After weeks of campaigning and a close debate, the eight days that remain before British Columbians cast their ballot will decide the election – after months of the outcome being considered all but a foregone conclusion.
The polls suggest that, after trailing the B.C. New Democrats by double-digits for the last year, the B.C. Liberals have suddenly made the race a lot closer. Though Adrian Dix is still the favourite to win, the margin has narrowed enough to make the last few days of the campaign decisive.
Christy Clark’s strategy of going on the attack against the NDP has apparently paid some dividends, but whether it can carry the Liberals through to election day is debatable. The New Democrats have fallen to about the same level of support the party had in the last two provincial elections, and convincing those British Columbians who have voted for the NDP in the past that the party is too much of a risk to install as the future government may prove difficult.
Drawing support away from the NDP is absolutely essential if Clark is to pull off the comeback, as there is a significant pool of voters who have been lost to the Conservatives. Clark’s disapproval rating is still very high, and it limits her ability to attract new support. She may have done all that she can do to convince British Columbians that a vote for the NDP is a risky proposition, leaving it up to Dix to stumble in this last stage of the campaign.
As the New Democrats do need to take some chances as the tone of the campaign changes, the odds of a last minute fumble have risen. So far, Dix has focused on a more positive, risk-free frontrunner’s campaign designed, not to galvanize support, but rather to give no reason for the party’s opponents to hold their nose and vote for the tired, 12-year-old Liberal government. Now that the race has tightened, Dix will need to go after Clark harder in order to remind those voters that had turned away from the Liberals why they did so after the HST debacle, and give Green voters a reason to cast their ballot for a change in government, instead of a change in opposition.
It seems that Dix has already gone on this route, criticizing Clark sharply on the weekend over the B.C. Liberals’ policy on increased oil tanker traffic off the coast of British Columbia. If the gambit works, and pulls enough Greens over to the NDP, it could make the difference in a few close ridings.
The task of Jane Sterk and John Cummins has become much more difficult as the race becomes competitive. Both the Greens and the Conservatives had a real opportunity to win a handful of seats in an NDP landslide, but now that the make-up of the government is in question that protest vote may waver. Sterk needs to push the message that Dix is no different than Clark, and Cummins will need to convince voters that Dix is not the kind of threat that makes a vote for Clark worth it. It makes for a lot of negative campaigning in the final days.
Nevertheless, the election remains Adrian Dix’s to lose. Though the lead the NDP has in the polls has gotten smaller, it remains significant. Dix still has better personal numbers than Clark, but the B.C. Liberal leader is undoubtedly the better campaigner. Does Christy Clark have enough momentum to carry her party to re-election on May 14, or has she already pulled back as much of the vote as she is going to get? Can Dix keep his party ahead of the pack? They have eight days to find out.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers twice weekly, mostly Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.
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