W elcome to the 1990s. That, at least, is where the B.C. Liberals and their supporters want to take you if you're considering voting for the NDP in May.
The first of what will likely be many so-called "attack" ads has hit the radio airwaves, and it focuses on three issues that arose during the NDP's time in government during the 1990s.
One of the issues - using only unionized labour to build the Island Highway - is somewhat obscure and probably not even remembered by a majority of voters. More familiar is the second issue: the fast ferry fiasco, which saw the NDP spend almost $500 million on three useless ships.
But it is the ad's third issue that, while no doubt largely forgotten by most British Columbians, may be more of a wild card than other issues. This is the so-called "memo-to-file" incident that continues to dog NDP leader Adrian Dix.
The story goes back to 1999. Dix was at that time chief of staff to then-premier Glen Clark, who became ensnared in an RCMP investigation into an application for a casino licence by someone who had a personal connection with him.
After the RCMP, armed with a search warrant, raided the premier's home (caught in action by my television station's cameramen) Clark produced a memo written by Dix that suggested the premier had nothing to do with the casino application. It later emerged that Dix had "backdated" the memo to bolster the argument that Clark was not involved.
Essentially, he concocted a misleading document which became part of a police investigation.
Dix resigned his position as Clark's chief of staff shortly after.
Since then, Dix has from time to time answered questions about the incident. He has said he made a "mistake" and that he had learned from it.
The memo-to-file incident has never really been a big issue with the public (Dix has won two elections), but it is likely to get a lot more attention in the coming weeks.
I suspect the B.C. Liberals and their supporters (something called the "Concerned Citizens for B.C." is the sponsor of that current radio ad) will make this incident the focal part of a number of hard-edged ads that zero in on Dix's character and honesty.
His political enemies will question his character, and try to brand him as a dishonest person who can't be trusted to leave the province. The message, relayed over and over again, will no doubt shape how some people vote in May.
The question is, how many? Are more people simply tired of the B.C.
Liberals and don't care that much about the NDP's record in the 1990s or about issues like Dix's memo?
The NDP's campaign theme is "change for the better" and the call for a change in government can be a powerful one when a party has been governing a long time.
Or will the memo issue cause enough voters currently sitting on the fence, undecided about which party to support, to walk away from the NDP and vote for the B.C. Liberals, even without much enthusiasm?
It's useful to note the B.C. Liberals tried to use the memo incident in attack ads in last year's two by-elections, and had absolutely zero success as they lost both seats.
Dix is both the key strength but also potentially the fatal weakness of the NDP. While he is more highly regarded by the public than Christy Clark, he is also less well known and thus vulnerable to his opponents defining his public image along their lines, and not his own.
As is so often the case in B.C. politics, there's a great irony here. Back during the 1996 election campaign, when Dix was Clark's top aide, the NDP ran a brutally negative ad campaign aimed at B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell.
A series of television ads depicted Campbell's face tinged with grey, with a menacing and forbidding look. A voice-of-doom like narrator talked in dark terms about Campbell.
The ads were relentless and, presumably, somewhat effective. The NDP won the election (albeit with fewer votes than the B.C. Liberals).
Campbell and his party were furious and angry they had lost an election that looked easily within their grasp a few months before the vote. There's still an outside chance history may repeat itself this time around.
Of course, that may depend on whether people care more about what happened in the 1990s, and not about the events of the past 12 years.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC
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