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Sinking ships are meant to be abandoned, which raises questions about why some high-profile candidates have rushed to sign on for the B.C. Liberals in the May 14 provincial election.
While Premier Christy Clark is at the forefront of bullish party suggestions that the Liberals will turn things around in the campaign that begins next month, the numbers have rarely been so grim for a governing party facing a re-election bid.
An Angus Reid Public Opinion poll this week, echoing other surveys, had the B.C. NDP 20 points ahead of the Liberals. Worse for the Liberals, the poll showed only 56 per cent of those who voted for the party in 2009 are willing to do so again in May – down 10 points from an Angus Reid poll in February. On each of six issues, NDP Leader Adrian Dix is ahead of Premier Christy Clark as best able to handle them. Asked about the Liberal chances of being re-elected for a fourth term, Angus Reid vice-president Mario Canseco says, "With the numbers we see now, it would be impossible."
But one of the surprises of it all is that the Liberals have actually managed to rally some impressive candidates willing to go through the grind of a campaign for what might be a losing cause. A year ago, when things were bad for the Liberals but not as horrific as now, Ms. Clark told reporters the party would recruit some "well-known and prominent British Columbians" to be on the ballot. Her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, made similar pre-campaign pledges, but was leading a party that had a more credible shot at power with its related rewards for those who signed up.
Some suggest there's a buy-low motivation at work in 2013 – get in early and be among the post-election Liberal few, working on the rebuilding on the centre-right in B.C. after a massive NDP victory. Professed disbelief in the polls is common among the contenders. Mr. Canseco suggests polling has traditionally shown star candidates may be able to connect in ridings beyond the larger troubles of their parties.
The Liberals have nominated 71 of 85 required candidates. They include an RCMP inspector, sitting mayors as well as former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, who was in the global spotlight accepting the flag for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Mr. Sullivan, who had a tough fight to win his nomination in a downtown Vancouver riding, has said he realized he could only advance issues of interest to him in elected politics.
There's also, among others, two criminologists – one a former candidate for the B.C. Conservatives – a four-time Paralympic Gold medalist, and the founder of a prominent Kamloops-based software company.
That last candidate is Todd Stone, CEO of iCompass Technologies, a long-time Liberal, but rookie politician trying to hold Kamloops-South Thompson after veteran MLA Kevin Krueger retired with this election. In 2009, Mr. Krueger won 54 per cent of the vote.
Mr. Stone acknowledges the party is behind – "we are the underdogs" – but that he's skeptical about the polls, and sustained by doorstep feedback since he began campaigning last summer. "People are receptive to our message," he says. "We still have a ways to go to close that gap, no question, but that's what an election is about."
He also suggests Kamloops is removed from the "doom and gloom" candidates might be feeling elsewhere in B.C. thanks to a strong local economy. "I have no control whatsoever over what happens around the province. What I can control is the effort I expend, the people I surround myself with, the priorities of my campaign," he said.
Like Mr. Stone, criminologist Darryl Plecas is running for political office for the first time. The prominent academic at the University of the Fraser Valley, who holds an RCMP university research chair, is trying to win Abbotsford South, now held by former Liberal cabinet minister John van Dongen. Mr. van Dongen defected to the B.C. Conservatives then abandoned that party and is now running as an independent.
The plainspoken Mr. Plecas says he decided to run because he grew exasperated with people who said a Liberal defeat was a foregone conclusion. The polls are "disturbing," he says, but he wants to prevent an NDP government. Mr. Plecas said he has a wonderful job and life, and campaigning "is not a pleasant experience." Still, he says it was important to take a political stand.
Having chatted with other candidates, he suggests "late-comer" candidates recently signing up share this view. "They're definitely not in it because there is some big reward for them at the end. This is punishment," he said. "I just know in my bones that this is the right thing to do and it's for the right reasons."
Ian Bailey is a reporter in The Globe's Vancouver bureau.