B.C. Liberals must adapt faster to win the next election

By Benedict Reiners

As of last week, we are officially less than one year away from the next provincial election, with the date already set for May 14, 2013. At this point, all evidence indicates the next legislature will have a radically different make up. As it generally does in such cases, the bulk of the responsibility belongs to the governing party. No, they could not stop the advent of the B.C. Conservative Party, nor could the current leadership wipe their record clean on the HST, but they could have handled those and other events far better, or at least more strategically.

The Conservative Party in B.C. has come into prominence on the basis of the claim that there was no true right-wing option for B.C. voters, and in previous years, that claim held legitimacy. The B.C. Liberals have decided to take out the Tories by invalidating that claim. How? By producing what is now another legitimate choice for right-leaning voters. This disregards one of their now-past strengths: the fact that they were a centrist party that could draw support, both from those who did not consider themselves left enough to vote for the NDP, and those not right enough to vote for the Conservatives. The Liberals are effectively opening up the votes for the centre and the entire left to the NDP, while splitting the right with the Tories. Sure, this means that John Cummins probably won’t be B.C.’s next premier, but it also lowers the odds of Christy Clark holding that same honour.

To address this problem, the Liberals need to move back to the centre. To get there, they’ll likely need to send an olive branch or two to the left-leaning voters. Perhaps the most effective way to do this would be to take a firm stance against the proposed Enbridge pipeline, instead of simply describing their government as “pro-economic development” at every possible opportunity. This would take some of the environmentalist vote from the NDP, and would show any voter deciding between the NDP and the Liberals that the Liberals can be a solid choice for those left of centre.

While they have not taken a firm stance on the proposed pipeline, the Liberals are clear on at least one issue: the HST, as legislation was finally pooled to transition back to the mixed PST/GST. However, even if the Liberals had opposed it with more conviction in the lead up to its demise, they would still have faced an uphill battle. The NDP vehemently opposed the HST, and if the Liberals were to defend their handling of the HST, the fact would remain that they brought it in in the first place. As such, it is bizarre that they chose that very issue as one of the few that they are taking a firm stand on.

All told, the B.C. Liberals have not handled the last political year with much grace, as they appear to be facing something of an identity crisis. We have seen the advent of the Conservative Party in B.C., and that has thrown the traditional practices of the two leading parties into question. For years, both the NDP and the Liberals have defined themselves simply as “not the other,” but with three parties, this no longer works. The NDP has been adapting well. The Liberals have not.