Musings —05.08.2017 02:18 PM—
Twenty-one years ago, we BC Liberals were gathered at the Hotel Vancouver, peering up some big TV screens, shocked by what we were seeing.
It was Election Day in British Columbia, and the returns were coming in. And they didn’t make any sense. At all.
We were ahead, but we were behind, too.
The Gord Campbell-led Liberals had substantially more votes than our principal opponent, the BC New Democrats – some 40,000 votes, when they were all counted. We owned the popular vote, right from the moment that the polls closed. We’d end up with three percentage points more than the Dippers, in fact.
But we were still losing.
There was noise behind us: Christy Clark, Mark Marissen and some of their campaign team were swinging down the Hotel Vancouver stairs, cheering. Christy had won a seat in the Legislature, and would soon become a star. In a time, she’d become Premier, too.
But not tonight. Tonight, the BC NDP – much like Donald Trump would do, two decades later – won with less votes. Way less votes. Just as the 2016 Electoral College had perverted the clear will of the American people, a bizarre BC electoral system had denied victory to the clear winner of the 1996 race.
And now, 21 years later, BC returns to the polls tomorrow. And the race is just as tight as it was in 1996.
Clark, having been BC Liberal leader since 2011, is well-known quantity. She is upbeat, she is unflappable, and she is one of the best political performers I’ve ever seen. But in B.C., those who won’t vote for her – well, they were never going to vote for her. The fact that she has overseen the strongest economy in Canada – the fact that she has the lowest unemployment rate in the country – is irrelevant to her hardcore opposition. They dislike her.
The embodiment of their dislike is their (latest) champion, BC NDP leader John Horgan. Horgan is a big, burly kind of guy – the kind of guy who shoots his mouth off at family gatherings, offering strong opinions when none is wanted. He’s kind of like the uncle who won’t ever shut up.
Evidence of this came early in the campaign. At very the first leaders’ debate, Horgan – after talking over Clark repeatedly, like boorish, over-refreshed uncles do – Horgan leered at the Premier and actually said this: “I’ll watch you for a while. I know you like that.”
That creepy, condescending remark was a Kim Campbell Week One Level was a disaster. Horgan — sounding rather like Groper-in-Chief Donald Trump — would continue to hear about that one for many days. The next morning, the National Post put his words in a headline on their front page.
“That regrettable moment in the B.C. leaders debate,” noted the Post, unamused. Horgan was “angry,” lacked “respect,” and had the debate’s most “regrettable” moment, the newspaper reported.
It was also true.
The entire campaign kind of was like that. Christy was upbeat and unflappable all over the hustings. Horgan was a boor, and had more policy positions than the Kama Sutra. And the BC Green Party’s leader, Andrew Weaver, generally impressed soft-NDP voters with his demeanor and his candour.
If the BC NDP loses – as some now predict they might, despite having been ahead by double-digits just a few weeks ago – it will be partly because Weaver’s Greens stole away voters who were unimpressed by the BC NDP leader’s total inability to control his temper, and himself.
Personally, as you may have gleaned, I very much want my BC Liberal friends to win. They’ve run the better campaign. Sure, they are a coalition party, made up of Liberals and Conservatives and former Socreds. Sure, they’ve been in power for a long time – since 2001, when Gord Campbell reduced the NDP to just two seats. Sure, Clark never seems to stop smiling – that has to be irritating to pious and preachy Dippers who want to discredit her.
But trust me on this: the BC NDP are the most venal, most corrupt political party I have ever come across – and that’s saying something.
In ’96, the Glen Clark-led New Democrats were the sleaziest, dirtiest, rotten-est opponents imaginable. They’d threaten young Liberals with violence at our events. They’d send in big union guys to dissemble our events minutes before announcements, citing non-existent bylaws. They’d drop leaflets containing dirty, grimy attacks on our people. I asked campaign boss Greg Lyle about the hate. Said he: “These are the best jobs they’ve ever had. They will say and do anything to keep them.”
As a few of us predicted to the media on election night 1996, the Clark NDP would reveal itself to be the most dishonest provincial government in modern Canadian history, too. They stole from charities (Google “Bingogate”). They were linked to bribes (Google “Hydro-gate”). And, of course, there was the deck that killed off an NDP Premier (Google “Glen Clark,” “deck” and “act of folly”). The BC NDP treated the provincial treasury like it was their personal piggybank. Their name was synonymous with scandal.
Can the BC NDP win tomorrow night? Sure they can. It’s a tight race. The media has been gunning for Christy Clark. Some British Columbians have forgotten – inexplicably, incredibly – that they live in the province that most other Canadians want to live in.
But – as they peer up at those big TV screens at the BC Liberal 2017 election night party – here’s hoping there isn’t a repeat of 1996.
You know: win more votes, but still lose.