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No drama on B.C. campaign trail

As the B.C. election heads into its second week, the campaigns of the two main political combatants have been slow to generate any kind of excitement. For Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell, that's okay. For the New Democratic Party's Carole James, it is not.

The last thing Ms. James wants is a snooze fest, which this campaign is showing early signs of becoming. Behind eight points in the polls heading into the election, she desperately needs an issue -- or a big mistake by the enemy -- to wake the public from its slumber. Something that will get people listening to what she is saying on issues such as health care and privatization.

So far, the NDP hasn't hit the Liberals with much that is new. In other words, it's the same old same old, which the public instinctively tunes out.

Sometimes, in the absence of a hot campaign issue, a fiery orator can rattle people out of their indifference. Former Social Credit leader Bill Vander Zalm had that magic with a crowd. And to some extent, so did deposed NDP leader Glen Clark. Ms. James, a newcomer to the provincial stage, isn't a terrible public speaker, nor does she possess the kind of eloquence that compels people to turn the sound up on the television when she's talking.

Ms. James has positioned herself as a fiscally responsible moderate opposed to the kind of nasty, personal attack ads the NDP has used successfully in past campaigns. While many applaud her for not stooping to those kinds of tactics, others in her party believe that's exactly what's needed to get people thinking twice about Mr. Campbell.

At the very least, attack ads get people talking about the election, which is what the NDP needs. Anything that adds some zest to a so-far dull, plodding campaign would likely be good for Ms. James and her party.

Mr. Campbell had an uneventful first week on the hustings, which is just the way he and his advisers want it. With such a solid lead, the goal is to make the battle as simple and controversy-free as possible. It is the rope-a-dope campaign: Mr. Campbell happily enduring a million constant jabs from his opponents while never opening himself up to the kind of power shot that could floor him.

While Ms. James has her foot pressed firmly on the accelerator, her days packed with events from morning until night, Mr. Campbell has set his campaign on cruise control. There are generally a few events each day, but nothing that would force the Liberal Leader to break a sweat. Keeping the number of campaign appearances to a minimum lessens the odds of your opponent landing a lucky punch.

Mr. Campbell has been around far too long to make that kind of rookie mistake.

Yesterday, it was more of the same. The Liberal Leader unveiled his party's policy platform -- essentially a rehash of the most recent Throne Speech and provincial budget. Anyone who thought the Liberals would introduce something controversial at this point was kidding himself.

With polls indicating most British Columbians believe they are better off today than they were four years ago, Mr. Campbell is expected to hammer away at that theme at campaign stop after campaign stop from now until voting day.

A vote for the Liberals is a vote for continued prosperity. A vote for the NDP is a vote for economic uncertainty.

Pretty simple.

The first and maybe only tricky hurdle that Mr. Campbell has in front of him is the televised leaders debate on May 3. But again, it's hard to imagine a relative neophyte like Ms. James delivering the kind of blow that could hurt a seasoned veteran like Mr. Campbell.

With their hands firmly on the prize, the Liberals will likely soon begin focusing on individual races of particular importance. Cabinet minister Graham Bruce, a favourite of Mr. Campbell's, is in real trouble in his Vancouver Island riding of Cowichan-Ladysmith. He'll likely get some extra help from his party.

And then there's Olympic wrestling champion Daniel Igali.

Mr. Igali is running in Surrey, the ever-burgeoning, mostly blue-collar city 45 minutes east of Vancouver. As the first of three star candidates the Liberals announced (the others being Mr. Justice Wally Oppal and former CBC chair Carol Taylor), Mr. Igali helped give the party some precampaign momentum. But Mr. Igali is in a dogfight in the riding of Surrey-Newton. He didn't put his pristine reputation on the line to lose, and the Liberals are going to have to do everything in their power to ensure that doesn't happen. It may be singular battles like these that focus Mr. Campbell's attention in the coming weeks.

It's not a strategy that's likely to generate a whole lot of campaign drama, but that's the last thing Gordon Campbell wants anyway.

gmason@globeandmail.ca

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