Was Premier Christy Clark's odd foray into Alberta a shrewd bit of hard-nosed politicking, or simply a bizarre and poorly calculated misadventure?
Given that nothing she does seems to translate into a boost in support for her leadership, I suspect the answer for many people may be the latter.
The whole affair seemed odd. First, Clark's office released to the media a letter she had written to Alberta Premier Alison Redford, suggesting they meet to talk about the Northern Gateway pipeline when Clark was in Calgary last week to talk to some university students.
The trouble was, the letter was made public before Redford's office was even made aware of the invitation. That was misstep number one.
The meeting itself lasted just 15 minutes, and both leaders stuck to positions that pandered to their own provincial voters. Clark reiterated her five "conditions" for backing the pipeline while Redford again insisted Alberta was not giving up any oil sand royalties to B.C.
Both women described the meeting as "frosty" and it was immediately apparent it was also a pointless get-together, which struck no one as a surprise. No one expected either premier to climb down from their Enbridge perch and as a result, the whole episode came off looking like a pointless charade and political manoeuvre that went nowhere.
In many cases, a B.C. premier can gain some political traction by appearing to "stick up" for B.C.'s interests over those of other governments who appear to be threatening them. Certainly, in this case, Alberta and Enbridge appear to be ready to reap the benefits of that pipeline while B.C. is stuck praying there are no environmental catastrophes that flow from the pipe, either on land or along the coastline.
But this misadventure just ended up looking like amateur hour, and while there will be some who insist the premier did the right thing by reminding Redford that the pipeline was not going to be built unless she did more to accommodate B.C.'s concerns, I suspect they will be in the minority.
Clark first clashed with Redford on this issue a few months ago, and I thought at that time it might translate into a boost in support for her among the voters. But a series of polls since then showed that didn't happen, so there's not much reason to think the response to the latest offensive against Alberta will be much different.
B.C. FERRIES FIX NO EASY MATTER
There was the usual gnashing of teeth that greeted the news B.C. Ferries will increase fares by 12 per cent over the next three years. Dire warnings that the ferry system has hit the "tipping point" may well be true, and hopefully it results in a real debate on what to do with a system that carries millions of passengers a year.
But I bet most ferry riders don't have a clue how to fix the problem. There are some basic underlying issues here, the most notable of which are rising fuel costs (which B.C. Ferries has no control over) and the cost that comes with replacing an aging (and eventually unsafe) fleet.
Throw in the fact many ferry routes lose money and taxpayers have to increasingly cover the shortfall and it is clear there's no easy answer. But I remind people that, already, B.C. taxpayers are forking over close to $200 million a year to B.C. Ferries as a subsidy.
Put another way, it means we will be paying B.C. Ferries $2 billion - that's right, "billion" - over the next 10 years, and fares will still increase and routes will continue to lose money. To illustrate the magnitude of the problem, a 25 per cent reduction in fares would require a $120 million increase in the annual subsidy (unless fuel costs dramatically decline, an unlikely scenario).
The NDP says if it will form government, it will simply launch a "review" of B.C. Ferries to figure out what to do. That will merely put off the day of reckoning, because there are only three options on the table: reduce sailings, raise fares, or increase the taxpayer subsidy, or do a combination of two or three or these.
Everything else (cutting down on executive pay or the unionized work force, or getting rid of some frills) is mere window dressing. The NDP government in the 1990s ran aground with the ill-fated fast ferry scheme, and I suspect the New Democrats will find if they gain power next spring that the ferry system remains a political hot potato that is liable to burn them once again.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca
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