With new poll results showing British Columbians want political change, the NDP and Liberals held election-readiness rallies over the weekend, preparing their candidates for a high-stakes campaign that effectively starts now.
The Liberal event wrapped up Saturday, with Premier Christy Clark telling party workers that they are facing a "hard fought, close election," but assuring them that "every election can be won."
On Sunday, it was NDP Leader Adrian Dix's turn, as he told a ballroom packed with raucous supporters that the party can seize victory, but only if "you do a little more than you've ever done before … knock on a few more doors."
"The truth is, I need lots of help," he said. Mr. Dix repeated his promise to run a positive, respectful campaign, even in the face of withering attack ads from the Liberals.
While supporters cheered and waved placards with the slogan, "Change for the better – one practical step at a time," Mr. Dix made fun of himself, saying he has memorized the catchphrase by applying it to his kitchen chores, peeling potatoes or washing dishes one at a time.
Whatever he's doing, it seems to be working.
A new poll, by Angus Reid Public Opinion, shows Mr. Dix and the NDP have a commanding 16-point lead as they head toward the May 14 election.
If the vote was held today, the NDP would get 47 per cent of the decided vote, and the Liberals 31 per cent.
And the poll numbers show that Ms. Clark's party continues to trail Mr. Dix and the NDP in almost every rating category.
Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion, said the Liberals are clearly facing a huge challenge.
"We've never seen a gap this big for an incumbent," he said of the 16-point spread.
Mr. Canseco said one of the most telling figures in the poll is the number of voters – 59 per cent – who think it's time a different provincial party was elected into power. And Mr. Canseco noted that even 29 per cent of Liberal voters feel that way.
He said the Liberals may make up some ground with attack ads, such as a series now running on television, that question Mr. Dix's honesty, but that is a risky strategy that could backfire.
Mr. Canseco said negative advertising generally only works when the party on the attack has a solid base of supporters, which it can rely on even if it is criticized for being negative.
"The problem with the Liberals is their base has been decimated," he said.
A regional breakdown shows the NDP hold big leads on Vancouver Island (53 per cent), in Metro Vancouver (44 per cent) and the Interior (45 per cent).
Asked which leader would make the best premier, 30 per cent picked Mr. Dix and 21 per cent Ms. Clark. John Cummins of the Conservatives, at 6 per cent, and Jane Sterk of the Greens, with 3 per cent, barely registered.
Asked who is best suited to deal with key issues, including health care, education, the economy and the environment – Mr. Dix outscored Ms. Clark in every field. On the economy, 30 per cent of voters thought he was the best choice, while Ms. Clark got 24 per cent. On health care, Mr. Dix had 38 per cent to Ms. Clark's 18 per cent, and on education, he scored 35 per cent to her 23 per cent.
On the environment, Mr. Dix was rated second, with 25 per cent of the decided vote, behind Ms. Sterk, who got 27 per cent. But Ms. Clark trailed a distant third, with just 12 per cent. Mr. Cummins was barely noticeable at 3 per cent.
Voters said the economy, health care, leadership and the environment – in that order – are the four most important issues facing British Columbians today.
The poll results show all the leaders are struggling to win voter approval. Fully 58 per cent of respondents disapprove of Ms. Clark, while a smaller number, 41 per cent, disapprove of Mr. Dix. Mr. Cummins had a disapproval rating of 59 per cent, while Ms. Sterk, the leader with the lowest profile, fared the best, with only 26 per cent disapproving of her performance so far.
About the only glimmer of hope in the poll for the Liberals was that 28 per cent of respondents said their opinion of Mr. Dix had worsened in the past three months, which Mr. Canseco said gave the NDP Leader a "momentum score" of minus 7.
But the results in that category are considerably worse for Ms. Clark, with 45 per cent of voters saying their view of her has worsened in the past three months. That translates into a momentum score of minus 36, the worst rating for any of the leaders.
Mr. Canseco, however, said that despite the bleak numbers, it is far too soon to say that the Liberals don't have any hope of winning.
"We've seen weirder things happen in campaigns," he said.