SULLIVAN: Experience made fools of us last election

Here we go again.

Four years ago, British Columbians were poised on the brink of electing an NDP government. Adrian Dix and the NDP were leading Christy Clark and the Liberals in the polls by a wide margin – 45 per cent to 36 per cent.

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We know what happened. On May 14, 2013, in the privacy of the booth, voters pulled back and gave Clark an increased majority of 50 seats in the legislature. Since then, the premier has been hailed as a political genius or loathed as a political demon, depending on your allegiance.

Fast forward to today, and we’re in exactly the same situation. Polls give the NDP 44 per cent of the vote compared to the Liberals’ 34 per cent, with a little over a week to go before the May 9 vote.

Which leads to the overwhelming question: Can she do it again? Can genius/demon Christy Clark defy the polls and the odds one more time?

Consider that Clark is the least well-liked of the three party leaders, which appears to be a case of familiarity breeds contempt. Nearly one in 10 voters don’t know who John Horgan is, even if he appears to be on his way to becoming our next premier. The Greens’ Andrew Weaver is that charming democratic pig-in-a-poke: least well-known, best liked.

The Greens and Weaver add an element of intrigue this time around, with 22 per cent of the voters’ preference in the polls. By the looks of it, the Greens and NDP will hammer it out on environmentally self-conscious Vancouver Island; the Liberals and the NDP go toe to toe in the Interior, where resource industry jobs still matter, while the NDP surges ahead in the Lower Mainland, where affordability is the main issue. It’s a recipe for a tight race, perhaps even a minority government.

Experience, however, made fools of us last time and is no doubt eager to do it again. When was the last time a First World election went according to script? If people are feeling sufficiently experimental to elect

Donald Trump or vote for a Brexit, what will stop them from installing a mildly social democrat government in B.C., where we already have a history of doing exactly that?

Except it didn’t happen last time. Clark and her team appealed to a collective sense of fiscal responsibility among the electors, and economic conditions aren’t much different today. B.C. has the best-performing economy in Canada and it will be hard to vote against that.

As in other places, however, there’s a strong sense the economy has left too many people behind, that we’re making too many sacrifices on the basics: finding a decent place to live, getting decent health care, childcare and education. Clark has opened the change purse a bit during the campaign, but once the moths fly out, there’s not a lot there. Horgan, on the other hand, is gleefully offering to chop the MSP and dole out rebates on rent, bolstering the disposable incomes of folks clinging to the middle class by their fingernails.

There seems little doubt that a vote for Horgan is a vote for tax increases, but you wonder if most people care anymore if tax increases usher in more affordable housing, better education and health care, $10 daycare, etc.

There’s also a class warfare dimension; that is, make the rich pay (more of their fair share). If the wealthy are the main beneficiaries of the lowest corporate tax rate in Canada, they should share the wealth. As there’s no way the current regime is going to tax the rich, it falls to Horgan (or maybe, as a long shot, Weaver), who appears almost over-eager to deliver.

Here on the North Shore, it’s conceivable that our three MLAs Jane Thornthwaite, Naomi Yamamoto and Ralph Sultan could all be re-elected then assigned to the opposition benches where they can practise their rhetoric, if nothing else. I suppose it’s possible that an NDP sweep will add a couple of rookie unknowns to the government team (Bowinn Ma in North Vancouver-Lonsdale?), but it’s just as likely that the NDP and Greens will split the North Shore left-of-centre vote, leaving the incumbents standing, wherever they ultimately sit in the legislature.

The final factor is the turnout – the higher the turnout, the better it is for the challenger. Four years ago, more than one in three North Shore voters stayed home. So, if you want to rewrite history or cause lightning to strike twice, your X is required.

See you at the polling station.

Journalist and communications consultant Paul Sullivan has been a North Vancouver resident since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Madonna. p.sullivan@breakthroughpr.com

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