BEYOND THE HEADLINES: History repeats itself

What is old is new again in British Columbia politics.

What is old is new again in British Columbia politics.

The B.C. Conservatives didn’t waste any time Tuesday firing off a news release about apparent fifth quarter results showing people are abandoning the province.

“High taxes and high unemployment are driving people to other provinces,” said John Cummins, Conservative leader.

“B.C. families pay the highest taxes west of Quebec, and B.C. was the only province in the west to see its unemployment rise in May. It’s time for the premier to admit her jobs plan has been a failure and to start focusing on real action and not photo-ops.”

All of this rhetoric will sound familiar to anyone who was hanging around B.C. in the 1990s.

Back then, though, it was the then-Liberal opposition taking aim at an NDP government.

“More people are leaving B.C. than are coming here, and we read about it all the time,” said Sindi Hawkins, the late Kelowna MLA, while speaking in the Legislature July 13, 1998.

“In fact, I picked up my copy of the Province on Sunday. What was the headline? “Why More B.C. Families Are Fleeing to Alberta.” The members opposite might want to stick their heads in the sand and say, “No, no, it’s not happening,” but there were interviews in the paper of families and people saying exactly why they were leaving.”

In its 2001 election platform, the Liberals claimed they could reverse the trend of people packing their bags for Alberta and other points.

“Our plan is aimed at kick-starting the economy in every sector, to create a new era of prosperity in B.C. We want British Columbians to stay at home and to come back to B.C. to build a bright future for themselves, their families and their communities.”

Eleven years after coming to power, the Liberals are the ones in the hot seat.

“Our province used to be an attractive destination for people looking for well-paying jobs and a better life,” said Cummins in his Conservative release.

“But that’s changed under the Clark Liberals. And it’s a major reason why British Columbians want a change in their government.”

Statistics may show there is an outward flow of people from B.C. but they don’t specifically indicate the reasons for the shift. Obviously some people have gone looking for work, and we all know people who have done that, particularly to those areas fuelled by the oil and gas sector. But some of those people referenced in the statistics may be moving closer to loved ones or pursuing a fresh start for non-financial reasons.

The bottom line, though, is turn about has become fair play.

The very same arguments the Liberals tossed at a floundering NDP are now being thrown right back at them as they slide into the basement of public popularity.

Christy Clark, who was a harsh NDP critic while in opposition, finds herself in an uncomfortable position. She’s being saddled with the same baggage that helped bring down former NDP premiers Glen Clark and Ujjal Dosanjh.

Now the next provincial election isn’t until May 2013 and anything could happen before then. Policy changes and economic recovery could help the Liberals close the gap with Adrian Dix’s NDP.

But if history is repeating itself, political rhetoric will continue to escalate and it may become difficult to turn the ship away from the iceberg.

—Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star