Blacktop politics are alive and well in the province of B.C. The concept is an old and trusty tactic for governments in Canada's westernmost frontier. Just figure out which ridings are key to your re-election chances and bestow those communities with big infrastructure projects. And since these large projects are only possible with the help of a political party that holds the reins of power, the implicit message in announcing such grandiose schemes is, "Vote for us or you'll be stuck driving the same rutted cow trails for another four years."
Voila, everybody is happy.
The government gets reelected, the people get a job-producing upgrade on the current infrastructure, and the cost of the new highway or bridge or hospital is deferred to future generations in the form of yet another hike in the provincial debt.
The premiers at the head of the old Social Credit Party were masters of this tactic, using it extensively throughout the province to maintain a grip on power that - aside from a minor blip in the '70s - lasted from 1952 to 1991.
The Social Credit name is consigned to the history books now, but the party's spirit lives on with its bastard stepchild, the current Liberal Party of British Columbia.
Current B.C. Premier Christy Clark is a selfavowed political junkie who grew up fascinated with this province's political culture. Clark learned her lessons well, as evidenced by her work leading the Liberals to a stunning upset of the NDP in last spring's election.
In that battle, Clark dipped into the Socreds political playbook by working the streets of small towns throughout the province spreading a message of more jobs and economic stability.
Now she is reaching back into the Social Credit bag of tricks with some good old blacktop bribery for the residents of the Lower Mainland in communities located south of the Fraser River. Speaking to community representatives at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference last week, Clark worked the room in true Socred fashion by announcing her government will be replacing the aging Massey Tunnel on Highway 99 with a shiny new bridge.
The project is long overdue, as commuters have fumed at long delays created by the tunnel bottleneck for decades.
It's a win-win announcement for Clark and the Liberals as tens of thousands of frustrated voters, er, commuters will rejoice at the thought of a clog-free drive into Richmond and Vancouver. It also puts the NDP in a tight spot because the lefties know they can't oppose the plan without risking the wrath of voters in at least nine provincial ridings that stand to benefit from the project.
And best of all, the commencement date for construction on the new span is 2017. Hmmm, now what else is scheduled to happen in the 2017? Well by golly, by an amazing coincidence, the next B.C. election just happens to be slated for the spring of that year. Isn't that a fortuitous alignment of the planets? Clark and her cronies will now follow a tight timeline of announcements over the next four years leading up the first shovelful of dirt being moved to kick off the construction phase.
Mark these points on your calendars to follow the fun: 2014 - Nothing is announced this year as the government instead chooses to come clean on bad news items it has kept hidden away in the two years leading to last spring's vote.
2015 - Clark and a newly promoted backbencher from a South Fraser riding announce that the government wants to build a bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel. It's the Liberals' version of going green - they love to recycle their own press releases.
2016 - Community meetings and other open house events are staged to get public feedback on the design of the project. Late in 2016, the final plan is unveiled. Any questions about tolls will be skillfully averted with political bafflegab and a promise to "cross that bridge when we come to it."
2017 - Just weeks before the writ is dropped for the provincial election, Clark herself is at the controls of heavy machinery that officially begins construction on the new bridge. Clark and the Liberals ride the momentum to an electoral win.
2018 - With another term in office locked up, it's time to release the bad news: the bridge project is more than a billion dollars over budget and wouldn't you know it, the new span will require a $5 toll from every vehicle that crosses it.
2019 - When the bridge is finally completed, drivers avoid it in favour of the toll-free east/west connector, seriously overloading that roadway's ideal capacity and creating massive traffic jams at rush hour.
2021 - In the weeks leading up to the provincial election, the new Liberal premier (they never last more than a couple of elections) announces a new mega project to widen the east/west connector with construction slated to begin in 2025. By an amazing coincidence, 2025 is the date for the next provincial election.
B.C.'s blacktop politics - same as it ever was.
© Copyright 2013