British Columbia hopefuls miss issues

The campaign is off and running in a mean-spirited struggle for control of British Columbia, this most western of Canadian provinces, a forested wilderness where Canada's more mainline liberals and conservatives take a back seat to provincial parties and politics.

The campaign is also a struggle for political survival for two of Canada's most maverick political figures - and perhaps even for their parties. The May 5 vote pits Premier William Bennett and his Social Credit government against challenger David Barrett and his New Democratic Party.

They are virtually household names in British Columbia - Premier Bennett's father, W. A. C. Bennett, ran the province for 20 years until Mr. Barrett unseated him in 1972. He, in turn, lost to the younger Bennett in 1975 and again in 1979.

Bennett is a firm free-enterpriser whose Social Credit Party, even though it is a coalition in considerable disarray, would please many a right-wing Republican in the United States. He is the only premier in Canada who has never been to university.

Mr. Barrett, the country's first Jewish premier, today is the longest-reigning opposition leader in Canada. He is an out-and-out socialist although he has softened his stand somewhat in recent years. During his three-year tenure beginning in 1972, the province became the most affluent area of the world ever to embrace socialism.

So far neither candidate has come to grips with the gut issues bothering British Columbians - principally, the rising unemployment that has left one-third of all the forest workers in this forested state out of work.

These are lean times, and not just in forestry. At Dot's grocery store here in Ucluelet, business is off. In neighboring Port Albion, Long Beach, and Tofino , storekeepers report their sales dropped 40 percent in 1982.

So far in the campaign, the candidates seem more intent on trading verbal blows than tackling the major issues - unemployment and recession. And here on Vancouver Island the mood is ho-hum.

''It is the same old guff,'' reads a letter to the editor in the Vancouver Sun. Others reflect the same attitude.

Yet both Premier Bennett and Mr. Barrett know the election is a battle for personal survival. A loss for Mr. Bennett and his Social Credit Party might spell the disintegration of the party in this province, just like the party's disappearance in neighboring Alberta a decade ago.

The Social Credit Party now holds power with scarcely more than a 2 percent advantage in the popular vote. The loss of three Social Credit seats in the 57 -seat legislature means a change of government.

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