In real life, people often link predictability to dullness. “You’re so predictable,” we might snipe. “Why don’t you surprise me?”
But in leadership, predictability is a strong suit. Erratic, flip-flopping leaders breach the trust of taxpayers and should cause all of us concern, regardless of political stripe.
British Columbians saw this first-hand when Gordon Campbell brought in the Harmonized Sales Tax. Campbell and the B.C. Liberals had ruled out an HST during the 2009 election. We know how that turned out.
Manitobans are watching the same movie right now. Before the last election, NDP Premier Greg Selinger said, flat-out, that he wouldn’t raise the Provincial Sales Tax. “Ridiculous idea that we’re going to raise the sales tax,” Selinger spat. “It’s total nonsense. Everybody knows that.”
Two years later, he announced an increase from 7 to 8 per cent; a flip-flop rightfully causing a firestorm of controversy in Manitoba.
Voters want to know where their potential leaders stand before they have to walk into a polling station and put a tick next to a party’s name. While it’s impossible for anyone to fully anticipate and articulate every possible challenge and scenario ahead of a four-year term in office, taxpayers want a predictable pattern set out.
How would a premier deal with plunging resource revenues? What would happen if a crime wave or a natural disaster struck? What would the premier do if unemployment jumped or a Crown Corporation malfunctioned? Taxpayers need to see a predictable pattern of leadership to know.
NDP leader Adrian Dix knows the cornerstone issue for many voters in this campaign is trust. “We will say what we’re going to do, and we will say how we will pay for it,” he said in the televised leaders’ debate April 29.
That’s what makes two recent Dix announcements so concerning; he is shifting long-held positions seemingly on a whim. During the spring budget debate, Dix and his NDP team criticized the sale of government assets. “It’s important that we not do something as foolhardy as sell the long-term interests of the province out for the short-term interests of the governing party,” he said at the time.
That comment would have led most taxpayers to predict that Dix opposed asset sales. No wonder his announcement last week that he would like to sell off B.C. Place Stadium came as such a shock. Daryl Walker of the B.C. Government Employees Union was stunned by Dix’s plan. “I guess the fact that they’re simply looking at it, and that there will be an opportunity to have input into it gives us a little more solace, but certainly we’re concerned about the rights of our members,” Walker said.
Dix is right to change his tune on this one: if B.C. Place was sold, taxpayers would be far better off; we don’t pay taxes in order to be in the stadium business (or liquor or car insurance or a few other things for that matter). Still, it’s a quick jump away from his longstanding philosophy.
The second flip-flop was just as unpredictable. After months of saying he wouldn’t make any decisions on the Kinder Morgan pipeline until they filed an application, he essentially ruled it out on Earth Day.
“I think as a matter of principle, you should actually see what the application is before you address it,” he said on April 11. On April 22, he all but killed it.
Political leaders should be able to change their mind as circumstances change, but nothing had changed about asset sales or Kinder Morgan. Is this lack of predictability a harbinger that British Columbians are about to elect another Greg Selinger?
With a double-digit lead in the polls, Dix has a clear path to the premier’s office. That seems an easy prediction, unlike his actions of the past few weeks.
Jordan Bateman is executive director of the CanadianTaxpayers’ Federation.