I think we know why our premier, Christy Clark, was so ambivalent about whether she would call a fall election when the HST results came in.
For, if one thing is certain after the HST referendum, voters in B.C. aren’t too happy with the governing Liberals; it doesn’t seem to matter who is at the helm.
Clark has now ruled out an election before 2013, so blame Gordon Campbell for getting the party in a tenuous spot with the mishandling of the implementation of the HST if you must, but it seems the majority in B.C.ers aren’t letting the party off for past issues just because it has a new leader.
Looking at the results of the HST vote, it’s solidly along party lines. All the NDP-held ridings voted to dump the HST. What was telling, however, is that half the Liberal ridings voted to trash the HST, as well.
In other words, forgetting the popular vote for a moment (55 per cent opposed to the HST), 60 ridings voted against the HST; 25 in favour of it. Had that been a provincial election, it seems pretty clear we’d have a new premier and a new party in charge.
So, Clark knows the odds aren’t in favour of her keeping her job right now.
Normally, the smart, strategic move to do when a new leader comes in is to have a quick election and get a four-year mandate while the honeymoon is on. Get the hype of a fresh, new approach on the table and renew the party’s spot leading the province.
Except, it doesn’t seem to be going in that direction.
Right from the beginning Christy Clark has come up against a less-that-supportive audience. When she ran for the by-election in Vancouver-Point Grey, she only inched her way into the spot. It’s Liberal turf, formerly Gordon Campbell’s seat, yet the NDP candidate finished strongly. Clark should have easily walloped him.
In fact, Clark had a lower percentage of votes than Campbell did in the 2009 election.
The NDP declared that their victory. Clark’s strategy to not show up at the all-candidates meetings almost cost her the seat.
Then, even with the promise of lowering the HST by two per cent, the Liberals did not get the support to move on with the HST. That was a huge incentive to keep the HST, but the majority of voters weren’t going to buy into it.
I wonder what the vote would have been if the government didn’t offer the two per cent discount?
The HST voter turnout was slightly better than in the last provincial election. That not only signalled a defeat for the HST, it showed how anxious voters were to voice their discontent.
That’s 1.6 million people who came out just to vote on a tax. Fewer people came out in 2009 to elect their leaders and less than that voted on the electoral reform question. Are taxes more important than leaders and fairer voting procedures?
Did voters take the time to fill out and mail in their ballot just because they didn’t like the HST? That’s the question Clark should be weighing.
For, even though the NDP is a party more likely not to cut taxes, right now, as the only significant alternative, it’s looking pretty good.
Ironically, Clark may suffer the same fate of the province’s first female premier, Rita Johnston, who went down to defeat quickly in 1991 after taking power because the voters couldn’t shake their grumblings about the previous premier, none other than Bill Vander Zalm, who’s currently leading the anti-HST pack.
Ain’t B.C. politics fun?
The other piece in the spectrum is that there have been quiet discussions about another party coming forward, one that’s on the right, but a different choice than the Liberals. It hasn’t materialized yet, and wouldn’t be ready for a fall election and may not happen at all.
But, after seeing the HST results and having more time to prepare for a May 2013 election, another party has time to rally. The new party would split the right votes, allowing the NDP an easier win.
Again, Clark needs to ponder that.
The Liberals have some thinking to do and the HST vote gave them a clear picture of what would happen if an election were called now.
Clark can take some time to govern and show B.C. what she can do. It’s a risk, but probably the better option.
It would likely be wise to at least wait until the aftermath of the HST vote has subsided, the teachers’ negotiations are done and the floundering economy gets perking before seeking a new mandate.
That is, if she still wants the job.
Shelley Nicholl is the author of The Case for Having Children…And Other Assorted Irrational Ideas and owns Mad Squid Ink.