Friday, May 20, 2011

Poll results support early election call

There’s good and bad news for both B.C. parties in the first big poll after the leadership races.
For starters, they’re both probably relieved to be in a tie.
The Liberals have the support of 41 per cent of decided voters, the New Democrats 39 per cent, according to the Ipsos Reid poll released this week. That’s within the margin of error.
And both parties are even likely heartened that people think the Liberals are unethical and doing a lousy job of governing, for different reasons, of course.
It has to be reassuring for Christy Clark and company that the Liberals have 41-per-cent support when the government is widely seen as incompetent, according to the poll. That indicates a deep concern about the NDP would be even worse.
The survey found dissatisfaction with the Liberal government on every issue.
Respondents were asked if they approved or disapproved of the government’s performance since the 2009 election. The only positive was on its handling of the economy — 51 per cent approved, 43 per cent disapproved.
But on education, environment and crime and justice, a significant majority of those polled gave the government thumbs down.
The results were even more negative for the government’s handling of taxes and health care — and on spending taxpayers’ money wisely. Sixty-five per cent of those polled thought the government is doing a poor job in managing spending; only 29 per cent gave the Liberals positive grades.
And the results were worst for ethics and accountability. Only one in five respondents approved of the government’s performance in this area; 70 per cent found the Liberals wanting in terms of ethics and public accountability.
That’s why Clark has been working so hard to distance herself from Gordon Campbell — no easy task given the presence of all his key lieutenants at her side — and reduce obvious irritants, like parking fees in parks. If the party is doing well in the polls now, while people think it’s doing a poor job, there’s a chance of gains.
But Adrian Dix and the New Democrats can take encouragement from the Liberals’ poor marks as well.
They show Clark is vulnerable if the NDP can convince voters that it’s ready to provide better government.
And the poll results suggest that’s possible.
Clark scored much better when the pollster asked about the leaders. Almost 50 per cent of voters said she would make the better premier; only 25 per cent picked Dix.
And 36 per cent of voters said they have a positive impression of Clark, while 22 per cent have a negative impression.
Dix scores the same for negative ratings, but only 20 per cent have an overall positive impression.
That means, of course, that almost 60 per cent of voters don’t have views one way or another on Dix. His challenge is to shift more of those people into the positive column, while hoping Clark faces enough tough choices that her numbers slide.
That’s certainly possible. Being premier, even a new, election-mode premier, means you have to do some things people don’t like.
But when former NDP leader Carole James started, polls found a large portion of the public had no opinion of her and she had difficulty in shifting them into the “positive” camp.
The poll included another finding, one that adds to the factors encouraging Clark to call an election in the coming months.
The relaunched provincial Conservative party — which hasn’t been a significant factor — had the support of 10 per cent of decided voters. That’s a serious base for party leader John Cummins to build on. And it’s already enough to raise the threat of vote-splitting in close ridings. If enough Liberal voters opt for the Conservatives, then New Democrat candidates have a much better chance.
All in, the poll suggests Clark should be looking at an election as soon as possible. Her approval is high, Dix is unknown and the Conservatives aren’t yet organized.
All those could have change by the end of the year.
Footnote: NDP support is concentrated on Vancouver Island; the Liberals are strongest in the Interior and North, while the parties are even in the Lower Mainland. Conservative support in the Interior is above 15 per cent.
And, significantly, the Liberals have a lead among people over 34 — the ones most likely to vote.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Criminal record searches, free, public, online

That's what the B.C. government has provided. Wonder if your son's girlfriend has a criminal record? Your boss? Check them out.
Jody Paterson has the info here. Like her, I'm still thinking about this. (A triumph for information freedom, or a destructive invasion of privacy. I'm leaning toward the former.)

I'm reminded the criminal record information has been available, at no charge, since the fall. Fees were lifted as a result of the award-winning Access Denied project by Times Colonist reporters Lindsay Kines, Rob Shaw and Louise Dickson. The series looked at the erosion of access to information that was supposed to be public in courthouses.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Clark promises more democratic nomination contests

Colin Hansen's convention pitch for a new name for the Liberals sparked much talk - and many jokes.
It's interesting. But much more significant was Premier Christy Clark's pledge to end the party's practice of preventing nomination challenges for incumbent MLAs. That's been an unwritten, but strictly enforced, rule.
It's profoundly undemocratic. Someone who wins a Liberal nomination in a safe seat can sleepwalk through a couple of decades in the legislature without having to worry about being challenged for the party nomination.
There's little incentive to pay much attention to the concerns of local residents. The nomination is guaranteed and, in many ridings, victory in the election would be almost certain no matter who the party ran.
And there is considerable incentive to place the interests of the party brass ahead of local residents, because they're the key to job security.
And there's little chance for party renewal. A brilliant potential candidate, with great credentials and broad community support, might be in the wings. But unless the incumbent decides to retire, it's impossible to challenge for the nomination.
It's an odd position for the Liberals, who talk a lot about how free competition brings the best results. Except when it comes to competition for MLA jobs, with their $100,000 base salary and dandy benefits.
Clark said that's going to change. Well, actually, she claimed that there had never been a ban on nomination challenges and wouldn't be as we head toward an election. "The B.C. Liberals have never had a policy of protecting incumbents," she told the Globe and Mail, "and we are not going to start doing that now."
Clark's claim was immediately contradicted by MLA Kevin Krueger, who said he enforced the ban on nomination challenges as caucus whip. People who wanted to challenge an incumbent were "encouraged" to look elsewhere, he said. "It was not 'open season' and it won't be 'open season' this time," he said.
Krueger is more believable. That raises the possibility that Clark doesn't really want to end the practice, just to pretend it's not happening.
That would be a shame.
There are risks to allowing open nomination contests. A well-funded, ambitious would-be candidate could hijack a constituency association, sign up a bunch of instant party members and take over without real support from party members.
But simple rules could prevent that. Something as basic as requiring people to be members of the party for at least six months before being allowed to vote in a nomination contest reduces the risks.
And the benefits, for the public interest, are great. MLAs would have to pay much more attention to the concerns of the riding, rather than the interests of the party, to ensure they weren't replaced.
Meanwhile, Hansen's call for a new party name had to have been made with Clark's blessing. Many voters are confused and think the provincial party has some connection with the federal Liberals, he said. Which is not a good thing these days.
Perhaps a different name might better reflect the party's coalition of centre and centre-right voters, Hansen said.
A name change would mean a pretty short run for the modern incarnation of the Liberal party, revived by Gordon Wilson in 1991. It's interesting that after winning three elections, the party still doesn't feel comfortable with its name. Or believe that it has built loyalty among voters.
It's possible that nothing will come of the idea - that simply floating it was a way to suggest to voters that the party is keen to distance itself from its own record. (No wonder Gordon Campbell chose to skip the convention.)
Whatever the party is called, it would be welcome if it loosened the straitjacket that prevents party members from nominating the best candidates to represent their ridings in favour of a system based on seniority, not performance.
Footnote: The convention also saw Clark promise some sort of changes to the HST in an effort to win a yes vote in next month's mail-in referendum. And she continued to signal a desire for an early election, urging delegates to prepare for the campaign.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Conrad Black on the war on drugs

"Unfortunately, like archaic cultures that clung to the belief that the Earth was flat, those who support mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes are willfully ignorant of the near universal consensus that mandatory minimum sentences are both extremely costly and ineffective."

And a joint byline with UBC's Evan Wood. Read it here.

And, loosely related, an excellent and personal argument in favour of Insite here is also worth your time.