"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Monday, May 20, 2013

Christy Clark's secret weapon

Christy Clark: A woman's edge? (Photo by Terry O'Neill)
It's taken until this long weekend for some of the best post-BC-election analysis to emerge, but I'm wondering if there's still something missing.
First, though, Brian Hutchinson in Saturday's National Post and Michael Smyth in Sunday's Province have provided extremely interesting insights into how the Liberals' superior polling told them that their dual focus, on Adrian Dix's doubtful leadership abilities and the NDP's potentially harmful economic and environmental policies, was working.
Indeed, both writers report that chief pollster Dimitri Pantazopoulos told party leaders four days before the election that the BC Liberals were on track to win 48 seats; currently, their total stands at 50. Just a few hours ago, a piece by the Canadian Press's Dirk Meissner shows how oblivious the NDP were to their looming electoral catastrophe.
Apparently, the NDP's own polling data had them winning--and winning big. The party did not realize that Dix's campaign was falling flat on its face and that Dix's mid-campaign reversal, in which he announced his opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, was a big vote loser. (Smyth dubs Dix's announcement as the "Kinder surprise." Nice!)
I was pleasantly surprised when I heard, on election night, from a construction-industry acquaintance of mine that the shop steward at his operation had urged his fellow blue-collar union member not to vote for the NDP because their policies would kill economic growth in the province. This is something I've long believed, but had not appreciated the fact the message had gotten through to workers.
I have to think that some of this must be credited to Barbara Yaffe's tremendous mid-campaign Vancouver Sun column, "All green economy would bleed red,"  in which she itemized, in what the NDP must have considered excruciating detail, the many resource-related and other development projects the party opposed.
It's also emerging that voters didn't think Dix projected a leadership-type aura. Personally, I've seen him speak several times and was always impressed by his grasp of policy, the ease with which he can recall facts and figures, and the eloquent way he speaks.  However, he also comes across as rather goofy sometimes; this never bothered me, but it apparently bothered a great many voters, especially those who saw him during the campaign's lone televised debate, in which he was slouching and looked rather shabby.
And much has also been made about what a campaign-trail trooper Christy Clark was: about her charisma, her energy and her ability to connect with people. The lone time I saw her in person over the past month was at a late-in-the-campaign, early-morning stop at the office of Coquitlam-Maillardville B.C. Liberal candidate Steve Kim.
Clark was on message and on fire, taking time not only to rally the troops and deliver key election messages, but also to warmly greet some moms and school kids who showed up for the event. At the time, I wondered why the Liberals were bothering to deploy their leader in a riding that was "obviously" and "clearly" one they had no chance of winning. Ha! How wrong I was! (Actually, the end-of-month final count, in which absentee ballots will finally be counted, could reverse the outcome in Coquitlam-Maillardville. I'm predicting that Kim's lead over the NDP's Selina Robinson will, at the least, be cut. A full recount is likely.)
This last anecdote about Clark's ability to connect with people leads me to an observation about the BC Liberals' win that no one that I am aware of has yet to express, and that's that another factor in the victory might have been Clark's gender. It's not something I'm necessarily proposing myself, but it must be noted that recent political research in the U.S. shows that, essentially, voters are more likely to support a woman than a man.
The May edition of The Atlantic has an interesting item about this subject. Here are a few of the most pertinent sections:
"Evidence suggests that [anti-female] double standards may have once applied but don't any longer.... [Voters] tend to assume women are more trustworthy, less corruptible, and more in touch with everyday concerns... [Women] are harder to criticize than men. Sharp-edged attacks, particularly by male rivals, risk running afoul of the societal bias against, essentially, hitting a girl."
The latter declaration suggests that, even if the NDP had decided to launch attack ads against Clark, to counter the BC Liberals' attack ads against the NDP and Dix, those ads might very well have backfired.
And so, it may well be that the NDP was a "dead party walking" even as the campaign began.


  1. I lost interest in the BC Libs once Kevin Falcon lost the leadership race. However, I was later personally reminded that Christy Clark had something extra in charisma, which separates a good politician and even a Cabinet Minister, from a being elevated to lead a Party. Over the years, Christy and I were both present at public functions, and perhaps we last said a polite hello in 2005. So, when we accidently met again at an event in December 2012, I was impressed that she remembered me, as she turned on the charm during our private conversation.

    When we meet people, we forget most of what is said, but invariably we go away with a lasting impression. I was reminded again of my favourable impression of Christy, as the media cranked up the negatives when the Election Writ was dropped. I knew in my bones that the media were underestimating her ability to connect with people, if Christy met them in person. The more people came in contact with Christy, the more they became supporters.

    The stars aligned on election night and the variables fortuitously came together. The one extra, was the intangible charisma of Christy herself, which the NDP did not have. It is an intangible attribute that is most helpful when on a roll. Sadly, personal magic seldom lasts through the grind of governing.

    For now, we have a winner. Let us all hope that Christy Clark can put together a solid Cabinet that can govern well, and not too quickly allow the magic to evaporate.

  2. Some very good observations from Goode Munn. I was a Falcon supporter in the leadership race, too, and I had some reservations about Clark. Here's hoping she can deliver the solid, wealth-creating policies that she promised.