Did the premier's televised address establish a new narrative for his administration?
The premier should have had two objectives for that speech: do penance for the harmonized sales tax and establish a new narrative for his administration. But he did neither. The 15 percent personal income tax reduction, which was rolled out during the address, will be implemented in January and talked about incessantly. But a new narrative it is not. Its newsworthiness is limited to a big day one story with follows reporting on what the reduction will mean for British Columbians. That's the extent of its legs. By comparison, past initiatives - such as the Asia-Pacific Gateway Strategy, the BC Heartlands Economic Strategy, the Conversation on Health, the Gateway Program, LiveSmart BC, The New Relationship with Aboriginal People, etc. - have had much longer and deeper narrative arcs, providing the Liberals with something new to talk about for months on end. Of course, because the execution of these initiatives was occasionally flawed, that wasn't necessarily a good thing. Nevertheless, they featured an important dramatic quality that was absent from the premier's televised address. Indeed, it could be argued the substance of last week's cabinet realignment would have provided the foundation for a stronger narrative than the address.
So is there no value in the premier's personal tax reduction announcement?
Not necessarily. According to a poll conducted on behalf of Global TV by Ipsos-Reid Corp., 62 percent of British Columbians strongly or somewhat approve of that reduction. And it will play well among some wavering Liberal supporters, being seen as a return to what has worked for the party in the past. It's the political equivalent of comfort food. But that's also one of the problems with the announcement. Reducing taxes isn't new for this administration. Indeed, it's almost come to be expected, perhaps limiting its value as a vote-getter.
What about the premier's announcement that his government will be investing in early childhood development and learning?
This announcement can be seen as a continuation of the government's 2005 commitment to make British Columbia the "best-educated, most literate place in North America." The premier has now specified it will include ensuring "within the next 5 years, every child that leaves grade 4 will be reading at grade 4 level, will be writing at grade 4 level and will be doing math at grade 4 level." Mr. Campbell didn't put much meat on the bones of that promise, other than saying there will be early childhood learning assessments and more StrongStart centres. He hinted there will be further measures after he's consulted with parents, principals and teachers. But he may get limited political value from this initiative, given that education has never been a top of mind issue for British Columbians - something we pointed out in last month's edition of the Brown Envelope.
How long will provincial Liberal caucus members continue to support the premier's leadership?
Government legislators can't be unaware the premier's televised address was a perceived failure, representing just the latest misstep for his administration. According to Ipsos-Reid, just 11 percent of British Columbians said the speech increased their likelihood of voting for the Liberals in the next election, while 46 percent said it decreased their likelihood. Still, up until now, Liberal MLAs have been remarkably disciplined in keeping whatever complaints they have about the premier private, with Energy Minister Bill Bennett's recent public criticism of the cabinet realignment being the exception rather than the rule. But you have to wonder when MLAs will realize they're the ones who have the majority in the legislature, not the premier. Indeed, according to Global BC, an emergency caucus meeting has been scheduled for later this week amidst increasing dissent within the government's ranks. So perhaps some of them already have come to that realization?