BRITISH COLUMBIA

John Cummins, BC Conservatives Gain At Premier Christy Clark's Expense

08/21/2012 09:15 EDT | Updated 08/21/2012 09:55 EDT
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If B.C. Premier Christy Clark is defeated in next spring’s provincial election – as looks increasingly likely – who will be responsible: Adrian Dix’s New Democrats or John Cummins’ Conservatives?

The polls are grim for the B.C. Liberal leader. Her party has not registered more than 29 per cent support since March, and it has not scored more than 40 per cent since May 2011. The New Democrats, meanwhile, have polled at between 45 and 50 per cent for the last five months and have not trailed in a poll for over a year.

It’s hard to imagine that Clark will be able to make a comeback after being behind by so much for so long.

But it’s difficult to credit Adrian Dix for the woes of the B.C. Liberals. When British Columbians were last called to vote in 2009, the New Democrats took 42 per cent of the vote and lost by four points. The gains that Dix has made are rather modest.

Instead, the B.C. Conservatives are the culprit. After taking little more than two per cent of the vote in 2009, when the party was not capable of running candidates in even a third of B.C.’s 85 ridings, the Conservatives have managed around 20 per cent support since the beginning of 2012. Much of that gain has come at the expense of the B.C. Liberals.

However, the Liberals do have a few advantages. They are an established party that has both money and an organization, something which the Conservatives cannot claim. This was demonstrated in part by the lower-than-expected performances of Conservative candidates in this year’s two byelections.

But it will not take much to sink the Liberal ship. They are running virtually neck-and-neck with the Conservatives and even if they do manage to turn things around, it will take more than a few voter swings to re-elect the Liberals.

The electoral math is simply horrid for Clark. Let us assume that she manages to whittle NDP support back down to the 42 per cent of the 2009 election, which would be a feat in and of itself considering the party’s strength in the polls. But if the Conservatives are able to take as little as five points away from the Liberals, applied uniformly throughout the province, the New Democrats would win a majority government of 45 seats.

If the Conservatives take 10 points, that majority increases to 49 seats. And if the Conservatives are able to hold on to the 20 per cent they currently have in the polls, Adrian Dix would likely be able to command the support of more than 70 MLAs.

Of course, the B.C. Conservatives cannot be blamed if the New Democrats win the next election. The unpopularity of the government has played a very large role in making Cummins’ party a real factor in B.C. politics.

Things may work out better for the Conservatives in the long term if the 2013 election turns out to be a repeat of the 1991 vote, where the right-of-centre vote split ousted the long-standing Social Credit government to the benefit of the NDP. After that election, Social Credit disintegrated and the Liberals emerged as the new standard-bearer of the right. Could politics in British Columbia re-align once again?

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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