Poll first warning of big trouble for Campbell
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - The first anniversary poll results should scare Gordon Campbell.
Oh, the Liberals still have the support of enough voters to win re-election handily.
But the Ipsos-Reid poll results show the Liberals are seen as mean, uncaring, reckless and untrustworthy by many voters. Give voters who feel that way an option, and they'll bolt.
The poll, taken in early May, found 62 per cent of British Columbians were disappointed with the Liberals' performance, with an even higher percentage feeling let down by Campbell. About half British Columbians think the province and its economy are in worse shape now than it was when the Liberals were elected. Only 20 per cent believe things have improved.
It gets worse. About 70 per cent say health care has deteriorated under the Liberals; 60 per cent say education has declined.
And despite things like the softwood lumber dispute, about 60 per cent blame the Liberals for the worsening situation.
Fixing the economy and protecting education and health were the cornerstones of the Campbell campaign. And they're getting failing grades on all three.
That should worry the Liberals plenty, especially as almost half the voters believe health care will be in even worse shape in three years. It will be tough to convince those people to stick it out through the tough times, especially if things haven't turned around in less than three years, when the next election campaign begins.
But that's not the really bad news.
Two out of three British Columbians think "the BC Liberals don't care about the people who are most affected by the changes they make" and the same number agree the government is making decisions without "really thinking them through."
Those are damaging findings. Voters will tolerate mistakes. And they'll accept short-term sacrifice for long-term gain, if they believe that the pain is shared fairly and truly necessary.
But they won't accept a government that doesn't care about their suffering, or that they can't trust.
Why do people feel that way?
Here's Campbell, in an anniversary interview with the Vancouver Sun, in his second try at answering a simple question - what would he say to someone whose life has gotten tougher under the Liberals, who has been laid off or lost benefits or is paying more for prescriptions?
"I say that we're doing our best to make sure we create an opportunity in the future for them that they can build on," Campbell offered.
What ever happened to sorry? What ever happened to thanking those who are losing out for making the sacrifice?
The poll also found almost half those surveyed said their trust in the Liberals has faded since the election. That's not surprising, given the gap between what the Liberals promised and what they have delivered. Few job losses, they promised, before eliminating one-third of government jobs. Contracts would be honoured, they said, before ripping them up. Health and education would be protected, they said, before approving funding that has forced cuts.
The LIberals have been quick to dismiss criticism, blaming poor communication or slagging opponents as "special interests."
But health care wait times have grown. School classes will be larger and support for students reduced. The economy is worse now than it was a year ago, with unemployment up and B.C. sliding lower in the economic growth forecasts. And the $4.4-billion deficit is the largest in history.
If an election were held today, the Liberals would get 45 per cent of the votes. That's enough for a big majority, especially as the opposition support is split between the Greens and the NDP. And about 60 per cent of voters still think the harsh actions now will pay off in the future.
If the Liberals want to hold that support, they need to look closely at the poll results, and acknowledge both the reality behind peoples' perceptions and the real pain being caused by some of their changes.
Paul Willcocks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
So-so grades for Liberals' first year
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - So how are they doing, one year after the election?
The Liberals unleashed a flurry of activity in the first months after their win, ticking through their 90-day commitments and coming up with shockers like the massive, and it has to be said, reckless tax cut.
The problem in trying to assess just how well this government is doing is that there are few quick fixes in this world. Changing a health care system, for example, doesn't happen overnight, and the benefits come much more slowly than the pain.
But British Columbians are entitled to assess the government's performance in much the same way a wise shareholder would judge management. The new team deserves deserve time. But they also have to be held to account for performance so far.
On the economic front, that performance hasn't been good. The Liberals ran on a promise to restore prosperity. They introduced about $2 billion worth of tax cuts, promising they would stimulate the economy.
But since the Liberals were elected the unemployment rate has climbed almost two points, to 8.7 per cent. About 8,000 fewer people are working.
The broader economic outlook doesn't look much better. The most recent economic forecast, from the Bank of Montreal, predicts B.C.'s growth will fall from sixth in Canada to last this year. It will only climb to ninth next year.
And the deficit has climbed to a record $4.4 billion, thanks in large part to the tax cuts' effects on government revenue.
Shareholders would be getting mighty nervous about that kind of performance, even given the Sept. 11 and softwood shocks.
The standard management response is that it takes time to fix the mess left by the last guys, the economy has been rough and that things have to get worse before they get better.
Should we buy it? Probably. The Liberals have slowly been making the province more appealing to investors. The tax cuts will help, although not nearly as much a Finance Minister Gary Collins claimed. They have worked to reduce the barriers to investment for mining, aquaculture and energy companies, and the employment law changes introduced this week should also please business.But those moves have been undercut by the government's inability to develop an effective softwood lumber strategy.
The challenge for Premier Gordon Campbell is to turn the changes into more jobs and investment. So far that has not happened.
What about other areas?
The Liberals' promised new era in health care looks like the old era, only worse. When the Liberals were elected, you waited 17. 5 weeks for a hip replacement. Now you wait 18.9. When the Liberals were elected, doctors had engaged in sporadic regional protests. Now they're taking job action across the province. Communities are losing local access to health care.
Despite the problems, give them higher marks here. The Liberals have at least tackled the job of reforming the system.
The story in education is the same. The Liberals, by choking off the money supply, have brought larger classes, school closures and cuts to support for students - hardly what they promised. But again they have started a process that may lead to a more effective, affordable school system
There is a theme here. Governments making big changes are asking citizens to make a leap of faith, trusting that the changes will pay off and the government is competent and honourable.
And that's a problem for the Liberals. They promised improved education, and brought major cuts. They promised no significant civil service cuts, and then set cut one-third of jobs. They promised to respect contracts, and then ripped them up. It's not a record that inspires trust.
The bottom line?
Much has gone wrong, some things have gone right, interim results are poor.
But the direction, despite some major concerns, is both right and consistent with the election campaign.
Paul Willcocks can be reached at email@example.com