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The B.C. Liberals had defended the levy for years, wrapping it in a “tolling policy” that was as arbitrary as it was infuriating to folks on both sides of the river.

But a few days before the official start of the 2017 campaign, the governing Liberals surrendered to the complaints. The payout would henceforth be capped at $500 a year for regular users of the crossings.

The New Democrats had been crafting a cap of their own. But when the Liberals came out with theirs first, something extraordinary happened.

“We’re going to get rid of the tolls,” declared NDP campaign director Bob Dewar to his team at party headquarters. “Find out how to do it. But we’re doing it.” 

Dewar was a backroom pro recruited by NDP Leader John Horgan from the party apparatus in Manitoba.He’d helped craft the B.C. campaign on the promise of making life more affordable for British Columbians. No way was the B.C. NDP going to lose the opening round of the campaign on his watch.

In a matter of hours, Horgan would announce the toll-free B.C. promise to a cheering throng in Surrey, upstaging the Liberals in the exchange of promises.

“And so one of the most important moments in the entire election campaign for B.C. New Democrats was actually a policy made up on the fly in a spur-of the-moment reaction to their Liberal political opponents,” say authors Rob Shaw and Richard Zussman in a Matter of Confidence, their drama-laden account of that year’s battle for B.C.

“It established the fact that the NDP was serious about being bold in the election campaign,” the book says. “The quick-thinking Dewar had also sent a message to veteran New Democrats, many of whom were used to the slow, plodding, cumbersome platform development within the party.”

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