Thursday, May 11, 2006

Liberals move to centre and rise in polls

VICTORIA -  It's time to start thinking about a B.C. Liberal dynasty.
The Mustel poll released this week confirms the success of the Campbell government's effort to move towards the centre. And it suggests that the Liberals have the chance to become a multi-term government, like their Socred predecessors.
It's just one poll, with the usual margin of error, but it has Liberals smiling. The poll showed the Campbell party has the support of 54 per cent of decided voters, up from 45 per cent in November. NDP support fell to 37 per cent from 41 per cent.
It's a great showing for the Liberals. The party only had the support of 46 per cent of voters in last May's election. In fact they haven't done as well in a Mustel poll since the fall of 2001, when the post-election honeymoon ended badly.
The poll doesn't reflect poorly on the New Democrats. Their support is down from the 42 per cent they attracted in the election, but within the range of results from the last few years. Green support is at five per cent, the lowest in a Mustel poll in five years.
The NDP hasn't made any big mistakes. The New Democrats may not have been quite as effective in Question Periond this session, but they've pressed the government effectively on emergency room problems. They’re still getting good coverage in regional newspapers on a range of local issues.
But the poll - and remember, it's just one snapshot - suggests that it's hard for even an effective opposition to gain ground if the government doesn't give people a reason to be angry at them.
After four years in which the Liberals didn't seem to care what voters thought about them,  they've got smarter.
Sure, the Liberals still refuse to admit obvious problems for far too long. They denied problems in the children and families ministry for years, looking increasingly ridiculous. But finally they acknowledged reality and appointed Ted Hughes to investigate. They now have a window to show that they learned from their blunders.
The biggest evidence of the changed approach change came in public sector labour relations. The Liberals stomped on their employees for much of the first term, ripping up contracts, conducting mass firings and rolling back wages for the lowest-paid employees.
The approach changed after the teachers’ strike. The Liberals were shocked to find that the public solidly supported the teachers even after the strike was declared illegal.
So when contract talks started they reacted with a fair wage mandate, the clever idea of a signing bonus linked to early agreements and and a determination to reach negotiated deals.
It worked. And I'd wager that the poll results would be much different if the government was at war with health care support staff right now.
The Liberals have learned some lessons. This week they pulled the plug on three controversial bills in the face of NDP opposition and public concern. They had defended a new law that would have allowed government to keep details of public-private partnerships secret, even in the face of sharp criticism from Information Commissioner David Loukidelis.
But when the pressure mounted, they bailed instead of stubbornly pressing on and alienating voters.
It's been a big change for the Liberals. And it looks like it's working.
Given a strong economy, a tolerable leader, no disasters and a government that doesn't poke people in the eye, a centrist party can stay in power for a long time in B.C. The Socreds went 20 years, were out of power for three, and back for 16 years.
Gordon Campbell has become a more tolerable leader. His approval rating, at 46 per cent, is higher than he has ever received in a  Mustel poll. Carole James received the same approval rating.
The Liberals looked much like a potential two-term government through their first four years.
They’ve changed. And so have their chances of a longer run in government.
Footnote: Mustel tracks British Columbians’ views on top issues affecting them. The latest numbers show unsurprisingly that health is the main issue. But the number of people identifying it as their main concern has fallen to 40 per cent, the lowest in 2 1/2 years, despite the current ER problems.


Anonymous said...

Coming as it did after getting a number of collective agreements settled, no wonder they picked up some points.Some of the HEU folks are almost back up to the same pay level they were before Gordon tore up their contracts.

One wonders how it will read now that the hospital emergency room doctors are getting vocal and one emergency room Creston are offering to shut down. The minister of course claims he knew nothing about it even though Corky Evans had told the Health authorities three weeks ago and every elected in the area were at the same meeting.
I had cause to be in an Emergency room about a month ago. Stood in the corner for 5 hours. The MD.tried to get rid of me, but I wouldn't go without some pain killers as I couldn't sit or lay down. Was he overworked? I don't know, but I wasn't bleeding so I guess a few hours in pain don't quite cut it with emergency room staff.
Now we hear that the fellow who killed a woman volunteer in the Campbell River hospital had been there the day before and had been turned away. Is this the government we want to represent us? I think not.

Anonymous said...

Pain matters to ER staff, but they've got to prioritize (i.e. triage) the cases to handle those who can't stand to wait for 5 hours. It's really unfair and unrealistic to generalize a bad experience in one emergency department to an overall government's competence. For example, I ended up at an ER a few months ago with chest pains. I was admitted within 5 minutes and got excellent treatment. Does this mean that the government is a paragon of efficiency and deserves a landslide re-election?
To understand some of the recent problems with the health system, consider it as an efficiency issue. You could size the whole health care system so that it could handle any peak load of patients at any time, but 95% of the time, you'd be paying a tremendous amount for unused capacity. Obviously, nobody builds a health care system like that. Instead, you size things so they can handle day-to-day loads with an occasional crunch when you do get a peak. It looks like the system is currently too lean, but it's not easy to fix. There's a worldwide shortage of nurses, and the pre-existing problem that smaller communities can't compete with the bigger centres in attracting the people who are available.