The governing B.C. Liberal Party faces the prospect of being reduced to the political fringes – even losing official party status in the legislature – if the provincial election were held now, according to a new poll.
Since the Liberals swept to office 11 years ago, the allegiance of British Columbians has shifted dramatically. Today, the New Democrats would win a massive majority – 78 out of 85 seats – while the Liberals would be reduced to just three seats, according to projections from the polling firm Forum Research.
For Premier Christy Clark, the latest in a long string of bad-news polls won't alter her strategy to regain public favour. This summer marks the start of a ground war – an endless barbeque circuit across the province to woo both supporters and ex-supporters. On Wednesday night, she was due in the rural community of Kersley; on Thursday night it's another community dinner and fundraiser at 108 Mile Ranch.
"I'm not saying our numbers are good, because they are not," said Mike McDonald, the Liberal party chair. But he added he believes his party is doing better than the polls show.
"I believe the race will tighten. We are governing well but we have to make the choice more clear," he said. The Liberals have to shift the debate to what a B.C. NDP government would mean, rather than how his party has alienated voters: "It's been a referendum on the government of all the things that people are cranky about," he said.
While the Premier engages in an "aggressive" summer tour to rebuild support, her party is developing a new policy platform that will be unveiled at its next convention in October. "When we get to the election campaign, Christy Clark is going to put her stamp on her party," Mr. McDonald said.
Forum president Lorne Bozinoff said the gap between the two parties is significant. His poll puts the NDP at 50-per-cent support, the Liberals at 20 per cent and the B.C. Conservatives at 19 per cent.
"How much worse can it get for the Liberals? They are at an all-time low in our polls," he said.
The next provincial election is almost 11 months from now, he stressed, but the Premier's approval ratings also show a discouraging trend for Liberal supporters.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix's approval ratings have climbed to a personal high of 44 per cent, while Ms. Clark has the approval of 27 per cent of voters.
"These numbers are sticking. It's not good news for the Liberals," Mr. Bozinoff said.
Marty Zlotnik, who organized fundraisers for former premier Gordon Campbell, said the party has a lot of work to do.
"There is only one way to win, they have to get the Conservative guys to move over and they need to run a better campaign than the NDP," said Mr. Zlotnik, who says he has retired as a party activist. "It'll be a dogfight. Probably very, very close. I'd like to see Christy win, but I don't know if you can pick up all those points over 11 months. It's a tough exercise."
Shane Simpson, the NDP caucus chair, said his party can't count on a win.
"There are 48 weeks until the election and there is no doubt that things can change. We can't get complacent," he said. "The most important thing about these polls is that the trend for the better part of the year is good and that tells us we are doing the right things."
He said the New Democrats are also spending the summer building support on the ground and developing a policy platform that will be rolled out closer to the start of the official campaign. Unofficially, however, the MLAs are already on the hustings.
"Oh sure, the campaign is on," he said. "There is no time off for us now until the end."
The Forum poll was conducted on June 12 with 1,014 voters who responded to an automated telephone survey. The sample size is considered accurate to plus or minus three percentage points 19 times out of 20.
Mr. Bozinoff said the seat projections are based on a regional shift model, which divides the province into three regions. The survey results in those regions are compared to the vote results from the past election in each of the 85 ridings. So if a political party is up by 10 points across Vancouver Island compared to the 2009 election results, for example, the difference is added to each riding to forecast what the vote would look like today.