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December 29, 2012

2013 #bcpoli Calendar

It is hard to say what the economy will be like by the end of 2013, but one thing is certain, 2013 will be another fascinating year for those who follow BC politics.

On Friday, January 4th, Statistics Canada will release the first of what will be five job reports prior to the May vote. The last two of 2012 showed job losses with BC not performing as claimed in government ads.

January and February should see all parties finalize their nominations. We will find out whether the Greens and Conservatives are able to run anywhere close to full slates of 85 candidates. In 2009 the Conservatives ran only 24; the Greens ran 85 but this time they say they won't run against the sitting independents. They've been running the equivalent of Twitter want-ads with appeals for anyone who is interested in being a candidate to fill out a form and apply. In 2009, 25 of the candidates for the Greens ran "campaigns" with total expenditures of $100 or less. Nevertheless, in those token campaigns the Greens won an average of 6.1% of the vote, compared to an average of 9.2% in ridings where they spent a little more money. Neither fringe party is likely to win a seat in 2013, but their participation might affect the outcome in some ridings as well as influence voter turnout.

As of December 29th neither the Liberals nor the NDP have lists of nominated candidates on their websites. Both parties will probably launch redesigned campaign websites sometime early in the year. For now, the best source for names of nominated candidates appears to be BC2013.com. If that site is correct, the Liberals have yet to nominate candidates in 37 ridings, and the NDP in 16. The NDP got an early start on nominations as a result of uncertainty over a possible snap election call. BC2013.com shows 25 candidates nominated so far for the Greens and only 6 for the Conservatives.

The legislature will sit on February 12th for a Throne Speech, the first time it will have sat since May 31, 2012. The budget is expected to be tabled on February 19th. BC's Election Act sets spending limits for political parties and candidates in two periods: the 28 day official campaign period and a 60 day official pre-election period. May 14th is voting day, so the pre-election period when spending limits apply starts February 15, an important four days before the budget. BC has been subjected to saturation government advertising which appears to be for no reason other than using tax dollars for a Liberal pre-election campaign. If that campaign continues past February 15, or if the government attempts to advertise its budget, you can expect complaints to be filed with Elections BC. During the HST referendum campaign, the government spent $780,000 on a pamphlet that ended up being shredded after Elections BC ruled that it could not participate in the campaign because it missed the date for registering as an advertiser. That ruling sets a precedent that could see Elections BC rule on whether government advertising after February 15th is a violation of the Election Act. A responsible government might simply announce that there will be no government advertising between February 15th and May 14th, but don't be surprised if the matter lands in the lap of the Chief Electoral Officer.

One purpose for legislative sittings is the opportunity for the opposition to hold the government to account. Oppositions usually want the legislature to sit as long as possible, while governments would just as soon avoid the place. Before the 2009 election, the legislature adjourned on March 31. Donít be surprised if it adjourns even earlier before the 2013 election.

On April 1st, just weeks before the vote, BC will finally see the end of the HST. It would be amazing if the transition back to the PST goes without a few hiccups. That will remind voters of the primary issue that contributed to the gap in trust and credibility suffered by the Liberals. It will also remind politicians of the importance of not holding surprises off until after the vote. It is certain that the 2013 election campaign will see many reminders of the 2009 Liberal distortion on the size of the deficit and on their no HST promise.

As Alberta demonstrated, election campaigns matter. In 2009, for their central campaign, the Liberals spent $5.2 million in the combined 60 pre-campaign and 28 day campaign periods; the NDP spent $3.6 million. At the local level total spending in all 85 riding campaigns over the 88 days was a further $6.2 million for the Liberals, $3.9 million for the NDP. Parties have spending limits of $1.1 million in the 60 day pre-election period, and $4.4 million during the 28 day election period. Candidates have limits of $70,000 in each period. There's not very much room for the Liberals to spend more than they did in 2009, but watch for the highest spending campaign in BC history.

A courageous pundit looking ahead to 2013 might predict the election outcome. With the lesson from Alberta fresh in mind, I won't go there, but some have. Based on a compilation of nine polls, Roundabout Communications, a Kamloops consulting firm, predicted 18 seats for the Liberals, 64 for the NDP and 3 for independents. There will be many more seat predictions before the votes are counted on May 14th.

The winner of the election will have to call the legislature to complete the unfinished budget work, some would say to table a realistic budget since the one tabled in February is unlikely to be given much credibility. After the 2009 election the legislature was called August 25th, and after the 2005 election September 12th. If the government changes, a sitting will probably be as late as the Interim Supply Bill allows since an enormous amount of transition work will have to be done.

Should 2013 see the fourth NDP government in BC's history, it will probably not be until early winter before its friends start criticizing it for not eradicating poverty and cleaning up every mess it inherits in its first 100 days. NDP MLAs will welcome that challenge.