With the election campaign now just a little more than 12 weeks away, every day becomes precious to both major parties as they march towards the showdown.
And because the B.C. Liberals are the ones fighting to climb out of a big hole, any day that isn't doing precisely that becomes a lost one, and the available days for recovery are slowly running out.
So things like the needless controversy by the B.C. Liberals to not re-appoint John Doyle as the province's auditor general become an even bigger problem for them, as the affair has used up valuable time in the news cycle, and there aren't too many news cycles left before the campaign.
Mistakes and controversies are much more critical for both sides with each passing day because there is less and less time to rectify things and move the public's mind on to something else.
Given the B.C. Liberals' uncanny ability to cause self-inflicted wounds (the latest being MLA John Slater quitting the caucus to sit as an independent after the party went behind his back, looking for another candidate to challenge his nomination), the odds are good more will occur over the next few weeks, thus making that boulder they're trying to push up that hill seem even bigger.
The Doyle matter also raises question about who, exactly, is running the show on the government side. Again, with so little time left to the campaign kickoff, you'd think the B.C. Liberals would realize the need for a cohesive, strategic approach in governing. In the Doyle affair, the premier's office insisted she gave no direction to her members on the committee weighing Doyle's future, which seems strange given the obvious political downside flowing from such a decision. That suggests the backbenchers who sit on the committee overseeing the appointment have the unchecked power to plunge their side into controversy practically on the eve of an election, hardly proof a cohesive central strategy actually exists.
More shoals undoubtedly lie ahead for the B.C. Liberals, not the least of which is the February budget, which will be a tough sell to a sceptical public, still smarting from the dishonest budget numbers carried into the last election campaign by the B.C. Liberals.
That budget will be introduced just two months from the beginning of the campaign, and may become yet another example of a brushfire the B.C. Liberals will have little time to extinguish.
As we draw closer to the cam-aign, about the only sign of some kind of strategy coming from government are those relentless TV and radio ads, which brag that B.C. stands alone almost in the entire world when it comes to having a strong economy.
This ad campaign's message is essentially the B.C. Liberals' central message in the upcoming campaign. Twinned to it, however, is another one: the NDP can't be trusted to form government, and party leader Adrian Dix is the most untrustworthy one of them all.
And so with each passing day, look for signs of nervousness coming from the NDP camp. Dix is popular (or at least more popular than Clark), yet he is also relatively unknown and therefore not defined in the public mind.
In fact, Dix's image and public opinion about him may be the single biggest variable in the months ahead. The public's negative feelings about the B.C. Liberals and Clark have been entrenched for more than a year, while Dix is fertile ground.
So expect a relentlessly negative and personal campaign by the B.C. Liberals (and, perhaps more importantly, their allies in the corporate community) in the weeks ahead, one aimed at Dix's head.
The campaign may well smack of desperation, which wouldn't be surprising given the gap between the two parties and the fact time is running out fast.
The challenge for the NDP may well be to simply hang on and hope the next few months pass quickly, with more hiccups and missteps on their opponents' than on their own side. So far Dix has shown discipline, and his challenge will be to keep his own team in check (which I and others have pointed out many times before).
Every week that passes where the focus is on B.C. Liberals mistakes is another reason for a sigh of relief on the NDP side. Every week that sees the B.C.
Liberals trouble-free may well increasingly shift the spotlight on to Dix and his party. So get out your calendars and start crossing off the days. The official campaign starts in mid-April, but the real campaign has already begun.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global B.C.
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