Two events in the past week provide a neat glimpse at where our two major provincial parties appear to be headed.
At one, NDP leader Adrian Dix attracted hundreds of people who probably have never voted for his party before. At the other, Premier Christy Clark spoke to hundreds of supporters whose blind loyalties mask the serious problems on the horizon.
Dix was speaking at a fundraising dinner that was targeted at the corporate sector. He went looking for support from the business community, and he got it, as almost 900 people shelled out $375 to hear him speak (the audience also included a hefty presence from organized labour).
Clark was speaking at her party's annual convention. The two-day affair was essentially a pep rally designed to whip up some enthusiasm in the ranks of a party that hasn't had much good news lately, and to that end it ranked as some kind of success.
But Clark and the B.C. Liberals have yet to demonstrate an ability to connect (and be supported by) people who are not particularly politically active. It is one thing to win the support of the political elite - those members of riding association executives and the like - but it's quite another to reach out to the much larger pool of voters who determine who holds power in this province.
In the last election, slightly more than 751,000 people voted for the B.C. Liberals. I seriously doubt that if an election were held today that anywhere near that number would vote the same way. Clark got a few standing ovations from 500 or so supporters at her party's convention, but there's no evidence many more people are clapping for her or her party these days.
Dix, on the other hand, appears to be taking his party to new levels of support. The fact he attracted such a large crowd from a sector not known for its support for his party is telling.
The business community appears to have gone from fearing Dix, to being at the very least curious about him and his party and perhaps even getting to the point of being supportive.
This developing situation reminds me of former NDP leader Mike Harcourt's reach-out to the business community prior to the 1991 election. At that time, the corporate sector was getting its head around the idea that the NDP would likely be forming the next government, and so realized it had better try to know what it was in for.
The same scenario appears to be occurring now. Clark may have enjoyed a good party convention, but unless there is some evidence the general public is warming up to her and her party, she may find herself shunted to the sidelines by the very people who have supported her party for so long.
In announcing the consultation process on the future of the BC Ferries system, the government released some fascinating financial data about what that system costs on a route-by-route basis.
For example, B.C. taxpayers subsidize every vehicle travelling to the Gulf Islands to the tune of $120-$130 per round trip. On the Tsawwassen-Duke Point run, which loses $30 million a year, the subsidy is $100 per round trip.
Just two of 25 routes make money, while all the others lose between $2 million and $30 million a year.
Of course, all transportation and transit systems re`quire a public subsidy. We all pay for the construction and upkeep of those systems across the province, no matter where we live.
The question for BC Ferries is not whether or not we should subsidize the system. The question is, how large should that subsidy be?
B.C. taxpayers will contribute more than $1.5 billion to BC Ferries over the next decade. Is that enough, or too much?
I doubt whether the consultation process will reveal any startling new insights over how the system should be run, but I suspect it will eventually lead to some significant reductions in ferry services in some areas.
Just to take one example: the 6 a.m. daily sailing from Nanaimo to Gabriola Island is usually filled to less than 10-per-cent capacity, yet we all subsidize each vehicle on that route more than $13 per trip. I suspect sailings like that one - and there are many with similar numbers - are about to end.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global B.C.