Top of Mind - November 1, 2010

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?

3 Comments

I'm just going to lob some stuff and see what sticks...

1) You notice the Premier doesn't have a contact button anymore on his homepage? Sad really.

2) I wish Gordon Campbell the man well and wait with baited breath for his memoirs, but I think it's time for the Premier to retire. It's time for a Premier Mary Polak, a Premier Press Secretary Alise Mills who can hit hard and accurately to get the BCLib brand back and a Chief of Staff to the Premier Sean Holman who'll keep things honest.

3) The next step in early childhood development had better be more $$$ for autism aid at some point in the acute future. EIBI - which was the Avro Arrow of Canada's autism research - will haunt this government and British Columbia for years... especially with a Polak Premiership inbound to the point BCNDP smear merchants are going full throttle.

That's the thing I don't understand. I realize the power the Premier has to dole out appointments and the like but at some point is it not possible for the caucus and/or Cabinet to have more, um, "input" over the direction the government takes or hold him more accountable for his decision making (like Bennett recently did)?

M. Smyth had an interesting column on this topic yesterday. Campbell doesn't get it. The problem is not the HST -- it's him. People want a change in leadership. Efforts like his blantant attempt at "buying" votes with his income tax cut announcement are lame, insult my intelligence, demonstrate a lack of a coherent strategy for growing the province (nevermind the hole the cut blows in the province's finances) and, IMHO, reinforce (at least in the mind of this voter) why he has to go.

Sorry, Josef, while I want to see a change I do not see MP as the solution. Someone from outside the current cast of characters (Coleman, Falcon, etc.) is needed for the Libs to have a chance in the next election. I had hopes that Carole Taylor would take over but that is no longer an option. I'm not sure what the "Plan B" is now. God, I so want a reason to vote FOR someone because I think they have a "vision" for the province and a plan to implement it rather than holding my nose to vote for the "least worst" of several unpalatable options or, as was the case in the last election, not vote because I thought no one was worth voting for.

Reid, great comment. I will say though that if MCFD Min Polak demurrs, I'm tempted to endorse Alise Mills or anybody who has the experience & moxie to turn this sordid state of affairs around.

Or if my hero decides to retire in 2013 and if Lana Popham is running the BCNDP as a small business-run, centrist party that embraces some to most of what Premier Campbell did to get the BC economy going again... embraced fiscal responsibility and developed a Taxpayer Protection Act... I might just root for them. Or go quiet, which would be one and the same.

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