Either by design or out of exasperation, Premier Christy Clark is starting to seem quite frustrated with her chief opponent's rope-a-dope tactics on the political stage.
At last week's annual Truck Loggers Association conference (the unofficial kickoff to the year's political season) Clark expressed impatience and frustration over NDP leader Adrian Dix's refusal to engage her in a point-by-point exchange of public policies.
She wants Dix to come out and play, but for now Dix is content to fly well below radar and stay safely out of reach of any kind of debate with the premier.
He's been criticized for being circumspect about his party's plans for governing (although much of the NDP platform is already in place and in public view) but for now, at least, polls show his approach is working.
This brings us to the stymied premier, who sputtered to the truck loggers that it wasn't fair that her opponent won't come out of the corner.
"We're supposed to be in a democracy, in a competition of ideas," she told her audience. "How can you have a competition of ideas when only one person has their ideas on the table?"
Clark almost seemed angry about Dix' silence and his refusal to get drawn into a public discussion with her on policy.
"I think refusing to be honest with the public about where you stand on issues is going at some point to be a serious liability for the Opposition," she said. "Because British Columbians are going to quite rightly say, 'we deserve to know.'"
Clark's complaints arose partly because the NDP's forest critic, MLA Norm Macdonald, criticized her government's recent decision to increase timber harvest levels, a move he feels will lead to an increase in raw log exports.
But Macdonald told CKNW that his party's own position on raw log exports will only be revealed "once we have a mandate from the people." In other words, there's nothing more to come before an election.
So Clark has a fair point, at least on this particular policy. But there's not much in politics that's actually fair, and she's as aware of that as well as anyone.
The NDP will release a detailed pre-election platform once Clark's government tables its budget in mid-February. Understandably, the NDP needs the most up-to-date financial information from the government before it lays out any fiscal plan of its own.
Nevertheless, we can expect the premier to continue her complaint that Dix and the NDP are being secretive and therefore dishonest about their true intentions until that platform is finally made public.
But Clark's challenge is not to come across as a chronic complainer. The latest Angus Reid poll shows her party is 15 points back of the NDP in public opinion, with just 15 weeks to go before Election Day.
That's a lot of ground to be made up over a very short period of time, and complaining about your opponent's tactics isn't going to be enough to close that gap.
MCRAE BACKS OFF
A few columns back I wrote that Education Minister Don McRae and the province's school boards were about to combat each other over his apparent insistence that the boards find savings within the system to pay for wage hikes for unionized support staff.
Trustees were getting apoplectic at the prospect of finding money to pay for, say, a 1.5 per cent wage hike while they were scrambling to pay for existing services, let alone new costs.
Wisely, though, McRae has now backed off. He says all he made was a "request" that boards find a way to pay for wage increases and that he never actually "demanded" anything.
No board acceded to his request that they file funding plans showing how the wages could be paid for, so McRae has simply let the matter go.
But even though there may be no fight on this issue, there will still be a likely loser: the support staff workers, mostly members of CUPE, may well be staring at a wage freeze for yet another year, as the government will not give "new" money to school boards to pay for wage increases.
We may well see job action down the road from some CUPE locals, up and including a withdrawal of services. But any strike would last only a short time, as the government would move swiftly to legislate an end to one.
And if CUPE thinks they may get better treatment from an NDP government, it should remember that party legislated ends to CUPE school strikes when it was in power in the 1990s.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.
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