Facing down BC history in #elxn42

Every day, we are bombarded by polls and seat forecasts that tell us how we are going to vote, even if “we” haven’t made up our mind. In BC, there are three patterns that have defined our voting over the years and the party that breaks the mold this time may hold the key to forming government.

  1. When we get mad at Ottawa, we don’t forget easily

BC fell in love with Pierre Trudeau in 1968 and sent 16 of 23 Liberals to Ottawa.  Trudeaumania was not as deeply felt in the rest of Canada as it was here – BC embraced it.  The bloom was soon off the red rose and by the late 1970s, western alienation was in full swing. Memories of the middle finger in Salmon Arm, the collapse of the economy in Western Canada, and other crimes, real or imagined, led to a lost generation for Liberals in BC.  The same can be said for the Progressive Conservatives.  BC had its first homegrown prime minister in 1993 when Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell took the reins, but she was carrying the baggage of the deeply unpopular Mulroney government that had alienated BC over constitutional issues, perceived regional favouritism, and the imposition of the GST. The soiled PC brand was wiped off the political map.  Harper’s plurality in BC today is a direct descendent of Preston Manning’s Reform movement built on western rage.

  1. When we remember BC NDP governments, we don’t vote NDP.

As memories fade of past NDP governments, support rises.  The NDP were hammered in 1974 during the Dave Barrett government.  They lost in strongholds like Port Alberni, Prince Rupert, and East Vancouver. The NDP regained support federally in 1979 and were the #1 or #2 party until 1993 when they collapsed again in their core areas.  The 1993, 1997, and 2000 elections took place amidst the NDP’s decade of power from 1991-2001.  Due to a very unpopular provincial NDP government, the federal slate was reduced to a rump group. Since 2003, they have been gathering strength federally.

  1. We’re supposedly a small ‘l’ liberal province, but we usually don’t vote for the federal Liberals.

BC is regarded as the California of Canada. Marijuana dispensaries more numerous than Tim Hortons’, craft beer flowing in the streets, strong environmental values, and permissive attitudes on social issues – shouldn’t BC be a bastion of Big-L Liberal support?

Actually, the values change when you cross Boundary Road and definitely when you go beyond Hope. There are also key values differences in BC’s emerging multicultural communities. Liberals over the years have mainly been fenced into a mainly academically oriented, income-enriched enclaves in, and near, Vancouver and, occasionally, Victoria.   Voters in the suburbs and resource communities have looked primarily to the Conservatives and alternatively to the NDP in recent elections. Middle of the road fuzziness has lost out in the rough and tumble of BC’s polarized political climate.

How do these factors stack up for the parties today:

  • Justin Trudeau’s job is to break out of the urban core and alter a generation of voting patterns. Like his father, he has an unconventional appeal and represents a fresh opportunity compared to the failed campaigns of Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. His challenge is to have his message resonate in the suburbs, sounding less like an ivory-tower liberal and more like Main Street. Strong retail Liberal candidates like Sukh Dhaliwal in Surrey have bucked the trend in the past, but he’s been an exception.
  • Thomas Mulcair benefits from having as much distance from previous NDP governments as possible, however, he may be haunted by failed NDP elections in BC where they were unable to be clear about balancing the economy and the environment. His job is to keep the Liberals fenced off, and drive voter anger about the Conservatives, hoping voters have a slow burn over the next five weeks.
  • Stephen Harper faces a tougher BC scenario than any election he has led since 2004. Simultaneously demonizing the Liberals and NDP will be taller orders this time, while he faces a version of voter anger directed at him. He will likely now double-down on direct appeals to business-oriented voters and to populist voters that do not take their direction from media and political elites. The prime minister of Canada will run an, ironically, anti-establishment campaign in BC.

This election, BC is truly a key battleground that could determine the outcome on Election night. The future government may be decided who best conquers historical forces.

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