Tuesday, November 29, 2005

B.C. needs federal parties to rise above the muck

VICTORIA - Victoria-area Liberal MP Keith Martin summed up the election in a depressing way minutes after the government fell.
Who do you dislike less, he asked, Paul Martin or Stephen Harper?
OK, it wasn’t put quite that flatly, but I heard Martin offer a sorry choice. Sure, you may not like Paul Martin, he said, but jeez look at the alternative.
The interview could be a preview of the long, negative campaign ahead leading to the Jan. 23 election.
Keith Martin is right. Most Canadians are unhappy with the available choices.
Paul Martin is seen as a dithering opportunist with no principle more important than holding on to power. Martin was steadfastly silent on softwood, for example, never even calling U.S. President George Bush on the phone, until the election came closer and he turned hawkish. His party is linked to corruption and waste.
Stephen Harper strikes Canadians as an angry guy with some extremist candidates and an inability to offer a clear idea of what Canada would look like after a decade of Conservative government. (Jack Layton and the NDP may end up with an important role in a minority government; the NDP is not going to form the government.)
Polls show a majority of Canadians disapprove of the performance of both leaders.
It’s not an inspiring starting point for a campaign. With no dominant issues so far, and no positive momentum, both the main parties are looking at a largely negative campaign.
This will be an extremely close race. The polls vary, but most show the two main parties effectively tied. Unless there is a dramatic shift in support, every seat will be important.
That’s potentially good news for B.C. The province’s 36 seats are still much less significant than Ontario’s 106, but in this campaign all parties will have to focus on B.C. to capture critical seats.
The Liberals did that in the 2004 election, with some success. Paul Martins’ BC Dream Team included some weak links, but organizers claim the focus helped the Liberals move from five seats to eight, at the Conservatives’ expense.
Conservative organizers acknowledge the party fumbled in B.C. in ‘04, failing to tailor the campaign to regional concerns. The national effort - aimed at Ontario, naturally - failed to resonate. It treated the Liberals as the major opposition, even though the NDP was a serious factor in B.C.
And the Tories lost five seats, falling to 22 MPs. More critically, the party;’s share of the popular vote - despite the Alliance-Conservative merger - plummeted.
Strategists say they’ve learned their lesson, and promise a more targeted B.C. effort this time around.
But they face a big challenge. A Mustel Group poll found the Conservatives with the support of 24 per cent of decided voters, trailing the NDP, at 33 per cent, and the Liberals, at 38 per cent.
The anger at the Liberals over the sponsorship scandal is real, but Harper has not succeeded in presenting himself as a tolerable alternative. The anti-Liberal vote in B.C. is as likely to go to the NDP as it is to the Conservatives.
There is always hope for a better campaign. Perhaps by the time the real drive starts after Christmas the parties will become worried about the risks of a discouraged and alienated electorate, and begin speaking more about the issues that matter to Canadians and less about why the other leader is an ogre who can not be trusted.
British Columbians should hope so. There are a number of critical issues - softwood, the pine beetle, tourism, health care, First Nations - where federal leadership is needed.
A start has been made, with $100 million pledged for pine beetle aid and a number of commitments linked to the Kelowna summit on aboriginal issues.
But much more needs to be done. And that is what British Columbians should be demanding that all candidates talk about over the next seven weeks.
Footnote: Gordon Campbell says he’s confident that B.C.’s issues won’t be casualties of the election campaign. But even if initiatives like pine beetle aid and support for First Nations’ initiatives survive the election, action will be delayed, perhaps into next fall.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let's remember Kim Campbell when she said election time is not the time to discuss imprtant stuff, or words to that effect. You arn't about to hear anything but, he is worse than me, or no I'm not you are worse. Waiting times, health care privatization simply can't be discussed, the people might catch on.

The sooner the Conservatives lose their far righters the better for them. The voters may hate Martin and Co. but are scared silly about the idea of Harper showing up, in charge of the store. He had the upper hand last time and then opened his mouth along with Randy white and a few other not so middle of the road guys. Time to bring back the lash and death penalty mentality is alive and well.

Layton isn't about to form government but at least he will attempt to bring forward the issues the voters want, to be told, we can't afford it. We cannot affford not to do it. BC will be a place of interest