The Liberal strategy was clear, said Doug Bing, currently a Pitt Meadows councillor and now a new MLA who just stole the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows riding from the NDP in Tuesday’s election.
The strategy, for all to see, was to focus on the economy and build on the perceived Liberal advantage in managing that when compared to the New Democratic Party.
So when his NDP opponent talked about the same topic, Bing was surprised, given other issues such as the failed HST, health care, or education or the B.C. Rail scandal, on which Liberals could have been held to account.
At all candidates’ meetings, “I would always mention the economy,” Bing said.
“My opponent would start to talk about the economy. It just brought a smile to my face – because that was our issue.
“I think our strategy has been pretty obvious, pretty clearly laid out and that was to focus on the economy.”
The three-term Pitt Meadows councillor and dentist started his campaign late because of the slow process of getting his candidacy confirmed by the Liberal party, which was re-elected with five more seats on Tuesday.
And with many volunteers already helping fellow Liberal Marc Dalton in Maple Ridge-Mission, Bing was not only short of time, but of people. A core group of about 30 led by Coun. Cheryl Ashlie got things rolling out of the old Sleep Shop store on Lougheed Highway and 222nd Street.
With time and manpower short, Bing wasn’t able to pound the pavement and knock on doors as much as Dalton did in Maple Ridge-Mission, on the east side of 224th Street.
Dalton does that better than anyone, Bing added, saying Dalton knocked on more doors in 2009 than any other Liberal candidate.
“He was the top door-knocker of all the candidates.
“He has a real strength for that.”
Instead, Bing decided to attend meetings, where he could talk to more people at once, and used social media, although he was unsure of the effects in winning votes.
Bing said he’d get lots of e-mails from supporters and people who he’d met while going door to door and found good response to his Facebook postings.
He got most comments when he posted photos and sometimes would get 1,000 hits. “Some of those things kind of amazed me.”
While polls showed the New Democrats as cruising to victory, Bing said he before the election he didn’t believe them.
Recent examples in Alberta and Ontario show that unpopular governments (Progressive Conservative and Liberal, respectively) can survive an election, he said in March.
A turning point in the campaign was the provincial TV debate involving the leaders from the Conservatives, Greens, Liberals and New Democrats.
That live event showed the contrast between a nervous, twitching NDP leader Adrian Dix and a confident Christy Clark.
“That seemed to be a huge shift. A lot of people changed their opinion about Christy right there. After the debate, our numbers, they just continued to get better.”
One thing that struck him was people focusing on the leaders. They would complain about them as if they knew them. It almost became a personality cult thing, he added.
During the campaign, the Liberals had to run hard and take chances, while the NDP was complacent, Bing said. The Liberals “worked much harder because our backs were up against the wall.”
Locally, “everything we tried, worked.”
With the results of B.C.’s 40th election now in the books and subject to endless analysis about a premier and party that came back against all odds, Bing is in wait-and-see mode.
He doubts he’ll be asked to step aside from his hard-won victory so Premier Clark can run and win a seat in the legislature after being defeated in Vancouver-Point Grey.
And he’s not sure when or if he’ll resign his seat on Pitt Meadows council and has to talk to Mayor Deb Walters about that.
He has to get a constituency office opened and staff hired and wants to repeat what his Liberal predecessor Ken Stewart used to do as MLA – have quarterly meetings with Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge councils.
“The main thing for an MLA is to be an advocate for the community.”
NDP candidate Elizabeth Rosenau and her volunteers put all their energies into the provincial contest.
“I think our ground game was amazing.”
Many people worked hard to get her elected. “We tried to stay positive.”
The party didn’t lower itself to attacking and smearing the candidates.
But several developments made it an uphill battle. The Liberal attack ads stuck and had an effect and kept voters from hearing the NDP’s message on the economy, she said.
“There are many things that we could have said, but they would have lowered the discourse to a place we didn’t want to go. We were trying to resist going down that road. That resistance may have cost us the election.”
Rosenau said the New Democrats not only had to combat Liberal attack ads, but also faced a media that became increasingly hostile as the election drew near.
“We were trying to talk about our plan going forward and they were talking about the 1990s and the memo. It was fear-mongering – and it worked.”
The NDP announced its economic plan on April 11.
“It was laid out. It was a fully costed platform … we rolled it out and it just did not get out. What we were trying to say was blocked by a whole bunch of other noise.”
The wildly inaccurate polls that forecast an NDP landslide created complacency among the NDP troops, she added.
“I do think that polls are garbage.”
And the media seemed to gather together against her party in editorials and columns, all decrying Dix and supporting the Liberals. She noted that Liberal leader Christy Clark received two front-page photos in The News while her opponent Doug Bing got another front page picture in a story on a possible government apology to Chinese immigrants, shortly before the election.
Clark visited the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows area three times during or shortly before the election, doing mainstreeting and offering the media several photo opportunities.
Dix, though, visited Maple Ridge only once, during a brief stop on a Sunday evening at a local pub.
She doesn’t know why Dix ignored both ridings, which have been close competitions.
“Maybe he thought that Mike Bocking and I had a better chance than we really did.”
Both candidates faced a common enemy at voters’ doorsteps: disinterest and cynicism.
In the last days of the campaign, people weren’t thinking of the Liberal failure on the HST or the B.C. Rail scandal or taxes or education.
Instead, she encountered an “incredible ferociousness” against the leaders from residents, many of whom characterized both leaders as thieves and liars.
“It was about the leaders for most people. It was really, really about the leaders.”
Many thought politicians were just running to benefit themselves and that their vote made no difference anyways.
“Trying to give people hope that their voice would make a difference was hugely challenging.”
For Rosenau, who spent a lot of her own money seeking the nomination and running her campaign, the public’s view that all politicians were in it for themselves was hurtful.
“It’s personally, very painful.”