Friday, June 29, 2007

Polls show election Liberals to lose

We've crossed the divide, more than halfway to the next provincial election on May 12, 2009.
It doesn't seem that long since the last vote in 2005. The Liberals lost their stranglehold on the legislature, but still won a solid majority. Premier Gordon Campbell seemed to take the lesson to heart. The Liberals have been more moderate since, and that's translated into better poll standings. Good enough, in fact, that there's been some sniping at NDP leader Carole James. Partly, that's because some New Democrats live for internal battles. Partly it's based on the dubious argument that James hasn't been tough enough on the government.
But mostly, it's because of the polls, which have shown the NDP well behind the Liberals and making no progress through the last two years. There's a little bit of good news for New Democrats in the latest Ipsos Reid poll. The NDP was up four points from an April poll, to 36 per cent of decided voters.
But the Liberals, while down by the same amount, had the support of 45 per cent of decided voters. That's basically the same support they had in the 2005 election, good enough for 46 of 79 seats. And why not? The economy, through most of the province, is strong. The benefits haven't flowed equally to all British Columbians, but still this is a good time for a lot of people.
And the Liberal government has mostly avoided doing things that people don't like, something that couldn't be said of their first term. There's not much an opposition can do to win support from a competent, error-free government in good times.
But that doesn't mean the 2009 election is already decided. I referred to "error-free" government. That's tough to manage. The Ipsos poll that found the gap narrowing between Liberals and NDP also asked about peoples' responses to the 30-per-cent pay raise and generous pension plan that MLAs awarded themselves. Half those surveyed said their opinion of Gordon Campbell and the Liberals had worsened because of the rich deal; only 26 per cent thought worse of the NDP. James' decision to vote against the raise, donate the money to charities and take the pension seemed to work. Count the whole deal an error.
The pay raise was particularly outrageous. But it's easy for governments to make mistakes, and after a time even the little ones can start to pile up. Like bungling the supervision of lotteries or protection of workers in farm fields or forests. A lot can go wrong for any party in power.
But that doesn't necessarily mean the opposition can start deciding how to pass out the cabinet offices. It's not enough for the governing party to mess up. Voters have to be convinced that opposition could do better. (Unless, of course, the party in power messes up so totally - like the Clark NDP government - that voters would choose anyone other than the old gang.) A lot can go wrong for the Liberals. The Basi-Virk corruption trial, with allegations of political dirty tricks, is hanging over their heads. The health authorities have proved a bad idea and public concern about care problems is mounting. (Though the conversation on health might allow a fresh start.) The children and families ministry appears to be drifting again, raising the risk of new scandals. And government gets blamed for everything from the street problems plaguing cities to forest industry problems. And then there's the areas where the government has raised expectations without delivering - climate change, health reform, progress for First Nations. People are waiting for action that matches the promises. The Liberals have been adroit since 2005. But there are a lot of things that can go wrong.
And that's the NDP's challenge. It won't be enough to crab about the Liberals, the usual opposition role. They have to convince voters that they're capable of doing a better job - competent, with a plan. Which mostly falls to James. The New Democrats have some strong MLAs to carry the load - Mike Farnworth is the law-and-order guy, Adrian Dix in health, Bob Simpson in forestry.
But ultimately, the next election is the Liberals to lose. Unless they mess up and James convinces the public her party can do better, Campbell will be front and centre at the 2010 Olympics.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

so how does this translate into seats across the province? Outside the Lower Mainland, the NDP are running neck and neck with the Liberals around the province. As David Schreck notes they are ten points ahead on the Island. I wonder if Murray Coell and Ida Chong are paying attention?

So write off Liberal ridings like the North Shore, the Okanagan and the Fraser Valley. The Liberals win by huge majorities in those ridings. So what? its not depth that counts but width. At least in first-past-the-post electoral systems.

Hmmmm, so what are the opportunities to gerrymander? oops I mean electoral reform . . .