Right story, wrong conclusion
Vaughn Palmer hung around the BC NDP Convention long enough Friday to listen to Michael Balagus (chief of staff to the Premier of Manitoba), tell the tale of the 2011 Manitoba election.
It is an interesting tale for opposition and government alike. It goes like this:
Third term government finds itself down in the polls with a new leader a year out. Despite the new leader, the change thing isn’t working for them. They move on to a new strategy, defining ‘change’ as ‘risk’ in the electorate’s mind – or rather the slice of the electorate they need to convert a loss into a victory.
With a combination of targeting and attack ads the government succeeds in defining the Tories as a risk to Manitoba’s good fortune during a time of economic difficulty. A ten-point deficit in the polls turns into a win as the third party vote collapses and the Tories under-perform.
Sounds like the rabbit the Campbell/Clark Liberals want to pull out of the hat somewhere between now and the spring of 2013.
And that’s the conclusion Palmer more or less draws when he remarks that “one could readily look over to the observers’ section of the convention hall and see a senior staffer for the BC Liberals, smiling to himself and taking down everything Balagus said.”
Except, it’s not going to happen because the similarity between the two electoral situations is an illusion.
The Manitoba government that won earlier this fall was fairly long in the tooth. That much is true. And Canadians generally prefer to trade horses by the fourth term.
But that’s where the similarity ends. On every other point that matters the Manitoba scenario was completely opposite BCs.
First and foremost, the Manitoba government had credibility. They hadn’t lied about a major tax, they didn’t have cabinet minister after cabinet minister under investigation, they didn’t shut down criminal trials with huge payments to get bad deals. They didn’t ask civil servants to break the law and then fire them when they refused.
Credibility is important when you want to point out the opposition’s downside. Voters need to believe what you say. That’s why it worked to the NDP’s advantage that Manitoba voters didn’t view their government as a pack of liars – as BC voters view the BC government.
The Manitoba government also had priorities that matched those of the voters. Health, education, economic development and crown corporation investments: these were the government’s priorities and by and large they were voter priorities.
The Clark government has simply continued the Campbell government’s record of trashing public priorities while catering to rich and powerful friends and insiders. Instead of the change voters wanted, the Clark government is demonstrating little difference – except in sloganeering – from its predecessor.
Finally, the electoral map was moving in a different direction in Manitoba than it is in BC. The Manitoba Liberal Party was noticeably weak and heading down. In BC the ethical and policy weaknesses of the BC Liberal party are driving former supporters to a growing Conservative party.
The contrast between Manitoba’s incumbent government and ours could hardly be greater. And the public response to the BC Liberals’ tacky personal attacks on the nascent Conservative party seem to me indicative of how seriously BC voters are taking the Clark government.
The BC Conservative Party went up in the polls.
Palmer is right in one aspect. We have seen this movie before. But it’s not the recently re-elected Manitoba government the BC Liberals remind me of.
No, it’s the final year of the Socred government that comes to mind when I think of this government’s record, its credibility and its potential for success in the coming, highly negative, election campaign.