British Columbia·Analysis

B.C. premier in unfamiliar position with election 1 year away

The B.C. election is a year away, with British Columbians heading to the polls on May 9, 2017. At this point the B.C. NDP and the B.C. Liberals are in a dead heat, with a lot set to be decided over the next 365 days.

The B.C. Liberals and the B.C. NDP gear up for year-long campaign

B.C. Premier Christy Clark and B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan are set to square off in a B.C. election on May 9, 2017. (CBC)

For the next year, Premier Christy Clark will be playing an unfamiliar role — the frontrunner. 

Clark surprised many when she won in 2013, but this time around it recalls that old adage that must also be on the minds of the NDP: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

"What you will see from us is a hard campaign on her record. She will by election time have more than five years as premier and we will be holding her to account on that record and we will be doing so aggressively," said Michael Gardiner, the B.C. NDP's provincial director.

"We will be making it about her in the general election."

NDP targeting Clark's record 

Expect the NDP to focus on Clark's salary top-up, a triple delete email culture and the photo ops the premier has so famously embraced. It is a much different strategy than four years ago, when heading into the 2013 election, Clark was not just the underdog, but was also relatively unknown to the general population outside of Victoria and Vancouver.

Gardiner says the fact the NDP was as much as 25 points ahead in the polls a year before the last election worked against the party. That mainly led to NDP voters staying at home thinking the election was in the bag.

"Nobody wants to go into an election way ahead. It may seem like a luxury. But I think what we will see in this campaign is that we will be in a dead heat," said Gardiner.

Winning in B.C. is 'hard'

The CBC spoke with both Gardiner and Mike McDonald -- who ran the provincial campaign for the B.C. Liberals in 2013 — for their views ahead of the provincial election exactly one year away on May 9, 2017. 

One of the hallmarks of McDonald's last campaign was the personal attacks on then-NDP leader Adrian Dix. It was a strategy that established a blueprint for some of the B.C. Liberals most recent political success.

"The challenge is complacency. The challenge is making sure that everyone knows that the NDP can roll out of bed any day of the election and get 38, 39 percent of the vote. Winning an election in B.C. is hard no matter where you start from," said McDonald.

'Cranking up' the base

Both parties are spending time now touching base with the grassroots. Over the weekend, the B.C. Liberals brought together thousands of volunteers to, as McDonald described it, get the volunteers 'stoked' and 'cranked up.' That sort of outreach is almost more important at this point than any policies.

"The strategy for us has never really changed.," said McDonald. "The program of the government is building a strong economy to ensure we have the resources to deliver, health care, education, social programs. We always put economic discipline as a high priority. We have to make it front and centre and not lose our focus."

Focus on jobs

As for the B.C. NDP, part of the next year has to be spent explaining to British Columbians where New Democrats stand on job creation and the economy.

Fairly or unfairly, the B.C. Liberals have convinced many the NDP does not have a coherent vision on resource development and the jobs that come with it. That is why the fate of the election could rest on the policies Gardiner and his colleagues come up with.

"We are going to have to put forward a very strong, clear and ambitious plan for the future of British Columbia," said Gardiner. "With a leader like John Horgan putting that plan I am confident that British Columbians will in turn have confidence in the NDP."

Connecting with people

For Horgan this is his first kick at the can. He is up against a premier who has built a reputation for herself as a masterful campaigner and retail politician. She has the innate ability to connect with people that she meets one on one or with thousands in a crowd. That also plays into where the Liberals intend on going over the next year.

"They just have to work really hard at staying in touch with main street. The premier is very good at that," said McDonald, of those that are taking on his job of running the Liberal campaign this time around.  "Especially when you get out of Victoria, the precincts of the legislature and Downtown Vancouver. It's a different conversation, just staying plugged into that and what matters to people, is what really matters."

If John Horgan can also find a way to tap into communities, especially those which have historically not supported the NDP, then strap in because the next year is going to be an exciting political ride.

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