A look at how BC’s three major parties spent their Mondays.
The first big splash
The BC Liberals made the first big policy splash of the campaign, announcing a commitment to eliminate the PST for a year.
After one year, it would be brought back at 3% (it’s currently 7%) until the economy recovered.
Financially, it would mean a big hit to the provincial coffers, between $6.9 and $7.9 billion per year (lower this year, due to COVID-19).
Politically, it could potentially wrongfoot the NDP. Sales taxes are routinely decried as regressive; the poorest and richest both pay the same tax when buying the same thing. What’s worse, the poor have to spend a greater percentage of their income on living expenses. This has long been a basic tenet of organizations like the lefter-than-left Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
It also puts the NDP into the unusual position of defending the bottom line. This year’s deficit is already $13 billion. Give or take, eliminating the PST altogether would add another $2 billion for the rest of the year. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but COVID-19 has obliterated public reluctance for eye-watering deficits.
To fellow Alberta expats, the coming arguments will sound a lot like the “Ralph Bucks” debate of 2005. Faced with an unexpectedly massive surplus (I wince even to type that), Ralph Klein’s government tried just cutting every single Albertan a $400 rebate check.
Once again, set aside the economic argument – which, after all, most voters do. Here’s the problem: even if you think this is/was horribly misguided, how you phrase the criticism is hugely important. The Alberta Liberal opposition of the day famously decried people “wasting” the money on dinners out, new stereos, and Banff ski trips.
You could argue it was condescending, but still basically true. But it didn’t sound like a waste to people who worked in service, retail, or tourism – or who just enjoy eating out, shopping, and taking vacations. And the implicit assumption that ordinary people are irresponsible with their money didn’t help win any friends. Or voters. Or donations.
It’s a different place, political culture, and circumstances. But the same lessons how not to criticize rebates or tax cuts still apply.
It was a good run
One day after being acclaimed as the NDP candidate in Langley East, Langley Township Councillor Eric Woodward resigned, citing “terrible personal attacks.” He didn’t specify what those were, but even the quickest glance through social media produces a litany of complaints about him, including his ordering an Indigenous mural to be painted over.
Woodward had apparently been pushing to run for the BC Liberals in the riding as late as last week – so the NDP took the political hit not for a lifer, but a mercenary. In no party would that sting more than the NDP.
Inexplicably, the NDP also gave the mess in Stikine yet more oxygen. Former MP Nathan Cullen was named the candidate over Indigenous leader Annita McPhee, seemingly violating the NDP’s equity policy, which says a white male MLA must be replaced by a member of an “equity-seeking group.”
First, the NDP said nobody else applied. Then, when McPhee complained more publicly, the party said there were problems with her application, which they would have helped with, but there’s no time. Then, that she had said unspecified negative things about the federal NDP last year. Today, the problem was that McPhee “wasn’t a member” when she applied to run, a bit of new information that would have been germane a few days ago – but also effectively contradicts the issues before.
What’s baffling about both these incidents is they’re both easy to avoid.
In Woodward, the NDP’s research room failed to vet a candidate that social media managed to kibosh in less than 24 hours of a beautiful fall weekend. Yes, snap elections cause haste and corners to be cut, but we’re talking about the one party that knew it was coming.
With McPhee, one of the first and most basic rules of crisis communications is don’t keep providing more, or different, information in drips and drabs. If reporters keep getting different answers to the same question, they’ll keep asking the question, and it looks worse each time.
Both problems swallowed crucial airtime when Horgan seemed anxious to go back on offence, taking pointed shots at the BC Liberals one day after campaigning in Green leader Sonia Furstenau’s riding.
Whatever else, the NDP are a well-oiled, professional political party, and these are entry-level blunders.
Don’t stick to six: BC Greens need more candidates, fast
Hamstrung after being blindsided with a snap election, and a leader in her first days on the job, the Greens should have been a non-factor in the first week – but Sonia Furstenau held firm, and performed better than many expected. After a week of withering disdain for Horgan’s snap election call, today Furstenau mostly focused on BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson and the proposed PST cut.
All that said, it won’t much matter unless they get candidates in place by Friday’s deadline. They announced 11 more over the weekend and Monday. As of this writing, they had 30, with 57 more to go. If they’re going to run a full provincial slate, they’ll need to nail down a dozen per day until the deadline. (There’s every chance those numbers will be out of date by the time you read this.)
Is that impossible? Absolutely not – the Greens may not get a full slate, but if they’re smart and concentrate their resources, they’ll likely get close. But the Greens have less resources to concentrate, and time to do it. It means taking shortcuts on vetting candidates (see above), which has been an issue for the party even in better times. Time recruiting also means time not spent on a platform, debate preparation, and general campaigning. And of the three major party leaders, Furstenau must spend the most time at home; she’s the only leader whose own riding isn’t safe territory.
Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca
- They’re the only ones who knew it was coming. And yet… On Friday, Maclean Kay looked at the NDP’s first week of the campaign.
- Week One was also the focus of #BCPOLI Hotstove on Thursday. And speaking of focus, look at the terrible lighting on Maclean. No, we’re not sure what happened. No, he doesn’t have access to better equipment in his living room.
- Hotstove, UnSpun, and Bob Price’s daily Orca Business Beat: all The Orca’s podcasts are available wherever you do your podcast…er…listening.