Les Leyne: In B.C. elections, the issues change, but not much else

Glanced at a campaign brochure this week from Oak Bay-Gordon Head.

The candidate’s main pitch was the “lack of wholesome government, irresponsible promises and inaccurate and distasteful TV advertising which generates fear and mistrust.”

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Standard fare.

Then I realized it was from 1983.

Progressive Conservative Irvin K. Burbank also had some thoughts about the “lack of informed, courteous and productive debate in the legislature.”

He didn’t make the cut back then, but his handout shows how little some things change.

The Legislative Library has filing cabinets full of campaign brochures and ads going back decades. It’s a traipse down memory lane that shows the tried and true themes — “more strong leadership,” “throw the bums out” — never get old.

There have been some changes, though. The Provincial Party devoted two pages of its 1923 platform to the “Oriental Menace.” It said B.C. is the “principal sufferer” from Oriental immigration increases and their resulting intrusion into the mercantile world.

It demanded an end to “Oriental farmers’ control of the truck farming industry,” by barring them from owning or leasing land. They got 24 per cent of the vote and elected three MLAs.

One 1950s brochure had a screamer about the “Port Mann Deal.”

“The Liberal tirade of personal abuse regarding the Port Mann Deal is the raving of a baffled, beaten bunch of cornered political jugglers who see their end in sight.”

Port Mann deals or bridges are always good for an argument.

There are two separate troves in the file cabinets that mark historic electoral times. One drawer holds a wealth of B.C. Social Credit doorstep handouts through the 1960s that illustrates how that party managed to hang onto power for 20 years.

“Social Credit Builds While Others Talk” is the header on one typical brochure.

W.A.C Bennett’s profile is in the forefront of a picture of a dam under construction. Every page is jammed full of pictures of construction projects. There’s a vivid before-and-after set of pictures that shows where the phrase “blacktop politics” originated.

“Before” is a drawing of a rutted wagon trail hugging the edge of a frontier canyon. “After” — meaning after the Socred highways ministry worked its miracles — it’s a new highway with gentle curves leading off to a brighter tomorrow.

“The highway construction program of your province since 1952 has been the greatest per capita of any area in the free world.

“Your Social Credit government has taken the unfulfilled promises of past governments … and transformed them into solid realities of new highways and bridges.”

The party kept a running tally of miles paved and rivers crossed. They boasted 250 new bridges by the mid-’60s, “most of them permanent steel and concrete structures.”

But that progress was threatened. “Creeping socialism is going to take away many of our benefits, if we do not become more involved in political life.”

And W.A.C. himself tells 1966 voters it’s the most clear-cut choice in B.C. history — “growth, development, jobs and social justice under competitive free enterprise, or stagnation and decay under state socialism.”

Another drawer has many of the handouts hitting on the themes that worked for the New Democratic Party during its historic win in 1972.

“Dave Barrett. Not a wily politician. Not a dictatorial boss. Just a man who cares about people. A man who cares enough to spend his life in the world of politics, fighting for people.”

The pamphlet recounts how he wants “an end to poverty in this resource-rich province” and an “end to a government that has turned neighbour against neighbour, creating hostility and conflict for its own political advantage.”

The NDP backhandedly acknowledged the growth during the ’50s and ’60s, but said it had fizzled out.

“Life may be beautiful for B.C.’s jet set, but for most families it’s filled with problems that aren’t being solved by an old and tired government.”

There’s also a 1975 NDP ad featuring endorsements from Susan Jacks, Arthur Erickson, Bruno Gerussi and David Suzuki — “It’s inconceivable that people would replace the Barrett government that so obviously cares about people with a party which is so clearly committed to profit and greed.”

The hot-button issues change over the years, but the currents underneath remain the same.

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