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December 9, 2010

Parties Tied 36-36

As expected there was a big jump in those who would vote for the BC Liberals following Gordon Campbell's November 3rd announcement. The Angus Reid online poll of 804 randomly selected BC adults conducted from December 7th to December 8th also revealed that the tie was reduced from 36 to 36 to 14 to 14 when those surveyed were asked which party they would support regardless of who wins the respective leadership contests. At 36% the BC Liberals are down 10 points from their 2009 actual election results, and the NDP is down 6 points. Both parties have to work to regain public confidence.

It may be disappointing for some New Democrats to see the disappearance of the 21 point advantage (47 to 26) the NDP enjoyed in the November Angus Reid poll. That poll was concluded hours before Campbell's announcement, while the December poll was conducted immediately after Carole James resigned following a month of bitter public infighting. For the NDP to tie the BC Liberals in the aftermath of its civil war is a better outcome than I expected. It offers hope that with the right leader, and a leadership campaign that isn't further damaging, the NDP may be competitive in the next election.

Parliament functions best with two political parties, either of which is capable of forming a government. That way there is a party voters can turn to if the party in government gets out of touch. There is no question that the BC Liberals are out of touch.

The December Angus Reid poll also found that if a referendum on the HST were conducted today, 64% would reject the tax. While that is a substantial majority, the poll shows that the number who accept the tax is growing. Anything is possible if the HST referendum isn't held until September 24, 2011, but those who oppose the tax are more likely to vote. How to handle the HST issue became even more difficult for BC Liberals with the entry of Christy Clark to the leadership race. She promptly announced that a referendum wouldn't be necessary because as premier she would put it to a free vote in the legislature in March. If Clark won the BC Liberal leadership race, it would be impossible for her to become an MLA before the end of March, even if there were an immediate by-election following the February 26 leadership vote. All of the BC Liberal caucus are on record supporting the HST, as is Clark from her perch as a talk show host at CKNW. There is no reason to think that a free vote in the legislature would reject the HST; it would only reveal which Liberals remain out of touch with their constituents.

If BC goes to a ballot-box style vote on the HST in September, it will cost $30 million. Mike de Jong has suggested an earlier cheaper vote; that probably means a postal ballot in June at a cost of $15 million. If Clark wanted to show leadership, she could have said that as premier her government would eliminate the HST so no vote of any kind in any place would be necessary, but she choose to use tricky and confusing wording. That's a perfect illustration of why BC Liberals are a long way from regaining public trust.

With over two months to go before the Liberals vote for a new leader, and a month or more longer for the NDP, there is ample room for plenty of gaffs by leaders-in-waiting. It will be a good time for political pundits and an excellent time for anyone interested in forcing clarity on any public policy issue. Candidates for both parties can't get away with just listing the problems they want to solve or need to consider. They have to say a few things about what they would actually do. Exactly when and by how much would the minimum wage increase? Will the $1 billion BC Hydro smart-meter boondoggle go ahead or not? What will happen to fix the endless problems in the Ministry of Children and Family Development? Where do the candidates stand on selling-off BC's rivers? They will duck and weave, but we can all hope that the media will put hard questions to all of them so we can hold both parties and their new leaders to account. This time there is no room for questionnaires that are answered by campaign staff only to later be disowned by a new leader!