Can anything stop Adrian Dix from becoming the next premier of British Columbia?
The election campaign kicks off in a few days but all indications are that it remains the New Democrats’ to lose.
Polls give the B.C. New Democrats a lead of between 17 and 20 points over Premier Christy Clark’s Liberals. The NDP leads in every region of the province and Dix beats Clark on every important issue voters will consider when they head to the polls on May 14.
The Liberals have been in power since 2001, but have never fully recovered from the debacle over the HST that was instituted by Gordon Campbell and repealed by Clark after its defeat in a province-wide referendum. After 12 years in power, voters in B.C. appear ready for a change.
Campaigns matter, of course. The New Democrats have governed the province before and memories of their time in power are still fresh in the minds of many British Columbians. When they were last booted from office, the NDP was decimated and reduced to only two seats in the legislature.
While it is possible that some sort of gaffe or scandal could derail the NDP campaign over the next four weeks, it may take something catastrophic to prevent the party from winning.
Clark is simply not getting through to voters, as a recent poll tied her for last place among nine premiers in approval. The B.C. Liberals have been trailing the NDP in the polls for more than a year and have shown little sign of a rebound, with misstep after misstep preventing them from building momentum.
Clark’s Liberals hoped to pin Dix down this week on his refusal to debate the premier one-on-one, but the NDP leader is in the better position. Including the leaders of the other two parties — the B.C. Conservatives and the Greens — is only democratic and fair, he says. It is also greatly to his advantage.
When the Liberals were at their least popular, it seemed like the Conservatives under former MP John Cummins would replace them as the main vehicle of the right. Yet, inner turmoil torpedoed Conservative hopes in the fall.
Nevertheless, the party remains the choice of 10 per cent of British Columbians, with most of those votes coming from the right-of-centre B.C. Liberal Party. Cummins is unlikely to surpass the Liberals in the polls, but every vote he pulls away from Clark is one that she cannot use to defeat the NDP.
Having Jane Sterk of the Greens at the debate is not as advantageous for Dix, but it will hardly hurt him. Those centrist Liberals who are tired of Clark but do not see themselves in Cummins’ Conservative Party may move over to the Greens, particularly in an election that the NDP is expected to easily win anyway. A strong performance by Sterk could pull a few New Democrats over to her side, but that is unlikely to put much of a dent in Dix’s lead (though it could elect the first Green MLA).
While the proposed one-on-one showdown would have only been in addition to an all-leaders debate, giving Clark a platform as the only alternative to Dix would have fit right into the Liberals’ likely campaign message. The embattled party seem to have no issue they can beat the NDP on, so being the only viable means of preventing an NDP government is their last, desperate hope for re-election. And that means demonization of Dix and his New Democrats.
It could be an ugly campaign.
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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