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The Globe and Mail

Clark on the defensive as poll shows support shifting to NDP

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark in Vancouver, British Columbia, Wednesday, December 7, 2011.

Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/rafal gerszak The Globe and Mail

On the day B.C. Premier Christy Clark spoke to an event held to honour powerful women, a new poll showed nearly half of women surveyed would back the New Democratic Party in a snap election, compared with 24 per cent who would vote Liberal.

And that was just part of the bad news for Ms. Clark. Even as she extolled her jobs plan and warned her audience of the potential economic consequences of an NDP government, the poll showed NDP Leader Adrian Dix had for the first time surpassed her as top choice for premier.

The NDP – long characterized as poor economic managers by the Liberals – have gained ground on that issue and others, putting Ms. Clark on the defensive.

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"Now you have a situation where Adrian Dix is tied with Christy Clark on being the best person to handle crime, tied on being the best person to handle the economy, and still maintaining the lead on issues like health care and education – where the NDP usually does better," said Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion, which conducted the poll.

"So it's a tough situation."

Ms. Clark does have the advantage of being an incumbent premier who can try to win back public support with her majority government policy decisions, he added.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Ms. Clark played down the poll results, saying she was focused on her jobs plan and ensuring B.C.'s stability in turbulent economic times.

"There's all kinds of different statistics out there," Ms. Clark said. "For me, if I spend my time thinking about polls, I'm not going to be thinking about jobs. And that's what we have to be thinking about. There's an election in a year-and-a-half. And we have to create jobs in British Columbia if we are going to make sure that British Columbians have confidence."

The poll found 26 per cent of voters said Mr. Dix is their top choice for premier, compared with 22 per cent who chose Ms. Clark.

The poll found 28 per cent of decided voters would vote Liberal in the next provincial election, down 3 per cent from November, compared with 42 per cent who would pick the NDP. It is the first time the B.C. Liberals have fallen below the 30-per-cent mark in voting intention since early November, 2010, just before former premier Gordon Campbell's resignation.

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The B.C. Conservatives, led by John Cummins, drew 19 per cent of decided voters in the poll, up one per cent from November. Despite that gain, Mr. Cummins is not particularly well known and is not showing momentum on issues, Mr. Canseco said.

"A lot of people don't know who John Cummins is – we may be seeing a situation where people are parking their vote and saying, 'I'm not happy with what I'm seeing, I may come back … but right now, I'm not happy with what I'm seeing out of Victoria.'"

Even at the height of Mr. Campbell's unpopularity, then-NDP leader Carole James was failing to connect with voters, while Mr. Dix appears to be gaining ground, Mr. Canseco said.

The encouraging results for Mr. Dix come despite negative advertisements the Liberals launched in late December that zeroed in on the NDP's economic track record and tagged Mr. Dix as "risky Dix."

The ads, which appeared online and on television, say B.C. had a woeful economic performance in the 1990s when the NDP was in office, and that Mr. Dix was a top political adviser.

Ms. Clark touched on that theme in her speech, saying the government of the 1990s overspent at the expense of the economy and that she wants to keep the province on safe economic ground.

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"We did learn that lesson in British Columbia and we don't have to learn it again," Ms. Clark said during her speech to the Top 100 Summit and Awards Luncheon.

Mr. Dix also played down the poll results, noting that there are months and many polls to go before the provincial election.

Asked if he thought the negative advertisements had backfired, Mr. Dix responded that the poll results suggest people may be looking for an alternative approach.

"I do think it's kind of unprecedented that a government would engage in this big of an ad campaign, a negative personal attack ad campaign, against its opponents this far in front of a scheduled election with a majority government," Mr. Dix said.

"I think Premier Clark is misunderstanding the kind of politics people are at right now, I think they want [politicians]to be more constructive than that."

The poll was an online survey of 800 B.C. adults with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent.

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