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Look to Romania for hope, floundering B.C. Liberals told

Construction worker Howard Bassett holds an umbrella over B.C. Premier Christy Clark during her announcement of the 50 per-cent completion of the South Fraser perimeter road in Surrey, British Columbia, April 3, 2012.

Ben Nelms For The Globe and Mail/ben nelms The Globe and Mail

Pollster Mario Canseco has to look far, far away to find hope for the B.C Liberal Party.

Romania, to be exact.

It's an improbable example, but underlines the challenges facing the Liberals. Mr. Canseco, a vice-president with Angus Reid Public Opinion, was trying to come up with an example of a party that has knitted its coalition of supporters back together in a rush to avoid oblivion. These days, the centre-right coalition that is the Liberal Party is splitting, with some voters headed for the B.C. Conservatives.

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"I don't think there has ever been anything quite like this. It's a tough situation," he says.

And then he remembers Romania. Back in 2004, he recalls the unpopular presidential candidate for the National Liberal Party stepped down due to health reasons, and his successor managed to knit the party's coalition back together in time for success at the vote.

But that was Romania.

In B.C., he says things are bleak for the Liberals. He says Christy Clark's only hope may be using her majority to enact really bold, outside-the-box measures to win back Liberals who now count themselves as Conservatives. "I don't think that's been used to the best of their ability," he says. "[Ms. Clark]has something [B.C. Conservative Leader]John Cummins doesn't have, which is a majority in the legislature."

Historian David Mitchell, a former B.C. Liberal MLA, says all parties, especially governing ones, are "necessarily" coalitions. "They all have factions, wings, geographic groupings within them, and the art of leadership is holding them together," he says.

But when they run into troubles, he says there have been only two ways to knit themselves back together – leadership succession or defeat and a spell in opposition.

The Liberals have tried succession and appear reluctant to try opposition.

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Mr. Mitchell points out that a new leader may not have saved the Progressive Conservatives in Alberta, who are running behind the Wildrose Party in polls measuring voter intentions as election day looms in the provincial election.

Ironically, he notes that the Conservatives and Liberals successfully governed B.C. as a coalition in the 1940s and 1950s. "They held it all together even when it seemed to be coming apart," he says.

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