The cataclysm that shook the U.S. political landscape on Tuesday night has already sent some aftershocks into B.C.
Premier Christy Clark made that abundantly clear when speaking at the 20th annual fundraiser organized by Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman and his constituency association. Coleman was first elected in May, 1996 – at the same time Clark was first elected. The premier came to the Wednesday (Nov. 9) event, despite a very hectic schedule, as a tribute to Coleman.
The minister of natural gas development and housing, and deputy premier, is among her most loyal supporters and is most definitely one of her hardest-working cabinet members.
“Last night, we learned again that anyone can lose an election,” Clark said to an attentive audience. “No matter how much money or data you have, you have nothing if you don’t stand for something that matters to people.”
Clark and Coleman know that lesson very well. They learned it while under fire in 2012 and 2013 in the run-up to the May, 2013 provincial election, an election the BC Liberals were widely predicted to lose. Pollsters, pundits, much of the media and many voters were sure that they had no chance.
Coleman never saw it that way. He would and did tell anyone who was listening that the BC Liberals would win. As campaign co-chair, a role he is again playing in the 2017 campaign, he had access to plenty of money and data, but he also knew that Clark was the party’s secret weapon.
Not only is she a good campaigner, and emphasized the importance of jobs and the economy, but she had the great advantage of being under the radar – just as Donald Trump was in the recent U.S. election, right up to the time that final vote results came in from Wisconsin and Michigan and confirmed that he would be the 45th president.
Clark is not the only BC Liberal paying attention to the results south of the border. Conversations with other MLAs, party officials and veteran campaigners Wednesday show they all have their antennae finely tuned.
In 2017, the NDP under John Horgan will be the principal opponent of the BC Liberals. The Conservatives are drowning in a sea of recriminations, and the Green Party will only be a serious factor in a few ridings. Thus far, the NDP has under-performed and Horgan is not well-known to a broad swath of B.C. voters. Clark knows all that – but she also knows that the lesson of Brexit, the U.K. election, the Alberta election and of course Tuesday’s election is that people are ready and willing to go in a direction very different from what conventional political wisdom suggests.
She emphasized that the BC Liberals believe in free enterprise, not only so individuals can get wealthy, but so they can create jobs, care for their families and share some of that wealth, in the form of taxes, with others.
“We stand for something,” she said. “We stand for jobs, opportunity, a future for our kids and looking after each other.”
She cited Coleman’s work as minister of housing and the many units of social housing that have been built and renovated under his watch.
The Coleman fundraiser is one of the most important events the BC Liberals hold each year, outside of some major events in Vancouver. Thousands of dollars are raised through table and seat sales, and through silent and live auctions. Much of that money is redistributed to other riding associations and other campaigns. Coleman’s volunteers are also spreading around the province and helping campaigns in other ridings.
It all adds up to an incredible amount of preparation for the May. 2017 campaign – preparation that has now been enlightened and sharpened by the events in the U.S. election.
None of that preparation, as Clark so astutely pointed out, means that the BC Liberals are automatically going to win another election. In 2017, they will have been in power for 16 years – a very long time in the modern era of politics.
The party did have the great advantage, although it didn’t see it as such at the time, of the public being so angry over the implementation of the HST that they forced the matter to referendum. That vote in 2011, and Gordon Campbell’s resignation as premier, turned away much of the anger and helped the party to go down a different path. It still required Clark’s shrewd campaigning and Coleman’s shrewd organizing (along with some help from an inept NDP campaign) to win.
Wednesday night’s fundraiser at Langley Events Centre is simply one building block in the construction of a campaign machine. Given the timing, it may prove to be a critical foundational piece in helping the BC Liberals prepare seismically for 2017.
Frank Bucholtz is a retired editor who shares his thoughts each month in the Langley Times. His political blog, Frankly Speaking, can be found here.