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B.C. Liberals would face thrashing if election held now, poll shows

NDP MLA-elect Gwen O'Mahony celebrates her by-election win in the riding of Chilliwack-Hope with B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix, in Chilliwack, B.C., on April 19, 2012.

Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail/darryl dyck The Globe and Mail

Even with support for the B.C. Conservatives on the wane, the governing Liberals would be facing an electoral wipeout if a provincial election were held now, a new poll shows.

The telephone survey by Forum Research Inc., conducted on May 2, shows support for the B.C. New Democrats has grown to 48 per cent among decided and leaning voters, while the B.C. Conservatives, having placed third in two by-elections in April, dropped to 19 per cent since the last Forum poll in April. The B.C. Liberals held on to 23-per-cent support – half of the support they had on election day in May, 2009.

Projecting those results on the electoral map, the pollster said voters would deliver a dramatic shakeup in provincial politics if the election – still a year away – were called now. It would see the return to government of the B.C. New Democratic Party, which last won electoral favour in 1996, in a landslide, with 70 of the 85 seats in the legislature.

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The B.C. Liberals, having governed for more than a decade, would be reduced to just 13 seats. The remaining seats would go independent candidates, according to the pollster, while the B.C. Conservatives would be shut out.

But the election is more than a year away and Premier Christy Clark has proposed changing her party's name to help reunite Conservatives and Liberals under her "free enterprise" banner.

B.C. Liberal members are set to meet for their next convention in October where the name change could be put to a vote. Ms. Clark did not offer an alternative name this week but told reporters she favours something that wouldn't alienate federal Conservatives. "We should be as inclusive as possible," she said.

However, the Forum poll found that the proposal to rename the B.C. Liberals is stirring little enthusiasm, with fewer than a quarter of Liberal supporters in favour of the idea.

Forum president Lorne Bozinoff ridiculed the notion that a name change would help repair the B.C. Liberals' fortunes.

"It's not like the election is so far away that people are going to forget who they are. I don't think changing a name is going to get rid of their baggage," he said.

Mr. Bozinoff said the only hope for the Liberals is to reinvent themselves with some bold measures they are going to have to roll out fast to somehow isolate the B.C. Conservatives, making it "too risky" to vote for them. They also have to recapture votes lost to the B.C. NDP.

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"I don't think tinkering at the edges is going to work," he said. "They need some big ideas."

He said the Liberals effectively have to double their support before the May, 2013, election by winning a few points at a steady pace between now and voting day.

"If they remain in such quicksand, that will be a problem. They risk timing out if they don't show some traction," he said.

There is higher support among the B.C. Liberal faithful for a merger with the B.C. Conservatives – roughly three in five of B.C. Liberal supporters like the idea. But that concept faces a hurdle as well – fewer than one in four B.C. Conservatives want a merger.

Mr. Bozinoff said in an interview that the B.C. Liberals are in serious trouble beyond the horserace numbers because they are losing supporters to both the New Democrats and John Cummins's Conservatives. Only 49 per cent of those surveyed say they are sticking with the B.C. Liberals after voting for them in the 2009 general election. The rest have largely shifted to the NDP – 28 per cent – and the Conservatives – 19 per cent.

With a sample size of 1,054, the poll is considered accurate to plus or minus three percentage points.

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