Tuesday’s announcement of British Columbia’s provincial budget may be Christy Clark’s last chance to turn the tide that could sweep her out of office next year.
After the debacle over the HST drummed Gordon Campbell out of the premiership, Finance Minister and Deputy Premier Kevin Falcon will have to hope that the province’s plan to finally replace the hated HST with the old PST next April, just in time for the May 2013 election, will allow voters to come back to the B.C. Liberal fold.
Three polling firms were in the field between January 23 and February 5 in British Columbia and their results all indicate that the B.C. New Democrats hold a significant 12 to 14 point lead over the governing Liberals.
But with between 39 and 44 per cent support, Adrian Dix’s NDP have not made any major gains over the 42.2 per cent of the vote the party took under the leadership of Carole James in 2009. Instead, Dix’s lead is thanks to a split on the right.
The B.C. Liberals have fallen significantly from the 45.8 per cent of the vote that elected them in the last election. The three polls put them somewhere between 26 and 32 per cent support, the drop almost exclusively due to the emergence of the B.C. Conservatives. They have polled between 16 and 22 per cent in the province after taking only 2.1 per cent of the vote in 2009.
A coalition of centrist and conservative voters, the B.C. Liberals have monopolized the right-of-centre vote in British Columbia since 2001. The last time another right-wing party ate up a chunk of the electorate, in 1996 when the B.C. Reform Party took almost 10 per cent of the vote, the New Democrats won the most seats while finishing second in the popular vote. The potential for the B.C. NDP to exploit the division to their right again to form the next government is extraordinarily strong while John Cummins’ Conservatives are polling in the double-digits.
Deputy Premier Falcon Falcon himself has recognized this, telling reporters Monday that a “handful” of the people who worked with him during his campaign for the party’s leadership have crossed over to the Conservatives.
This should not come as any great surprise, as Christy Clark is identified as being more on the left of the B.C. Liberals’ political spectrum. But the premier has been trying to emphasize her conservative roots, hiring former Tory staffers and spending time with the Prime Minister.
Her problems are not new, however. The B.C. Liberals have not led in any poll since May 2011. Before then, the B.C. Conservatives were a fringe party with less than 10 per cent support. It did not take long for right-wing supporters of the Liberals to throw their sympathy behind Cummins after Clark took on the Liberal leadership at the end of February 2011.
But all is not doom and gloom for the Clark. Her personal numbers generally hold up well against Dix’s, with British Columbians holding mixed feelings on who is the best person for the top job. But while Clark has generally split or negative approval ratings, Dix’s numbers are positive across the board. Accordingly, the B.C. Liberals have started to attack Dix as a big spender, while the NDP leader has responded that his party will release a “modest” and “fully costed” platform next year before the May 2013 election.
Tuesday's budget marks the first salvo in the 15-month campaign and Clark needs a hit.