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Les Leyne: Looks like a double-negative campaign

Sep 05 2012

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom made a splash late Tuesday with the news that he's taking the exit ramp and won't be running again.

A quiet, unassuming Liberal backbencher who made the same move earlier in the day identified his party's main problem and sole remaining opportunity.

Lekstrom broke the news with a genial message of thanks to everyone he's ever worked with - Opposition included. He had a shout-out to Premier Christy Clark, but his move and the way he made it doesn't do her any favours.

Losing three caucus members in one day is one thing. But losing them in a scattershot fashion, where everybody makes their own announcement in their own fashion on their own timetable, doesn't do a lot for the concept of stable government.

It's like showing up for the first day of school and watching classmates randomly decide to drop out.

Is it something in the water? More like something in their future. The big hurdle they'll be facing next spring is the growing conviction that the NDP will win the next election. A year's worth of steadily slipping poll results tends to build that impression.

Much more accurate to say it looks like the B.C. Liberals will lose the next election. Because the NDP are staying as opaque as possible - Enbridge pipeline excluded - when it comes to giving anyone a reason to vote for them.

They're staying mum for the simple reason that it's the best strategic move at this point. When their opponents spring a tax surprise on voters, fumble it into a catastrophe, lose their leader in mid-term then replace him with someone who isn't clicking with the public, why would the Opposition do anything but sit and watch?

Howard highlighted the Liberals' last remaining hope for a miracle bounce back into contention.

"At some point in the near future Adrian Dix will have to start to lay out his vision of big government and big spending that will surely erode the support he has gained from saying nothing."

It's not as sure in other people's minds as it is in his. But the Liberal caucus, what's left of it, hopes the NDP platform will explicitly confess all the sinful thoughts the Liberals suspect them of harbouring. Big public sector raises all around. More government spending on feel-good priorities. Higher taxes and more deficits.

The NDP election document will do no such thing, of course. But the Liberals will have teams of analysts standing by ready to cast it in those terms the second it comes off the presses.

Howard acknowledged that people tend to roll their eyes when Liberals harp on the NDP record of the 1990s.

"But if they're not going to tell us what their plan is, then we'll have to rely on past performance."

Moments earlier, his West Vancouver colleague Joan McIntyre also bowed out, announcing plans to leave after two terms.

As a former partner in a public opinion survey firm, the joke was: When your own polling expert bails out, you know you've got problems.

Tuesday's bolters brings the number of Liberal MLAs elected in 2009 who won't be running for the party again to 16 at this point, about onethird of the caucus. That includes former ministers Iain Black and Barry Penner, who resigned their seats last year, as well as John van Dongen, who quit to join the B.C. Conservatives.

Clark's response will be a cabinet shuffle, expected this morning. Following the convention that everyone in a pre-election cabinet has to be planning to run again, she has to fill the spots left by last week's decisions by George Abbott (education), Kevin Falcon (finance) and Mary McNeil (children and family development) to retire next spring, as well as Lekstrom's transportation post.

Just to show the B.C. Liberal story isn't all about slump-inspired retirements, veteran warhorse Rich Coleman announced Tuesday he will be running again.

As Howard suggested, Coleman said the NDP made him do it. "Concerned about the damaging impact of NDP policies ..." he said. Wants to see B.C. "move forward and not backward."

It's shaping up as a double-negative campaign. The Liberals' main selling point is the potential for NDP ruination, while the NDP's big attraction for many voters is they're not the Liberals.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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