Premier Christy Clark earlier today visited BC Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon to formally ask her to dissolve the legislature, officially kicking off the 28 day provincial election campaign. By 9:00pm or so on Tuesday, May 14, we will know who will be Premier for the coming term.
Polling suggests the BC NDP is poised to take power after 12 years of BC Liberal government. In fact, there has been no comparable time in a generation in which the NDP has led the polls for the better part of four years. The only exception was a brief period when Christy Clark was elected BC Liberal leader but prior to Adrian Dix being chosen NDP leader. In BC as is the case elsewhere, campaigns matter. Recent election results in Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec show that political fortunes can change quickly. In some cases, polls showed many voters make up their minds in the days before voting day.
Over the coming four weeks, the BC Liberals will point to their economic record over the past decade and their vision for jobs and economic growth. They will also attempt to contrast that with attacks on the NDP’s economic credibility by pointing to the negative aspects of the NDP government’s record during the 1990s. The BC Liberals are in the midst of a major transition with the retirement of many seasoned Ministers and MLAs including two of Christy Clark’s key leadership rivals. To their credit, they have attracted an impressive stable of candidates including former mayors, professionals and business leaders.
Adrian Dix and the BC NDP also deserve credit for an impressive re-unification following the caucus split over former leader Carole James’ leadership and the subsequent leadership race. Dix worked hard and deserves credit for repairing a deeply fractured caucus and bringing his leadership rivals into his efforts to ensure the party is ready to present a credible alternative to the BC Liberals. He has also built on the work Carole James started with reaching out to the business community, building new relationships with former rival stakeholder groups and reducing fears that the NDP would “wreck” the economy. But his toughest job has been working to temper the expectations of his core constituencies in the labour and environment movements.
No matter who wins the election, we should expect change from the status quo. If Christy Clark and the BC Liberals pull off the massive task of getting re-elected, she will surely to want to use her mandate from voters to put her own stamp on government. However, if the pollsters are correct and Adrian Dix wins, we should expect definitive change, but not as much as some of his supporters may want. Whomever is elected Premier should expect limited ability to enact major new spending initiatives given the ongoing economic uncertainty and the resulting government revenue challenges that flow from it.
The biggest change for those looking to engage government should be the anticipation of many new political decision makers (cabinet ministers, MLAs and senior political staff). If the NDP wins, there will be wholesale changes but even if the BC Liberals stay in power, there will be many new faces. There is also the potential for some new senior civil servants but most pundits expect that many senior officials would remain. That said, there would likely be a major change in the structure of government and a shuffle of responsibilities no matter who wins the election.
If the NDP is elected, they would be consumed for the first few months with setting up a new political decision making apparatus and implementing a short list of key political priorities. They would need to prepare a new Speech from the Throne and a new budget, likely in September. They would then begin working on a parallel track for the February 2014 budget when we would expect to see more details of their economic and spending priorities.
So what does this mean for you? In times of potential changes of political leadership, the importance of building and maintaining relationships across the political spectrum grows. The value of relationships with civil servants who remain constant through changes in the political landscape also grows. Now is a good time to evaluate your relationships with current or future decision makers and ensure you have the strategies in place to engage new government and opposition at the political level as well as public servants relevant to your goals at the bureaucratic level. For those who want to engage the government post-election, it is critical to understand the public policy environment that all BC politicians are trying to manage. This makes it especially important to ensure you are framing your requests so they highlight how they benefit the public good, especially in an environment in which government has extremely limited ability to fund political priorities.
Building and demonstrating a coalition of support for your initiative and the public support behind it remains a key success factor to any political engagement, no matter what the political stripe of the party in power.
H+K Strategies will be actively monitoring the political activity of all parties and candidates to provide timely analysis of new policy announcements and any potential impacts in the post-election environment. We hope you will contact us with any questions or comments you have and allow us to help determine potential impacts on you.