Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Poll bad for Liberals, worse for democracy

Poll bad for Liberals, worse for democracy
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - The Iatest poll showing the NDP ahead of the Liberals is depressing, no matter which party you support today.
The Ipsos-Reid poll results should be most gloomy for Gordon Campbell and the Liberals. His party, which won the support of almost 60 per cent of B.C. voters only three years ago, has fallen to second place. If an election were held today, 42 per cent of voters would support the NDP, and only 39 per cent the Liberals. Only one-third of voters approve of Campbell's performance on the job.
It's a dazzling collapse, and so far the Liberals seem to be blind to its significance. If you were in charge of an organization, and 60 per cent of the people it served thought you were doing a poor job, you would likely acknowledge their view and change your actions and direction in response to their concerns. That isn't happening.
But that's not what is so depressing.
The truly grim news is that about half the people prepared to vote Liberal, or New Democrat, aren't actually making the choice because they think the party they back will do a good job. Their support is based on their dislike for the other options available.
OK, we're cynical these days. We even have a right to our suspicion of the ability of any party to deliver competent, even-handed government that responds to our concerns.
But these poll results should scare us. Some 1.2 million people will likely vote NDP or LIberal next year. And almost 600,000 of them won't actually have confidence in the party they are supporting. They will just find them less appalling than the other guys. (The Liberals have slightly higher positive support, but not enough to matter.)
Grumpy people have always voted that way, muttering bleakly about all politicians being the same as they marked their ballot. And more people have been simply opting out, staying home on election day.
But half the people who plan to vote now say they will be holding their nose and expecting a government that doesn't represent them, and won't do a good job.
That's dangerous.
Practically, it leads to the kind of big swings we're seeing now. B.C. needs a government that can win continued support from a majority of voters and offer a program that unfolds over a decade. Instead we get governments that are considered disappointments by two-thirds of voters before the first year is out. (That's no exaggeration - take the people who voted for other parties, add the people who voted for the winner just because they were least offensive, and you have a majority of voters already expecting bad things from the new government.)
It's partly our problem, I suppose. We don't acknowledge the difficulty of governing, and we cling too desperately to the idea that some new government can make everything right.
But political parties - Liberals and New Democrats - have to demonstrate that they recognize a responsibility to deliver the kind of government that voters want. When 60 per cent of voters think you are doing a bad job, you have an obligation to respond. That doesn't mean that politicians need abandon principle and flutter in the political winds. They do need to acknowledge an obligation to respect the views of the public.
Give Campbell credit. He's taken the biggest step of any political leader in North America by setting up a Citizens' Assembly to reform the way we elect politicians, with their recommendation to go to a referendum at the same time as the next election in May 2005. The assembly is now entering the most important part of its work, and deserves our support and attention.
But that's not enough given the current political crisis.
The political parties - all of them - have to accept responsibility for the growing and dangerous gap between government and the governed.
Footnote: The poll results are bad news for Lower Mainland MLAs. The Liberals' lead has vanished in the Greater Vancouver area with the two parties tied at 41-per-cent support. The wild card may be Chris Delaney and the Unity Party, at six per cent in the region. Unity growth could be fatal to Liberal candidates in close battles.

No comments: