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Trail Mix: Could BC's carbon tax become the ballot question?

As the 2009 provincial election begins, let us consider the collective wisdom of three deans of the Canwest press corps—while we still can.

In today’s column, The Vancouver Sun's Vaughn Palmer observes that while this election has effectively been underway for a year, no one has identified a single question that will drive voter behaviour at the polls. Politicos call this “the ballot box question.”

Palmer writes:

Without a single galvanizing provincial issue, the campaign could come down to a riding-by-riding fight, again favouring the Opposition ability to push the buttons of local discontent.

The quintessential Canwest columnist calculates:

If the "take back B.C." campaign clicks, the New Democrats should be able to close the gap in the polls. And if they get close in the popular vote, they can win.

The NDP vote is spread more evenly around the province. The top 10 seats in terms of population lean Liberal. The bottom 10 seats in terms of population lean NDP. Thus the New Democrats can lose the popular vote and still win a majority of the seats, as happened in 1996.

And Palmer, who has covered eight B.C. premiers, warns:

I see a potential for a repeat of the 2005 scenario: An overconfident governing party that could be headed for a surprise on election day.

Except this time the Liberals don't have a 30-seat margin to absorb the fallout from their miscalculations.

At The Province, a column by Michael Smyth suggests that the NDP are “betting that carbon-tax-fury” will become the ballot box question, particularly among rural voters who tend to drive longer distances:

If they can just rip the scab off that healed-over wound — a few million bucks' worth of negative TV attack ads ought to do the trick — they just might turn that festering anger into an upset win on May 12.

Bounding into bulldog mode, Smyth asserts:

Make no mistake: By showcasing her promise to immediately axe the tax, James is playing the strongest card in her hand.

The Liberals secretly know they're vulnerable, but believe their big lead in the polls and voter confidence in Campbell's economic record will win the day.

As is frequently the case, an unattributed allegation is the juiciest part of Smyth’s column:

It's true many voters may have gotten over their initial carbon-tax anger, but the NDP intends to remind them that the tax is scheduled to go up every year, jumping to to 7.24 cents a litre by 2012.

In the NDP war room, they've been kicking around an idea for a TV commercial where a Liberal candidate knocks on a voter's door and says: "We know you love the carbon tax so much, we're promising to triple it!"

And over at the Victoria Times-Colonist, the wry Les Leyne pursues the opposite argument, suggesting that the NDP’s stance against the Carbon Tax could hurt them on May 12:

Of NDP leader Carole James’ carefully scripted reply to criticism of the carbon tax, Leyne writes:

James saying the party and the environmentalists have "agreed to disagree" is just as disingenuous as her party's climate-change platform itself. That policy panders to people's preoccupation with gas prices in order to score political support, all the while burying the fact that they would raise fuel prices too, only surreptitiously.

Leyne adds:

James may think she's smoothed things over by isolating the breach to one specific issue. But she made cutting the tax a mainstay of her economic platform. And that's made a serious opponent out of a very committed bunch of people with a track record going back decades of successfully swinging public opinion in their favour.

It will be a sorry day for B.C. politics if veteran journalists such as Palmer, Smyth and Leyne wind up tossed out with the bathwater of debt that has swamped Canwest.

Monte Paulsen reports for The

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