IF THIS MAN KICKED A DOG, HE’D STILL WIN THE ELEC­TION

NDP Leader Adrian Dix ap­pears to be on the fast-track to the pre­mier’s of­fice

The Province - - Front Page - MICHAEL SMYTH

Mis­sion im­pos­si­ble: For Pre­mier Christy Clark and NDP Leader Adrian Dix the words carry dual mean­ings in the loom­ing elec­tion cam­paign.

For Clark, a re­cent se­ries of po­lit­i­cal prat­falls may have sealed her doom, and an elec­tion win in May looks as im­pos­si­ble as ever.

For Dix, his ri­val’s self-de­struc­tive habits have put him on a fast-track to the pre­mier’s of­fice. Judg­ing by the polls, and the Lib­er­als’ screw-ups, it looks im­pos­si­ble for Dix to lose.

Now the poll­sters and po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists are weigh­ing in: Dix has a big lead and his op­po­nent is mired in scan­dal. He should win — and fairly eas­ily, too.

But im­pos­si­ble? Noth­ing is ever im­pos­si­ble in pol­i­tics, es­pe­cially in this nutty province.

“The B.C. NDP has a long his­tory of snatch­ing de­feat from the jaws of vic­tory,” re­minds Dennis Pilon, of York Univer­sity in Toronto. “They excel at los­ing.”

If you in­clude the party’s pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion as the Co-Op­er­a­tive Com­mon­wealth Fed­er­a­tion, the NDP has lost 19 of 22 B.C. elec­tions, Pilon notes. That in­cludes the 1983 choke by the NDP’s Dave Bar­rett, who went into the cam­paign with 10-point lead over the So­cial Credit’s Bill Ben­nett.

“The num­bers might change closer to the elec­tion, as more peo­ple pay at­ten­tion,” Pilon said. “Some of Dix’s his­tor­i­cal bag­gage might come back to haunt him. NDP forces might get over­con­fi­dent, the more it looks like a cake­walk.”

But, for the record, Pilon thinks Dix will win.

And, un­for­tu­nately for Clark, she’s a lot far­ther be­hind than 10 points and she’s prob­a­bly fallen far­ther back as a re­sult of the eth­nic-outreach scan­dal.

“I think the last week has pretty much baked it,” said the Univer­sity of B.C.’s Richard John­ston. “A week is a long time in pol­i­tics and all that, but Dix would have to suc­cumb to mas­sive hubris to blow it.”

Is it pos­si­ble Dix could mess up that badly? Could Clark come back?

Poll­ster Kyle Braid thinks it’s un­likely, but not im­pos­si­ble.

“It’s of­ten dur­ing a cam­paign that vot­ers really make up their minds about lead­ers, es­pe­cially new lead­ers, and nei­ther Clark nor Dix have run a cam­paign as leader.”

Re­mem­ber fed­eral Lib­eral lead­ers Stephane Dion and Michael Ig­nati­eff? They had good polling num­bers, too. “Un­til Cana­di­ans were ex­posed to them in a cam­paign,” Braid re­minds us.

But Clark has a new dis­ad­van­tage go­ing into this cam­paign: the fresh eth­nic-outreach scan­dal that forced the res­ig­na­tion of her deputy and a cab­i­net min­is­ter.

“Too many set­backs,” ob­served Al­lan Warnke, of Van­cou­ver Is­land Univer­sity. “For the B.C. Lib­er­als, noth­ing had to go wrong.”

Warnke said the scan­dal will blunt the ef­fect of Lib­eral at­tack ads against Dix over the 1999 memo-to-file af­fair, in which Dix back-dated a memo in the casino scan­dal that brought down former NDP pre­mier Glen Clark.

“The neg­a­tive ads are dead,” he said. “Un­less there is an ‘April Sur­prise’ the Libs can spring, or a huge er­ror or in­dis­cre­tion in­volv­ing prom­i­nent New Democrats, Dix and the NDP are home-free.” Still, even big leads can dis­ap­pear. “The un­ex­pected does hap­pen,” said the Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria’s Norman Ruff, adding the NDP’s big­gest worry should be “over­con­fi­dence, lead­ing to fail­ure to get out their vote, along­side com­pla­cency among their own sup­port­ers.”

Poll­ster Mario Canseco, though, points to the party’s “phe­nom­e­nal” voter-re­ten­tion rate.

“Roughly nine in 10 peo­ple who voted for the NDP un­der Ca­role James are still with the party un­der Adrian Dix,” said Canseco, of An­gus Reid Pub­lic Opin­ion.

“Con­versely, the re­ten­tion rate for the Lib­er­als is about 66 per cent, so a third of their vot­ers have left them.”

Given all that, Hamish Tel ford thinks the Lib­er­als shouldn’t plan on shock­ing the world, but plan on pick­ing up the pieces of a shat­tered party. “For­get about win­ning and fo­cus solely on win­ning enough seats to save the party,” said Telford, of the Univer­sity of the Fraser Val­ley.

“If they come back with fewer than five or 10 seats, I sus­pect the Lib­eral Party will dis­ap­pear.” Then again, there’s al­ways hope. “Christy would have to carry out some deed that would in­stantly bury all past foul-ups,” Warnke said. “All I can con­jure up now is an im­age of her bat­tling aliens like Davey Crock­ett at the Alamo. Who knows? Maybe she will get lucky.”

— THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

— THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

For Pre­mier Christy Clark, a re­cent se­ries of po­lit­i­cal prat­falls may have sealed her doom, and an elec­tion win in May looks as im­pos­si­ble as ever. NDP Leader Adrian Dix, mean­while, could find some of his his­tor­i­cal bag­gage coming back to haunt him.

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