As we step into a new year, one prediction is certain: Unless life as we know it ends before May 14, British Columbians will head to the polls to elect a provincial government.
Premier Christy Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix begin 2013 knowing that the hard season of campaigning is beginning in earnest. Although the legal campaign doesn’t start for months, the unofficial one has been gathering steam since the summer, and the main push will begin when the Liberal government brings down its budget on Feb. 19.
Much of the politicking will hinge on that budget, which the Liberals promise will be balanced, but Clark and Dix have been hard at work fashioning their messages on finance and other issues. Before they get too committed, though, there is time for ordinary voters to make a pitch for the things that matter to them.
Almost exactly a year ago, this newspaper kicked off 2012 with some resolutions for our political leaders at all levels. Memories of the HST fight were still raw, so we focused on the importance of plain-speaking, in hopes of rebuilding the trust of voters.
Our three resolutions were: Tell the truth, tell the full story and connect with voters again.
Any Liberal who lived through the tortured final months of Gordon Campbell’s premiership will have the first burned into his or her memory. Denying plans for the HST during the election and then bringing it in shortly after the election shattered voters’ trust.
As election plans are laid this year, both main parties must keep that lesson in mind. Voters are suspicious and are conscious of their power after the successful referendum to dump the tax. Politicians must give taxpayers no reason to flex their muscles in that way again. Setting fiscal policy by referendum is a route to disaster.
Just as important in the election season is the second resolution. Politicians will be tempted to be selective in their messages, especially around that all-important budget. Slavish devotion to a balanced budget is just as simplistic as playing number games to claim a balanced budget isn’t really balanced.
B.C.’s politicians must treat voters with respect. In these uncertain times, electors need straight talk about the difficult decisions that go into the budget. Explain the benefits of balancing, but also the costs and risks.
Mindlessly chanting “Taxes bad. Deficits bad” does a disservice when government services and government spending might help British Columbians and their economy. At the same time, throwing bags of taxpayer dollars at every problem is equally mindless.
Is it too much to ask politicians to treat voters as adults? To at least try to explore the complexities of important issues, instead of hammering them with slogans and talking points? Hold a conversation instead of a sales meeting.
And that brings us to the third resolution: Reconnect with voters. Talking with them is the best way; not “at” them, “with” them. The greatest complaint from voters is that parties and governments ignore the things that matter to ordinary people.
Connecting won’t be easy in a year when the arguments over the budget will pale beside the divisive issue of oil pipelines across B.C. Pity the premier or premier-wannabe who has to decide on that issue.
And it’s not up to politicians to do this alone. Voters must keep up their side of the conversation by rejecting simplistic solutions from politicians and interest groups. We must spurn those who urge us to vote on emotion rather than reason. We have to take time to grapple with issues that grow increasingly complex.
Fixed election dates have their drawbacks, but one of their advantages is clear: We all have lots of time to do our homework.
© Copyright 2013