Lane Picking and Big Ideas

by Brad Zubyk

If October’s federal election results are an indication, there’s a potentially huge battle for swing votes brewing for BC’s next provincial election, in May 2017.

In the country’s westernmost province, the federal Conservative vote traditionally translates into ballots for the BC Liberals, while the federal NDP vote moves to the provincial arm of that party.

For as long as I can remember, the battleground between the two front-running provincial parties— the BC Liberals and BC NDP— has been between voters who cast a national ballot with the federal Liberals, usually about 14–20 percent of votes.

Things were completely different this time around, with Justin Trudeau’s Liberals taking biggest voting block in BC at 35 percent.

What this means for the next provincial election is purely speculative at this point, but one thing is certain: with such a shift in federal voting allegiances in the province, and the next provincial election just 16 months away, it’s time for BC’s parties to start to quietly ramping up their campaign strategies.

To this end, I offer some simple winning advice for the leaders of the Liberals and the NDP.

Premier Clark et al: dream up a big idea.

Let’s start with the BC Liberals.

While major LNG projects are nearing a final investment decision the benefits of any major projects will not have an impact on the 2017 election.  Benefits already delivered from the billions of dollars in preliminary work has had a significant positive impact in the north, but has not been felt broadly in the Lower Mainland. Regardless, with a balanced budget and forecasted surpluses, this government has proven itself to be fiscally responsible. What’s more, our economic growth is leading all the other provinces and territories and is forecast to remain tops in the country heading into the election year.

That’s great news. But it’s not necessarily enough to win an election.

The government’s challenge is to clearly demonstrate the “windfall” of the province’s enviable fiscal position. This could be through a “big” idea, a transformative vision (think of the carbon tax) or through a series of targeted initiatives that address the top-of-mind concerns of British Columbians. Whatever path the government chooses, it will have to link new initiatives to the positive economic and fiscal news.

A strong economy must be positioned as a means to an end. It is now up to the governing party to define what the end looks like.

Mr. Horgan and team: Pick a lane.

For years now the BC NDP, like its Ottawa cousin, has been suffering from a multiple personality disorder.

The party that stood firmly for larger activist government, organized labour and social justice seems to be near paralysis as it attempts to protect its green flank on the Island and social activist base in the Lower Mainland while trying to build a coherent economic plan that will resonate upcountry.

As a result, the provincial NDP has been hard pressed to come up with a coherent platform and regularly waffles on major divisive issues, like the multi-billion dollar Site C Dam or LNG projects. A standard line is that the NDP is pro LNG in principle, but against each specific project that has been proposed. If they go much further down this path they risk standing for nothing. 

Therefore, my advice to John Horgan is to pick a lane. You can’t drive down the centre of the road forever. You can’t “out-green the Greens” and you can’t be more credible on the economy than the current government. Find something coherent that also feels comfortable and sell it.

Mr. Horgan’s track record seemed to speak to creating jobs and boosting economic growth. As a disciple of former NDP premier Dan Miller, Horgan has always advocated for public infrastructure spending and resource development.  But time after time, one hears that the current NDP caucus has blocked any talk of supporting specific LNG projects and Site C. It's no wonder that the government’s characterization of the BC NDP as the “party of no” has resonated.

You can’t have it both ways. Unless Mr. Horgan picks a lane it will be another four long years in opposition.

With so many voters indicating they’re ready for change, all BC politicians, whatever tactics they choose, are well advised to take a look at what they stand for and how they communicate with the electorate.

Brad Zubyk is a dyed-in-the-wool politico who has been at the forefront of strategic communications in British Columbia since 1993. He creates innovative, effective solutions for clients that achieve tangible results and help strengthen their reputations. Brad’s experience in senior leadership functions on multiple election campaigns also enables him to counsel companies on positioning their government requests and to facilitate dialogue between clients and decision makers.