Shades of 1991, 2001 in upcoming election

The premier will likely lead the BC Liberals onto the election battlefield, which will resemble the 2001 and 1991 contests.

Listening to the pundits and scanning the Twitterverse on Sunday, it appeared that Christy Clark was finished. She wouldn’t last the day, and there was a chance that deputy premier Rich Coleman would be in the top job (albeit temporarily) by Monday.

We all know that didn’t happen, and there is almost no chance that Clark won’t be leading the BC Liberals into an election campaign. It will be a campaign with a lot of similarities to 1991 and 2001.

In the first election, Social Credit was all but wiped out (winning seven seats) and it didn’t last much longer as a viable party. In the second election, the NDP managed to win just two seats to the Liberals’ 77 — but unlike Social Credit, the party has rebounded and is the odds-on favourite to win power again.

Clark, like Rita Johnston in 1991 and Ujjal Dosanjh in 2001, was called in after predecessors had screwed up. Both Bill Vander Zalm and Glen Clark eventually faced criminal charges, but were acquitted. But the damage to their governments was severe.

In Christy Clark’s case, she has had two full years to put her mark on the party — much more than Johnston and Dosanjh had. While she made some initial progress, the fallout over the HST and other issues have dogged her ability to convince voters that the BC Liberals should be re-elected.

While candidates are confident (as they need to be), every opinion poll conducted since the HST was announced four years ago has had the Liberals behind.

The latest controversy over an ethnic voter recruitment strategy is embarrassing, and likely will drive some undecided voters into the Conservative, Green or NDP camps. Others will simply stay home.

There are a few points to think about as we head towards the May 14 election date.

First, for former Liberal voters, what are the alternatives? The Conservatives are revitalized, with John Cummins doing an energetic job in leading them. But they are mostly untried. The Greens have been around for a while, and Jane Sterk is the only party leader who held that position in the 2009 election.

The Greens have been conspicuously quiet throughout the Liberal troubles in the past year, but are likely to field almost a full slate of candidates. In 2001, the Greens captured more than 12 per cent of the votes, with many of those coming from disaffected former NDP voters.

Cummins and Sterk need to be part of any leaders’ debates, because voters need to hear from them in a provincial forum that pits them against Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix. In 1991, Liberal leader Gordon Wilson had to fight vigorously just to get on the televised debate — and then swung votes his way with one memorable line. The Liberals won 17 seats as a result.

In some ridings, there are strong independent candidates. There are none thus far in the two Langley ridings.

Another point — opinion polls aren’t always right. Many people do not have land lines, and polls don’t always capture the mood of the public as accurately as they once did.

The Alberta and Quebec elections in 2012 were not called accurately by pollsters. Here, there will be many last-minute shifts in voting preference. Anything could happen May 14.