The domino effect: Misleading TV ads won’t stop the B.C. Liberals from falling

Photo by Peter Fiskerstrand, Flickr

Photo by Peter Fiskerstrand, Flickr

With less than 100 days to go until the B.C. election, the governing Liberals are throwing millions of public dollars into a TV advertising blitz.

The ads, ostensibly promoting the BC Jobs Plan, promote the idea that Christy Clark’s government has kept this province a bastion of prosperity and stability in a world beset by economic crisis. The most prominent TV spot features a line of dominoes falling across a map of the world, symbolic of the economic woes from Greece to the United States. When the black dominoes reach B.C., however, a tall and strong line of white dominoes stop them in their tracks.

B.C.’s economy, the voiceover tells us, is “standing strong” because of low taxes, controlled government spending and investment in skills training.

The ads are crude and misleading. With Clark trailing significantly in the polls, they are a sign of desperation.

This PR campaign harks back to the B.C. exceptionalism promoted by the Gordon Campbell Best Place on Earth ads – only stripped of any attempt to enlist the natural beauty of the province in the Liberal cause. The Late Liberal era in B.C. politics is more explicit about its single-minded focus on digging up the province and exporting raw materials, so it makes sense they’ve dropped the Tourism B.C.-esque visuals.

These Liberals are straight up: it’s about money, money, money. But even on economics alone, I think these ads will fail. Here’s a few reasons why.

First, the obvious: most sentient viewers will rightfully be offended or at least unimpressed by multi-million dollar TV ads boasting of prudent government spending.

BC NDP leader Adrian Dix. Photo by Erin Loxam, Wikimedia Commons

BC NDP leader Adrian Dix. Photo by Erin Loxam, Wikimedia Commons

The opposition NDP is all over it, promising to bring in new legislation limiting government advertising as thinly veiled partisan self-promotion. Adrian Dix recently described the NDP’s pledge to the Vancouver Sun: “We intend to introduce legislation to ensure that every ad run by government – meaning television, radio, print, online – is reviewed by the auditor general to make sure it meets that standard of government advertising… These rules … would satisfy and demonstrate our seriousness in banning partisan advertising with public funds.”

The second reason these ads will fail is that they will ring false for many in rural B.C., especially people in mill towns which have been completely abandoned to their fate. By appealing to the smug superiority of the well-heeled in Vancouver and Victoria, they risk alienating the so-called “heartland” of B.C., those whose economic dominoes have fallen.

On a similar note, the ads won’t do much for everyone in Metro Vancouver living paycheque to paycheque in one of the most absurdly expensive urban centres on the planet. Their domino could fall any given month, if they can’t make the rent or if their greedy landlord decides to ‘renovict’ them.

Sure, there’s no foreclosure epidemic like the one in the United States that the government ads alludes to, but hundreds of thousands in this province live in constant danger of being unable to make the rent or the mortgage. Personal debt loads are dangerously high.

Finally, all this is connected to the real economic menace facing B.C.: inequality. The stats don’t lie, and can’t be covered up by glitzy ads. BC Stats released a report last year entitled Mind the Gap, showing that inequality has been growing for the past 15 years; as of 2009, in fact, B.C. ranked last of all provinces, with the largest gap between the top 20 per cent and the bottom 20 per cent of income earners.

This gap will only be narrowed by serious changes to levels of taxation and government spending priorities. For decades now, the rich and powerful have been knocking over the living standards of the majority.

We can help stop these dominoes from falling by voting out the B.C. Liberals. But that’s only the first move in the game. Social assistance rates need to be drastically increased and taxes on the rich and corporations need to be restored to previous levels. The details on these needed measures will be discussed in future columns here on the Left Bank.