Thursday, November 20, 2008

Local elections offer some good news for NDP

Municipal politics are their own world. But last weekend's election results raise interesting issues for both parties with six months left until the next provincial election.
The big news was Gregor Robertson's win to become mayor of Vancouver. A few months ago, Robertson was an NDP MLA, sitting across the red-carpeted legislature from Gordon Campbell.
Now he's the province's most prominent mayor, backed by a council with a definite NDP tilt. Geoff Meggs, one of the new Vancouver councillors, was Glen Clark's communications director for three years.
The NPA - the Liberal-aligned party in Vancouver - lost the mayor's office and captured only one council seat.
So now Campbell is facing Robertson again, this time as a mayor with an agenda that includes pressing the province for action on homelessness.
That doesn't necessarily mean conflict. Robertson is a pragmatic business owner. He knows working with the provincial and federal governments is more effective than fighting.
But where the former Vancouver council opted to hired Ken Dobell, Campbell's former deputy, to influence the government, Robertson will be more willing to turn up the heat publicly if necessary.
And the election came on the same weekend that Angus Reid Strategies released a poll showing the New Democrats ahead of the Liberals in Greater Vancouver. (That poll was challenged by an Ipsos-Reid survey that showed the Liberals with a nine-point lead provincially and a greater margin in the Lower Mainland.)
Even a couple of years ago, the Liberals could be more confident that they would start with a good base of public support if there was showdown between Robertson and Campbell. Now, that's not so sure.
But it's not just Vancouver. In a lot of communities, there seemed to be either an appetite for change, a slide to the centre-left or both.
I pause for a few disclaimers, like in those pharmaceutical ads when they warn that the drug, while great, might make your eyebrows fall out and cause frequent, unpredictable fainting.
For starters, municipal politics shouldn't really be burdened with left-right labels. Deciding whether to put in a sidewalk shouldn't be based on some ideology.
And across B.C., there were two constants. Voter turnout was dismal - 77 per cent of eligible voters didn't bother. And incumbents were overwhelmingly re-elected.
Still, there were signs that voters in many municipalities, large and small, were ready to back change.
Here in Victoria, new Mayor Dean Fortin was backed by a lot of NDP supporters; he replaces a mayor with Liberal ties who chose not to run. Prince George shifted at least slightly away from the Liberal side, Kelowna ended up with a couple of greenish councilors and Grand Forks has a mayor who was the B.C. Marijuana Party leader in the 2001 election.
None of these translate directly into NDP support. But they raise the prospect of more pressure from some municipal leaders on issues like homelessness and crime.
And they suggest some voters are ready to try a new direction.
Times Colonist columnist Les Leyne noted the results also suggest that voters are not as afraid of returning to the NDP, at least municipally, as the Liberals have hoped. (A position affirmed by the New Democrats' two byelection wins last month.)
The Liberals are still strong favorites to win the May election. Most polls have them with a reasonable lead and Campbell - although the surveys show a lot of negatives - outpolls NDP leader Carole James on managing the economy. That's likely to be a big issue.
But the municipal elections, like the Angus Reid poll results, were good news for the NDP. They picked up some potential allies in the important Lower Mainland and got at least a suggestion that some voters see a need for change.
The next six months - starting with the brief legislature sitting now under way - will be interesting.
Footnote: It should be time to declare a democratic crisis in municipal and school board elections. With a few exceptions, voter turnout was terrible and candidates - often in ridiculously large fields - had real difficulty in getting their positions and qualifications before the public. Elections B.C. should be charged with recommending ways to increase meaningful participation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How to get elected to council or as mayor

I ran into a Victoria council candidate as we launched our kayaks Saturday morning. He was going out fishing.
Which is healthy, but perhaps not the best use of election day morning, when some last-minute phone calls to supporters might help turnout.
Running municipal campaigns is tough, for a lot of reasons. Incumbents have a huge advantage, based mainly on name recognition.
Bernard von Schulmann offers a how-to guide on getting elected here that should be required reading for anyone thinking about entering a campaign next time around.
It's fine to run just to raise ideas, of course, but getting elected takes more work and planning.

Another poll, and the Liberals are on top

Angus Reid Strategies had the NDP five points ahead (see the post below); Ipsos Reid finds the Liberals up by nine with this poll.
Which will make for some interesting debates on polling methods and plenty of nervous types in both parties.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Campbell looking like a liability for Liberals

Fixed election dates make for a better democracy.
But some Liberals must be wishing Premier Gordon Campbell had been more interested in political advantage and a less in this democracy stuff. (All the more reason to give Campbell full credit for his commitment.)
If the election date hadn't been fixed for next May 12, four years after the last vote, the Liberals would have options. They could have called an election last spring, when the economy was strong. They could put off the election until May 2010, giving them time to rebuild support. Or to find a new leader.
The latest Angus Reid Strategies poll is not good news for Campbell.
The NDP is ahead of the Liberals by five points. It has the support of 44 per cent of decided voters; the Liberals 39 per cent; and the Greens 11 per cent.
The last Angus Reid poll found the parties effectively tied, with the NDP at 41 per cent and the Liberals at 38 per cent. The poll's margin of error is 3.5 points. Now, the gap has widened into statistical significance.
With six months until election day, that's bad news for the Liberals. The party in power often sags in the polls between elections, only to rebound.
But it's not good to be behind with months to go.
The Liberals have a significant problem. They have built their public presence around Gordon Campbell. He's front and centre for good news announcements. His priorities - like climate change, or help for First Nations - become the government's (at least for a while).
Now it appears Campbell might be dragging down his party.
The Angus Reid Strategies poll asked for people's judgments of Campbell and NDP leader Carole James.
The responses raised some fascinating questions about what will matter to votes in May.
Overall, about one-third of people thought James would be the best premier; one-third chose Campbell; and one-third were undecided.
The poll also measured momentum. In the last two months, Campbell fell sharply in respondents' estimation. But people were being over by James.
Here is where gets interesting. The poll also asked about attitudes toward the two party leaders.
Campbell was well ahead on ability to manage the economy, decisiveness and vision.
James was rated more highly for honesty, understanding British Columbians' problems and sharing their values and ideas.
And more highly for caring about the environment; ironic, given the NDP's fight against the carbon tax.
There are very clever pollsters and political strategy types trying to figure out what this will mean next May.
Are people likely to vote for a good economic manager who is out of touch with their concerns and can't be trusted?
Or for a person they trust, with inferior skills.
And how will the economic collapse affect all this. When everything is haywire, will Campbell's perceived strength on the economy win big support?
Or will voters decided that it's easier for a trustworthy person to learn skills than it is for a skilled person to learn how to be trustworthy.
There are a couple of other interesting elements in this poll.
The big one is that the Liberals trail the NDP among Greater Vancouver voters, 46 per cent to 41 per cent. In the last Angus Reid poll, in August, the parties were effectively tied. There are a lot of seats in Greater Vancouver. And the only place the Liberals are ahead is in the northern Interior.
Objectively, this shouldn't be happening. The government has messed up often - on seniors' care, children and families, health care.
But the government's finances are in good shape and there are jobs for more people.
Yet the Liberals are in trouble, if the polls reflect the public's views.
The legislature is back this week, for a few days. What happens could be important for the next election.
Footnote: The poll is available at One interesting element in all this is the big shift since 2005. James was considered suspect as a long-term leader. She has ground out a base of support.
Now it's Campbell who faces some tough questions about whether he's helping or hurting his party.