BC Election: What a changed Canadian political landscape means for the Orange Wave

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Tuesday night’s BC election was supposed to be an in-the-bag victory for the NDP. Instead, it turned into a cautionary tale of Canada’s altered political landscape.

Adrian Dix, BC New Democrat frontrunner, will perhaps go down in history as the suffocated canary who somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

According to Angus Reid, a forecast before the election showed New Democrats were the party of choice with 45% of decided voters and leaners. Liberals were in second with 36%. On Election Day, however, Liberals won 44.4% of the popular vote with the NDP trailing at 39.5%. This translated into Liberals winning 50 of BC’s 85 legislature seats ― an increase of five seats.

Unlike Quebec PQ premier Pauline Marois, Christie Clark’s supporters should not hail Clark as the Iron Lady of the West. Premier Clark failed to secure for herself a seat in her own riding of Vancouver-Point Grey. An MLA elected in a Liberal stronghold will likely surrender their seat so the party leader can run in a by-election.

Liberal Premier Christy Clark first sworn in by Clerk of the House E. George MacMinn as BC’s 35 Premier on March 14, 2011.

Postmortem assessment will likely uncover ‘leadership’ as the underlying cause of the BC NDP losses. BC’s election may have had more to do with Dix’s incompetence than Clark’s popularity.

Polls definitely showed that while federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s popularity rose, Clark’s popularity declined. Neither her nor Dix inspired province-wide confidence.

Indeed, Clark’s only saving grace was her ability to stay on message as the only viable candidate to stabilize BC’s economic sector and create jobs. BC Conservative leader John Cummins, shared similar policies with Clark but ultimately, his skepticism about global warming proved incompatible with BC voters.

An effective strategy for Dix would have been to prime Northern Gateway and frame it as a political clash between BC’s populous left against its irreconcilable right. Dix did no service to the party by clouding his position on Northern Gateway with qualifiers while Clark had indicated willingness to do business with Alberta if the price was right. An uncoordinated effort to attack the right in cooperation with the Greens also proved devastating.

What happened  should give NDP brass in Ottawa pause. Party leader Tom Mulcair, who had openly campaigned for Dix and saw this election as a potential warm-up for the next federal campaign, has already pledged to apply the lessons learned here in 2015.

This result was also bad for Dix’s campaign manager Brian Topp, also Jack Layton’s former chief strategist, a member of the NDP old guard and last year’s federal NDP runner-up to Mulcair. Topp’s miscalculation shows signs that the Orange Wave is regressing. Its effect could prove fatal to the federal campaign.

mulcairBC’s election represents the largest NDP experiment since the 2013 Montreal convention rejected creating a provincial party in Quebec. It may soon be the NDP’s Spanish Civil War before World War II.

Clark’s negative attacks on Dix and Dix’s unwillingness to be nasty in return, shirking away from confrontation at the televised debate, proved lethal.

Is the negative attack strategy no longer just a Harper hallmark, but a matter of political survival? Canadian politics may have not only shifted further into negative campaigning, but proved it is here to stay.

New Democrats may have to commit sacrilege against their fallen hero whose dying breath was of love being better than anger and optimism being better than despair if they want to win in 2015.

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