After bringing down a budget that was supposed to prove Premier Christy Clark’s conservative credentials, the B.C. Liberal leader still trails her NDP rivals by a wide margin.
Two polls taken in the wake of the February budget indicate that the B.C. New Democrats under leader Adrian Dix have the support of well over 40 per cent of British Columbians. The opposition party scored 42 per cent in a Forum poll taken immediately after the budget and 45 per cent in a Justason Market Intelligence survey taken over two weeks starting Feb. 24.
Where Clark’s Liberals stand is more difficult to determine. Forum , which has tended to return lower Liberal results than other firms, has the party at only 24 per cent, down two points from their poll taken at the end of January and only two points ahead of the B.C. Conservatives. Justason MI, on the other hand, has the Liberals at a more respectable 31 per cent, more than double the Conservative result.
Increasingly, the fate of Clark’s government depends on whether they can keep the Conservative Party in the single digits. With a split of the vote on the right, the New Democrats can easily romp to victory – either of these polls would give the NDP at least two-thirds of the seats in the B.C. legislature.
The Liberals did not have to worry about the Conservatives when voters last went to the polls in 2009, when they took just two per cent of the vote. Clark’s party is a coalition of British Columbia’s centre and right-wing, but its identity is becoming murkier. Clark herself comes from the federal Liberal camp, though she has been trying to prove her true-blue tendencies of late. Nevertheless, 20 per cent of B.C. Liberal voters think the party is closer to the federal Liberals, while 39 per cent think it is closer to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, according to Forum.
Placing the B.C. Liberals on the political spectrum is in the eye of the beholder: more supporters of the B.C. Conservatives think the governing party is closer to the federal Liberals than the federal Tories, while a large majority of B.C. NDP voters identify the Christy Clark's party with the Harper Conservatives.
In addition to convincing British Columbia’s right-wing voters she is a conservative herself, Clark needs to improve her personal approval ratings before she can hope for an election win. Only 31 per cent of British Columbians approve of her performance, according to the Forum poll, compared to 56 per cent who disapprove. John Cummins, leader of the B.C. Conservatives, also has a net negative rating at 41 per cent disapproval to only 27 per cent approval.
Adrian Dix, however, has a far superior rating. He has the approval of 43 per cent of British Columbians, with only 34 per cent disapproving. Combine that with the 14 to 18 point lead for his party in the poll and an NDP majority government is looking very likely.
There is still more than a year to go before the next vote is held in British Columbia. The Liberals are ramping up their attacks on Dix and fourteen months is an eon in politics, particularly in a province as volatile as British Columbia. Nevertheless, playing catch-up after 12 years of Liberal government may prove impossible for the premier.
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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