Tuesday’s election is between Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell and NDP Leader Carole James, but the guy named Roberto is stealing the show in B.C. these days.
That’s Roberto Luongo (aka Bobby Lou, aka Louie), who’s doing his best to lead the long-suffering Canucks to the promised land of June hockey — and a shot at the Holy Grail of Canadian sport.
A day after a televised leader’s debate that was watched by a fraction of the number of people who tune in to each Canucks-Blackhawks NHL playoff game, Campbell questioned if people were even paying attention to the event.
The media consensus is that James out-debated Campbell, but there seems to be a broader general sense that he hasn’t done a bad job of managing B.C.
The Liberals have invested heavily in infrastructure and road projects that were long overdue. The economy is in reasonable shape, given the global economic spasms of the past several months.
But there are enough wild cards — and hot-button issues in key swing ridings — to make things interesting on Tuesday.
One of them is forestry, formerly the engine of B.C.’s economy and still a key industry.
There’s a lot of pain being felt in towns that have seen mill closures and disappearing jobs due to the mountain pine beetle and a prolonged slump in lumber prices.
The NDP is hammering away at the issue.
James held a recent press conference outside an auction that is selling hundreds of logging trucks and other equipment from bankrupt forestry companies.
Campbell is touring those areas too, but his “I feel your pain” routine falls well short of former U.S. president Bill Clinton’s.
Crime is another hot button. The B.C. government seemed to be blindsided by the gang crime wave.
It was slow both to acknowledge the depth of the problem and react to building public outrage. Since then, it’s been mostly just tough talk, rather than substantive action such as unifying the patchwork of municipal/RCMP forces into a regional police force that could take on gangs more effectively.
So the outcome is still anyone’s guess.
After all, this is the province where, in 1996, the party that came second in the popular vote formed the government. The losing leader? Gordon Campbell, whose Liberals scored 42 per cent of the vote and 33 seats, compared with the NDP’s 39 per cent of the vote and 39 seats.
Campbell’s revenge came in 2001, when the Liberals won 77 of 79 seats in the legislature with 58 per cent of the vote. But the 1996 experience turned him into a champion of electoral reform.
A referendum question on Tuesday gives British Columbians the chance to trade first-past-the-post for the single transferable ballot, a weighted system that allows a voter to rank options, giving more power to smaller parties.
The Green party, which has enjoyed double-digit support since 2001 but currently has no hope of electing anyone, would win seats under the new system.
Regardless of the outcome, thoughts of politics will be forgotten – at least for a while – if Bobby Lou comes through against the Blackhawks and beyond.
James Kwantes is a former Advocate editor who lives in Surrey, B.C. He can be reached at email@example.com