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NDP Leader John Horgan spins a rugby ball on his fingers during a campaign stop at Stanley Park, in Vancouver, on Oct. 2, 2020.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

A new poll shows the B.C. New Democratic Party with a formidable lead in the race to form the next government in the province.

The survey by Leger indicated 47 per cent of vote-eligible adults interviewed said they would vote NDP, compared with 31 per cent for the Liberals, 12 per cent for the Greens and 9 per cent for the BC Conservative Party.

Additionally, the popularity of NDP Leader John Horgan remains high, with 57 per cent of those surveyed indicating they viewed him favourably, compared with just 34 per cent for Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson.

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The poll is significant as it gauges the public’s mood since the Sept. 21 launch of an election no one particularly wanted. And the survey confirmed that. Nearly half of respondents – 49 per cent – disagreed with calling the vote a year earlier than necessary and amid a global pandemic. Only 28 per cent supported the writ drop.

It should be said that the poll was conducted between Sept. 24 and 28, before the Liberals unveiled their big policy proclamation: a vow to cancel the province’s 7-per-cent provincial sales tax (PST) for one year, and pegging it at 3 per cent the next year before returning the rate to what it was before COVID-19.

That may or may not affect the future standings. But this new poll shows that the widely held view that Mr. Horgan and his party put politics before people’s health by calling an election has not hurt the NDP.

While it certainly was nothing less than crass, political opportunism, the public doesn’t seem to care enough to make it a campaign issue.

Personally, I don’t think the Liberals' PST gambit is going to move the needle much in their favour. It didn’t generate a lot of excitement. Many people felt it is unnecessary and would add to the province’s growing debt burden to the tune of $11-billion. Those with the most money to spend – the rich – would benefit most from the tax holiday.

The Liberals face a couple of fundamental problems. The past several months have all been about coping with COVID-19, the greatest crisis of our lifetime. The NDP government has mostly received high marks for its handling of the pandemic, in large part owing to the extraordinary communication skills of Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry. Before the plague arrived, the NDP had done a credible job of handling the economy and balancing the books. As well, the government spent most of its time in office cleaning up several huge messes the Liberals left behind.

So when you look at it, the Liberals don’t have a lot of room to manoeuvre when it comes to designing a platform that exploits weaknesses in the NDP’s governing record. The public has been, by and large, pleased with the job the government had done, and has seemed to enjoy Mr. Horgan’s often jovial, down-to-earth demeanour. It hasn’t helped the Liberals that the NDP Leader’s large personality contrasts so sharply with the drab, somewhat humourless disposition of Mr. Wilkinson.

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It doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause for the Liberals. But it is an extremely daunting challenge.

Greg Lyle, president of Innovative Research Group and a long-time watcher of B.C. politics, said he believes the NDP is heading toward victory, but he also thinks the Liberals could still pull off a miracle.

If the election is framed around the notion of what’s next for the province, he said, the Liberals could benefit, because most British Columbians “are free enterprisers, so their economic vision tends to be more Liberal than NDP.”

Perhaps. But in the Leger poll, respondents identified the future of the economy as their No. 1 issue, just in front of managing the pandemic, and the NDP remained the overwhelming choice of eligible voters. So if a majority of British Columbians believe the Liberals are better able to manage the economy, that has yet to reflect itself in the polls.

The Liberals were in power for a long time, and the party accumulated an awful lot of lousy baggage over that period. I’m just not sure British Columbians are in a real hurry to have them running things again, especially when they feel the NDP did a credible job of being in charge before COVID-19 and have done exceptionally well in guiding British Columbians through the pandemic.

Of course, it’s early yet. Lots can happen, and campaigns do matter. But right now, the NDP looks to be cruising to a significant triumph.

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