The Americanization of Canadian and B.C. politics is gathering speed now that legislated four-year terms are finally settling in at the federal and provincial level.
Scheduled elections are an important reform, but the downside is that they seem to lead inexorably to constant campaigning. The latest example is the B.C. Liberal Party’s website and radio campaign directed at upstart B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins.
“Strange days indeed,” NDP leader Adrian Dix mused on his Facebook page. “The Liberals, after a week of nasty attacks on the NDP, launched an anti-John Cummins website. Absent a policy agenda, the Liberals seem to want to blame others for their problems. This too will backfire as Ms. Clark is again misreading the public mood. People are demanding substance in politics these days, not photo ops and negative attacks.”
I see nothing strange in Dix rushing to the defence of Cummins, who represents the NDP’s best hope for a move into the legislature’s west wing. It is a bit odd for Dix to accuse others of lacking policy, as he leads a party that has been distinguished by little other than negative political tactics since its near-death experience in 2001.
This is almost as strange as the B.C. Liberals damning Cummins as a politician who “says one thing and does another.” Yeah, that can really come back to bite you.
There hasn’t been much of an anti-Dix effort yet, but you can be sure there is one sitting on the shelf, prepared for Clark’s recently-abandoned fall election plan. The “nasty attacks” Dix complained about were focused on his federal party’s sudden preference for Quebec seats in the House of Commons, and sniping about which Premier Clark hired more political staff – Christy or Glen?
And it was the NDP who started the negative cycle with their own TV ad, featuring “Campbell Crunch” and “Christy Crunch” cereals, both “loaded with HST.”
(I can put to rest the ghastly rumour that the B.C. Liberal war room will soon unleash a gang of angry, unemployed HST stick-men.)
The U.S. tactic of going negative early, to define your rivals before they can define themselves, has worked spectacularly for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. They scorched federal Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, and public distaste for these methods does not seem to have hurt them. The anti-Cummins campaign has a similar style, and there are indications that it may have been produced in Toronto.
The website, canttrustcummins.ca, uses a bug-eyed photo of the former fisherman-MP that makes him look like a ray gun-wielding alien from the movie Mars Attacks. In fact our whole political scene is starting to look like a rerun of a bad 1990s movie.
It was Reform BC that rose from the ashes of Social Credit, and inspired a desperate Gordon Campbell to sing country music and take a hard line on aboriginal relations, to stitch the ruptured right back together.
Cummins defined himself as a Reform-Alliance-Conservative MP by railing against treaties, and that continues to be the core of his thin policy book. His other two main ideas are also pure rural populism. He vows to scrap the carbon tax and suggests that municipalities should cut their costs to fund transit.
Voters will have a better idea by the end of this week if Clark’s plan for “defending and creating jobs” is really new policy, or merely more photo ops.
B.C. has had its first taste of California-style tax revolt. Now we have two years ahead that will be dominated by relentlessly negative, continuous campaigning.
Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com