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Christy Clark, one of the five candidates for the leadership of the B.C. Liberals, may be on to a winning cause with her proposal to call a provincial election before the vote scheduled in 2013, a new poll released Wednesday suggests.

The former deputy premier has been criticized by her rivals for the leadership for her suggestion that, if she wins a party vote on Feb. 26 and becomes B.C. leader and the next premier, she would not want to govern until 2013 without a mandate from voters outside the Liberal party so would call an election earlier than 2013.

But the new poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion finds that half of respondents - 53 per cent - would consent to holding an election before 2013. Fifty-two per cent also support another controversial proposal by Ms. Clark to put the harmonized sales tax to a free vote in the legislature.

"We've never had a situation where we had a fixed election and someone is coming in (to be premier) for two years before a vote," Mario Canseco, communications vice president for the pollster, said in an interview.

"The idea of someone coming in and finishing Gordon Campbell's term is not palatable to a lot of people," he said.

Mr. Canseco suggested Ms. Clark may also be intent on somehow going to voters before a referendum on the unpopular HST now scheduled for next September as she would not want the government to lose such a vote on her watch.

"Finding a way not to have the referendum by having an early election would work for them."

In an interview Wednesday, Ms. Clark, on leave from her job as a radio talk-show host, said she was not surprised by poll results supporting her position on an earlier-than-planned election.

"I've spent the last four-and-a-half years listening to people for a living. My position on that - this idea that people would want to be able to vote on the premier rather than have an unelected premier for two-and-a-half years just made good common sense," she said.

"It's the kind of thing I know I would have heard from my listeners at CKNW if I had asked them."

The same poll finds Christy Clark and Mike Farnworth the most popular candidates to lead the BC Liberals and the provincial New Democrats respectively.

It also found both parties basically tied at 38 per cent each for support among voters.

Mr. Canseco said the Liberal side of leadership politics has basically become a two-person race pitting Ms. Clark against Mr. Falcon.

According to the poll, Ms. Clark has 46 per cent support among B.C. residents as a good choice to replace Mr. Campbell. Her support is 66 per cent among BC Liberal voters.

Kevin Falcon, who stepped down as health minister to seek the leadership, is in second with the support of 28 per cent of British Columbians and 45 per cent of BC Liberal voters.

George Abbott, the former education minister, and Mike de Jong, the former attorney general, each have the support of one-in-four B.C residents and one third of B.C. Liberal voters. Moira Stilwell, the former skills development minister, has the support of one in 10 British Columbians and BC Liberal voters.

Over among New Democrats, Mr. Canseco said the popularity of Mr. Farnworth, the house leader, may have come about given his role advancing NDP values in a manner that has clearly connected with both New Democrats and voters in a general in a manner superior to departing leader Carole James.

Over among the New Democrats, Mr, Farnworth has the support of 40 per cent of British Columbians and 49 per cent of NDP voters.

Fellow MLA Adrian Dix is in second place with the support of 24 per cent of BC voters and 37 per cent of NDP voters.

Others on a list of eight leading New Democrats, both federal and provincial, and some of whom have only expressed lukewarm support cannot clear 20 per cent. They include Burnaby Mayor Derrick Corrigan, who has ruled out a run, MLAs Leonard Krog, John Horgan, Harry Lali, Norm Macdonald, Bruce Ralston, Sierra club executive director George Heyman, and MP Nathan Cullen.

The poll also has the B.C. New Democrats with 38 per cent support compared to 38 per cent for the B.C. Liberals. The Green Party has 12 per cent and the B.C. Conservatives seven per cent.

Mr. Farnworth has said he is considering a run for the leadership, which will be decided in an April. 17 vote. Mr. Canseco noted that Mr. Farnworth is up six percentage points from a poll in early December.

The poll was conducted Dec. 20 to Dec. 21 among 806 randomly selected B.C. adults who are Angus Reid Forum panelists. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 per cent.