Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The B.C. Election and What it Means for Manitoba

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix in Defeat

Despite Losing Her Own Seat, B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark Wins
What can you can about Tuesday's Liberal majority win in the B.C. election?

Some are calling it the upset of the century in Canadian politics. Perhaps. We have seen a few reversals in fortunes over the years. To be fair to B.C. though, this was a rather stunning turn of events.

By all accounts, the NDP expected to win the provincial election. They expected to win big. Some figured it was a moral imperative that they do win against a Liberal party that was wrong, wheezing, unloved and in need of a time out.

The Liberals had so many knocks against it the last years that people started to lose count. The Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) struck down, party staffers linked to controversial political notes, the economy and a whole host of others things seemed to tag the Liberals time and time again on the chin.

The political opinion polls had given wide support to the NDP. Adrian Dix, the leader looked to be the man to takeover the premier's office and hand Liberal leader Christy Clark a devastating defeat.

So what went wrong?

Well, I don't live in B.C. and won't presume to know everything about the politics there. However, let's look at a few things.

First: It is generally a difficult task to unseat a sitting government

The government has all the advantages before the writ is dropped. It can run ads on TV for government service that promote its work. It can deliver money to various areas and be there for all the glad handing. It has a large staff, better resources, better access to funds, better access to new candidates than other parties.

In short, being in government is like a runner who is allowed a few strides out of the blocks even more the starter's gun is fired.

Second: Negative ads work

The NDP leader Adrian Dix said he was going to run a positive campaign. It failed. The Liberals hit hard and they hit mean and the NDP took a drubbing. It is a fine line to decide just how far to take things in an ad campaign. While Canadians say they don't like the ads, it is surprising how they will quote back from them when asked for an impression.

It is often thought that Jack Layton ran a positive campaign.

Remember this ad?

It was a effective and despite Ignatieff indicating that he needed to meet Canadians directly after becoming leader, it played on a carefully constructed narrative that Layton was hard at work in Ottawa.

One can imagine the attendance record of the NDP during their campaign as Tom Mulcair took over. Or of the Liberals today with Justin Trudeau taking over.

In any case, negative ads work. It is something Justin Trudeau must accept or looks like Adrian Dix in the next election.

Third: Political opinion polls can be wrong

Or at the very least cause people to change their vote, lose their interest and maybe not show up. Voter turn out was awful. Did some people assume a NDP victory and figure their vote was not needed.? Did Liberal voters get scared and run to the ballot boxes to stop an NDP victory?

Or is there something more fundamental? Are the poll callers not getting through to enough electorate? Are they routinely missing people? Is the measurement of opinion failing terribly?

Fourth: Voter turn out is imperative

Even if polls are super accurate, they can be undermined by a lazy and unmotivated voter.  Liberals got their vote out, the NDP did not.

Fifth: Don't count your chickens

A good political campaign depends on many things. Sometimes it is because your opponent slips. In B.C., the provincial Conservative struggled and had a few candidates dropped.  This kept people from considering voting for them rather than Liberals or NDP. A vote Conservative was more likely to help the NDP.

The NDP didn't know how to fight the negative campaign and looked weak when having to defend themselves.

Luck, skill and timing are important. A campaign can turn on a dime with an economic report, scandal, a debate or a perceived gamechanger.

It should be mentioned that elections rarely turn on one key policy. It is more about the the perception of what your overall focus will be rather than specific ideas.

Analysts might scratch their heads for some time with this one. We may never know what main turning point changed everything. Suffice to say, it may have been all of the above or none of the above.


So what does this mean for Manitoba?

We had our election in 2011 and although the Tories led initial polls heading into the vote, their support was spread out inefficiently. The NDP staked a claim on seat rich Winnipeg and continued to target voters with money and policies that would make Stephen Harper proud as it comes from his playbook.

Any potential Liberal threat was mitigated and despite what some once again called good policies, the thinking was that Jon Gerrard was not the man to challenge the two main parties.

For better or for worse, it is usually about the leader in provincial elections. In provincial politics in general, it is hard for people to identify their own local elected officials.

In the past Manitoba election, the decision was generally about who should leader. Hugh McFadyen just didn't connect with people. And although Greg Selinger wasn't lighting up the skies, he was the premier and it was enough to carry the day.

It obviously came down to more than that. The Progressive Conservatives caused some suspicion and lost credibility with their promise to have a longer deficit than the NDP.

The negative NDP campaign about Manitoba Hydro was something the PCs just couldn't defend against. The problem was they had no election platform to challenge the NDP where they lived and breathed on health and education.

In short, not enough contrast so that the PCs could hit hard on an issue or two favoured by Manitobans.


Lesson learned for the next Manitoba election? All the parties have to create a narrative for their campaign, the leader has to be sharp and a rapid defence initiated to every challenge. Don't be afraid to go negative but watch for over the top. Don't let the polls discourage and motivate your voters right to the last minute.

The final tally is all that matters in the end


The Analyst said...

The Federal Dipper ads, while stressing somewhat of a dumb point (of course new leaders have to step out've parliament) were really quit tame by negative ad standards (and most where bundled together with positive second parts to produce "contrast ads").

Adrian Dix certainly blew the campaign with his naivete - though the BC media certainly had a lot of haterade for the BC NDP. If Justin Trudeau tries to run a likewise "positive" campaign - as he claims he will - he might very well get a shalacking.

John Dobbin said...

It was nevertheless a negative ad in that it worked.

The NDP were in trouble when Dix could not give a good answer about his previous scandal of coverup. I think it really closed the gap.

Anonymous said...

What does it mean for Manitoba?

It means that if the NDP get re-elected here next election, anyone I know who voted for them is getting punched in the head.

Don't know which government is worse/more corrupt. The federal Conservatives or the provincial NDP.