee is now running with.

Anonymous said...

Fair to Note:

Paul, since you don't seem to mind dragging out old history of the NDP in your commentary of the radio debate, maybe it's important to also drag this out as well.

One of the first actions by this Liberal government was to shut down the Smith Inquiry. To quote from the Attorney General's own words of his June 22, 2001 newsrelease he said,"I don't think we'll learn anything more about gaming in BC by giving the commission more time and money."

The former Commissioner disputed the Attorney General's statements. He released a powerful five page document on June 22,2001 which the public I don't think was ever allowed to see.

It should never be forgotten that the Liberals shut down a very important Inquiry into accountablility of charitable funds which the ex-Commissioner said was a story only half told.

And now we have recently found out that the Liberal party has been accepting donations from charitable organizations. To me what Plant and Campbell did by closing the Inquiry was not only unacceptable, it was unforgivable.

And to try to make the public believe there was nothing to be gained by allowing the Inquiry to reach its conclusion I think was very, very misleading.

This government isn't open, it isn't accountable, but it certainly is transparent.

From a very unhappy former Liberal now voting NDP.

Anonymous said...

Paul, good article, but I concur with the posters above. If it's fair to call out the labour side of the NDP why can't we get an accounting of the Liberal candidate's ties to business?

Why has labour become such a bad word in this province, anyway? The vast majority of union workers are honest, hard working, tax paying citizens—why should their status as union members be held against when run for government?

Gazetteer said...

I don't think we should give Mr. W. a hard time about his fairness/balance.

My beef is with this talk show push-poll format that chokes of true discussion/airing of all issues.

For example, what if we had had 5 differently themed debates with a similar format as last week's televised debate with a skilled and knowledgable moderator bent on fairness each time?

Just imagine how much better we would know all the candidates, where they stand, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are.

I also think that the grandstanding would be greatly reduced.

Anonymous said...

Campbell's personal attack on David Chudnovsky being "the most radical leader of the BCTF ever" is ludicrous. As president of the BCTF, Chudnovsky forwarded the democratic decisions of one of the most democratic unions around. As for leadership, I can't trust a "leader" who doesn't live with his wife (where's nancy on the campaign trail anyway?) and who is

That trumps everything.

Anonymous said...

Big Government Labour spent over 6.5 million trying to unseat the liberals to no avail! I am a card carrying union person and not happy with my executive spending my dues on these activities.