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US view in 2005: Campbell uncharismatic, James unknown

American diplomats at the U.S. consulate in Vancovuer predicted personalities would play a major factor in the B.C. election of May 17, 2005.

"Campbell remains an unpopular figure in British Columbia, especially among women voters," they wrote in December 2004. "His lack of charisma is bound to steer some voters to the NDP camp. Nevertheless, James too remains an unknown quantity."

The comments of various analysts are contained in State Department records released to The Tyee in reply to a request under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

The diplomats noted a September 2004 poll that showed a 64 per cent disapproval rating of Campbell's performance, and mused, "Perceptions that the party has emphasized the interests of big business at the expense of labour, the underprivileged, and the environment seem to be driving these negative ratings."

They wrote the election would pit a resurgent union-backed NDP against the incumbent B.C. Liberals who had a strong economic record but an unpopular leader.

One of the Americans' advisors stated that "the support base for both parties is very 'hard,' meaning that last minute switching of votes by significant numbers of voters remains highly improbable." He correctly predicted a Liberal win, yet also an NDP resurgence for 25 to 50 seats.

On E-Day 2005, the Liberals dropped from 77 to 46 seats, while the NDP won 33 seats, up from just two in 2001.

"According to some analysts, the resurgence of the NDP is attributable to key factors including: [three lines blanked out], and significant cuts in social services that have alienated large segments of the electorate. However, the most significant reason of all may be simply that 2001 was a 'one-off' election in which even many NDP sympathizers wanted to rid the province of 10 years of NDP mismanagement. Having taught the NDP a lesson, many voters have reverted to their natural leanings."

In private discussions, the Americans said, NDP leaders admitted that they never believed the party would be able to regain power so soon after their 2001 electoral debacle.

The 2005 B.C. election, for the first time, was held according to a fixed election date.

"Some B.C. Liberal operatives wished the Premier had not set the date for the election so far in advance because he is thought to have given up the 'surprise' factor that normally keeps the opposition off balance in a parliamentary system."

After the election, the diplomats reflected that, "Ultimately, both parties seem to have done well in persuading their faithful to go to the polls on voting day."

They also wondered why the Liberals' seat count had dropped: "Many analysts attribute the weaker performance of the incumbent B.C. Liberals to the party's cutting of social services, particularly the closure of health care facilities and schools."

They noted that political observers attributed this resurgence to leader Carol James' "strong showing" in the campaign, including her "victory" over Premier Campbell in the televised leaders debate. "The NDP successfully reached out to its core base of labour, teachers, social workers, and less affluent segments of society by highlighting the 'havoc' caused by BC Liberal social cuts. The NDP also tried to moderate its position, reaching out to businesses and promising good fiscal policy."

The Green Party received only nine percent of the popular vote in 2005 and no seats despite "its charismatic leader Adrianne Carr, who registered the strongest performance in the leaders debate... In part, this decline in support could be the result of NDP leader James' pitch that a vote for the Green Party was in effect a 'lost vote,' which would help the B.C. Liberal Party."

A decade earlier, the Americans also noted Campbell's uncharismatic style in the 1996 election campaign, calling then-NDP leader Glen Clark a "masterful" campaigner, and Campbell as ideologically "very conservative," with too "passive" and "tentative" a campaigning style. "The Liberals campaign is now 'flat' because too much emphasis is being given to numbers rather than ideas."

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