Thursday, January 5, 2012

The rise of the B.C. Conservatives?

Just before Christmas, two polls were released concerning the provincial situation in British Columbia. One is problematic, and I'll get to that later, but the other shows that the B.C. Liberals and the B.C. Conservatives are tied, well behind the B.C. New Democrats.
This is the first Forum Research poll for British Columbia that I've recorded. It shows the New Democrats ahead with 34%, well below were some of the other polls have situated the NDP. Nevertheless, they have a healthy 11-point lead.

The Liberals and the Conservatives are tied with 23% apiece, a horrible result for Christy Clark but a wonderful one for John Cummins. The Conservatives have not done better than 18% in any poll, but considering that the party has been put in the mid-teens recently it is not unusual to have them so high in this survey.

Oraclepoll had the Liberals at 25% at the end of November, so for Forum to have them so low is also not unlikely. Forum and Oraclepoll are also on the same page when it comes to the Greens.

But one problem we've seen lately in Forum's polls is that the "Other" results are unrealistic. The Alberta poll from December had the Others at 9%. Here it is a more reasonable 5%, but that is still at least three points too high. We've seen these kinds of results in other IVR polls. Perhaps it would be best for firms using the IVR method not to give respondents the "Other" option.

Forum has the NDP ahead of the Liberals and Conservatives by significant margins in most parts of the province, though the 32% to 27% split between them and the Conservatives in the Interior/North is somewhat close. The Liberals are tied with the Conservatives in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, but are ahead of them on Vancouver Island.

The problem appears to be, in part, one of leadership. Clark has an approval rating of only 29%, with 45% of respondents disapproving of her job as premier. Adrian Dix, on the other hand, has a 37% approval rating as leader of the NDP, compared to 28% disapproval. John Cummins, head of the Conservatives, has a 23% approval rating to 32% disapproval.

A complete model for British Columbia is not yet ready, but a simple model gives the New Democrats a majority government with these numbers. They win 57 seats, with the B.C. Liberals taking 18 and the Conservatives winning eight. Two independents are also elected.

It should come as no surprise that the NDP would win by such a large margin against a divided electorate. How the Liberal and Conservative vote will fall, however, is a little trickier. If they have some good candidates they should be electable at this level of support, but I imagine with less of a profile and being a completely new party, they will have some difficulty getting enough support to defeat sitting MLAs in individual ridings.

The other poll released just before Christmas was by the NRG Research Group, a polling firm of which I am unfamiliar. I have a real problem with this poll.

NRG decided to leave the Greens off the survey because the party has opted not to run in by-elections. This, they say, gives a "realistic scenario of the political situation at this time." That is ridiculous. Unless NRG is only polling in ridings where by-elections are scheduled, leaving the Greens off the survey completely (there is no "Other" option in this IVR survey, though they combined "None of the Above" with undecideds) distorts the political situation entirely. When the next provincial election rolls around the Greens will be presenting candidates. Just because they have decided not to contest by-elections does not mean they are no longer a viable party or that anywhere from 5% to 15% of British Columbians intend to vote for them. It boggles the mind.

The results that the poll did yield were 36% for the New Democrats, 32% for the Liberals, 19% for the Conservatives, and 13% "NotA/Undecided", though the preamble in the report only calls that 13% undecided. Transforming that 13% into the Green vote is far too much of a leap for my taste, making this an incomplete survey and one that I wouldn't include in my projection model if it were currently running.

NRG has the NDP leading on Vancouver Island and the North Coast, as well as in the Interior. The Liberals lead in the Lower Mainland, while Conservative support is generally uniform.

But what Forum and, to some extent, this NRG poll suggest is that the B.C. New Democrats have a solid lead going into the last (and only) full year of Christy Clark's Liberal government. It also suggests that the B.C. Conservatives will be an important factor when the next election is held in 2013. One wonders whether Cummins will be handing the NDP a victory by splitting the right-of-centre vote. Perhaps that is too simplistic a view - if the Conservatives were not on the scene would the anti-Liberal vote coalesce around the NDP anyway?

What we know for sure is that the next election in British Columbia should be an interesting one. The last round of provincial elections were relatively ho-hum, but with Alberta, Quebec, and British Columbia on the docket in the next 18 months things are looking up.


  1. None of the three polls were done by companies with any track record of polling in BC.

    In the case of Oraclepoll, they are very closely tied with the Green party as is Integrity BC, who commissioned the poll. Their track record in polling is weak.

  2. Maybe this set of polling is suspect for its accuracy but it's still useful for showing what I think is a devastating trend for the BC Liberals. By the time of the next election, May 2013, the Conservatives could completely dominate the right. In fact they may get enough support to form the next government, although I doubt that'll happen so fast. Remember BC has a habit of shifting its right-wing political representatives. So for the right to jump from Liberal to COnservative isn't unprecedented. In this province they are practically the same thing. The only mystery yet remaining is whether BCers will reject the right as their government and vote NDP in 2013.

  3. Plenty of incumbents game back from worse gaps than 11% this year, so I'm not going to lose sleep yet. The BC Liberals ran some atrociously bad anti-Conservative ads this fall that have a lot to do with this uptick of Conservative support IMHO. Man were those ads bad.

    As terrible as the NRG poll is, I find it weird that it gives the BC Liberals the more favourable numbers. I'd think that omitting the Greens would benefit the NDP more than the BC Libs.

    If you want to take a look at fun but IMHO sketchy polls I'd suggest taking a look here:

  4. Well if this means another 8 years at least of NDP rule starting in 2013 if the split occurs like this. I hope this is what Mr Cummins wanted when he took up the leadership of the BC Conservatives.

    It is quite evident in provincial politics that it is usually a two-way race (with the exception of Québec and maybe Nova Scotia and Ontario). So obviously, if another party enters the race, the other side always wins because the vote splits. Since the right is split down the middle between two parties, the left vote will easily win with just 34% (election reform will be the only option now). Only in Québec can a party win government (or a majority) with 30% of the vote. This is just like the 1997 federal election, where PC+CA = Liberal, and the Liberals won a majority because of the split. If the NDP wins a landslide in 2013 with less than 40% of the vote, first-past-the-post must be ditched for a better alternative.

  5. I fully expect the vote split will hand a majority to the NDP (despite garnering perhaps a third of the total votes), but I also think that's a good outcome.

    I'm no fan of the NDP, but I think BC has for too long been trapped with a mediocre government. NDP policies are, in my opinion, simply a more extreme version of Liberal policies, and I'd like BC voters to see them in action. Maybe then we can see BC voters choose an actual small government option.

    If it takes 4-8 years of uncontested NDP rule to do that, then so be it. It'll be worth it.

  6. Ira,

    Worth it for whom? The last NDP government almost killed the company I work for. I'd rather not have to move to Fort McMurray to find work - it's fricken cold there! Is waiting out 8 years of bad government so that the BC Liberals can transform themselves into the BC Conservatives really worth it? And that's all that would happen, much as the Socreds were absorbed by the BC Liberals. Liberal-Conservative coalitions are the only political group that has beaten the NDP in BC.

    That being said I fully understand where you're coming from. The BC Liberals are pretty close to where I am ideologically, but I recognize that there are a lot of people both towards the right and towards the centre left that have to make a lot of compromises with their own ideology to support the BC Liberals. I wish we operated under an electoral system where we could have more than one "free market" party without automatically handing government to the NDP.

  7. Ryan the reason Adrian Dix has been doing well in the polls is because he's pushing a more moderate image for the NDP.

    (Never mind he was Glen Clark's right hand man during the mismanagement and scandal).

    Our political culture, outside of the leftist NDP hot beds like downtown Victoria and Burnaby, will never allow a return to outright big government, big spending, high tax rule by the unions.

    So either he pushes that agenda and is gone in 4 years or he really does moderate and is only marginally worse than the Liberals have been for the last five or six years.

    I'm with Ira. Time for renewal on the right. Even if it means Dix.

    - Tired of being bullied into voting Liberal just to stop the NDP.

  8. I'm curious about the Greens numbers here. They are running at 15% provincially and at 18% on Vancouver Island according to Forum. What kind of numbers do they need before a couple of seats start to be in play for them?

  9. Have the BC Liberals really been all that bad though? Pretty fiscally responsible IMHO, good growth, wages up, taxes down (a lot!)... I understand why people are pissed about the HST (people will only buy your BS so many times, as Gordon Campbell found out) but beyond that...? I'll freely admit that the BC Liberals have not been nearly as fiscally conservative as I would like, but are there concerns beyond that?

    In terms of renewal on the right, I frankly just don't see Cummins as a vehicle for that. There's a reason Harper never put him in cabinet - he just wasn't ready for prime time. What exactly does he or his party offer that's superior to what the BC Liberals offer?

    That being said, I hear you on the tired of being bullied point though. At some point being "less bad" isn't good enough. You have to actually sell yourself as a good option with good ideas. It's the same mistake the federal Liberals made with voters on the left and it's sad to see it happening in on the right here in BC.

  10. Matthew, with the Liberals and New Democrats already so low, I'd say the Greens are just about on the cusp. I'm not using a complete model, though, so I'm reluctant to say whether or not the Greens could win any seats with these numbers.

  11. "The Alberta poll from December had the Others at 9%. Here it is a more reasonable 5%, but that is still at least three points too high."

    The "Other" category can indeed be problematic but this critique is perhaps overly certain.

    In the 2001 B.C. provincial election, independents and candidates representing "Other" parties captured more than eight per cent of the popular vote.

  12. Oh, of course, but I'm just going by what is currently plausible. In 2001, the Marijuana Party (!) ran a full slate while the Unity Party almost did as well.

    It does not seem likely that there will be such a large fringe party running in 2013, or if there will be, such a party has not really presented itself to the extent that 5% of British Columbians would already be thinking about voting for it.

  13. Hey Ryan, and others. As my name would suggest, I don't share your enthusiasm for the far-right politics of our current government. And my objections, and that of most other BC voters I think, aren't solely based on the HST debacle. Under the Liberals, this province has become the most expensive place to live in Canada, has some of its lowest wages, and highest poverty levels. That's just bad social policy all over the place, and ultimately it's bad politics. If Dix is able to pull the NDP into a center left position and keep it there, I beleive they'll capture and hold power for at least 8 years. And I don't have a problem with that. I lived under NDP governments, of Romanow and Calvert, for many years in Saskatchewan and they were some of the best small c conservative, Liberal type governments I've seen in this country. I think this province would benefit greatly from a little balance,which such a government would bring.

  14. Ryan Cummins is like 70 isn't he ?

    I'm guessing he's going to be around for 1 election only and then we get our very own Ms. Smith.

    Also I liked the HST. I hated the carbon tax.

    I didn't like public sector wages growing the rate they did and i'm still waiting for benefits to be brought in line with the private sector.

    I do like Clark's new "net zero" policy on contract negotiations though.

    I should check if zero is inflation adjusted or not. If not, even better !

    Also I love Clark opening up so many mines, dams, and pipeline projects. (Sounds odd for a free marketeer but there's so many environmental laws you basically need industrial policy to get anything done here.)

    What I don't like is the useless "jobs plan" advertising on the radio constantly.

    And some of the gimmicky stimulus that comes with it.

  15. @Anonymous,

    Yah, the BC Liberals need to stop running so many crappy ads. They're driving me nuts (though I do think the new attack against Dix are much better). My understanding is that net zero isn't adjusted for inflation. I highly doubt that the Conservatives would be able to attract someone like Ms. Smith in the next four years - this time around Cummins was the only person who even ran for leader and there doesn't seem to be the supporting cast around him either.

    Was the carbon tax that bad? My biggest qualm about it was that it affects rural areas more than urban, but that aside it seemed like a pretty pragmatic way to help the environment and grow the economy at the same time. I'd rather be taxed a bit more at the pump than on my income too.


    We're 5th out of 10 for median income right now (or at least as of 2009, which is as far as statscan goes atm) - not terrible but I agree it should be better. There has been good progress over the last decade though, with BC gaining a lot of ground on Ontario in particular. Sure we've lost ground compared to Alberta and Saskatchewan, but I'm not going to lose sleep over that given the how nuts the oil patch has been for those provinces. This is before considering the tax cuts that the Liberals brought in, which were pretty significant for middle income earners.

    For poverty though, the reality is that poverty has declined under the BC Liberals; under the NDP government it rose. Yes, more can and should be done, but my question for you is why would you expect this time with the NDP to be any different? The BC NDP is a very different kind of party than the Saskatchewan and Manitoba NDP.

    In terms of Dix being moderate - he may be trying to act like one now, but he certainly wasn't during the NDP leadership race. Which is the real Dix? And even the "moderate" Adrian Dix wants to use businesses as an ATM machine for the government. At the end of the day all that does is drive away business, increase unemployment and drive down wages. There's a reason every OECD country with lower poverty rates than us also has equal or lower corporate taxes than us. They get their revenues more from personal income and consumption taxes, and as a consequence are both more prosperous and more equitable.

  16. BTW Eric, the Marijuana and Unity parties both broke 3% of the vote in 2001. I realize it's most likely the "others" number is bogus, but it's worth considering that some of it may actually be others. Especially since the leader of the Unity party from 2001 is backing BC First, and Wilf Hanney from the BC Conservatives and BC Reform will probably flog some kind of dead horse.

  17. We'll see. I'm just skeptical considering the high "Other" results we've seen in Forum's recent federal and Alberta polls.

  18. Ryan the problem with carbon taxes is that they are rarely large enough to actually influence people's behaviours and if they are you get into trouble because of their unpopularity and secondary effects like distortion and deadweight loss.

    Then you have to get into things like compliance costs and on the government side just how efficient a mechanism for collecting revenue it is.

    Anyways personal consumer behaviour is going to have no effect on carbon emmissions. Its at the industrial level that things could be worked on. Of course, societies need a vibrant oil based economy in order to fund the sciences at a proper level.

    A lethargic Ontario style government is the worst of both worlds. Minimal reductions in emmissions at a high cost leaving no money for true scientific advancement.

    A 10% across the board no exemptions HST was floated during the referendum. Now THAT would have been a good idea.

  19. "societies need a vibrant oil based economy in order to fund the sciences at a proper level."

    Bull pucky !!

    The Scandinavian countries without Norway have all got vibrant economies but no significant oil. Typical Western fallacy pushed here

  20. Peter what on earth are you talking about ?

    Denmark has a medium size oil and natural gas industry. Of the three Scandanavian countries Sweden alone does not have any significant oil or natural gas production.

    Here's a stat. Average unemployment over the last five years:

    Sweden 6.7%
    Denmark 3.8%
    Norway 3.5%

    Quite a gap there between the non oil producing Scandanavian country and the oil producing ones.

    Regardless I was actually about the world economy and how it runs on fossil fuels (this is an indisputable fact). When oil production falls or prices rise too high then the world economy stalls. (again an indisputable fact.)

    Poor global output means no money for science research, no investment in the future.

  21. Denmark has a carbon tax btw. In fact their carbon tax regime is probably the most similar one to BC's in the world.

  22. Hey Ryan, I know this thread is getting a tad old and thin but I wanted to answer, or at least attempt to answer, some of your points above.
    We may be at mid point of median income for this country, but BC is perhaps the most expensive place to live in Canada, especially when you consider housing, so mid point just doesn't cut it. We're gaining, especially when compared to Ontario, but with manufacturing in the doldrums it's no wonder that province is having a difficult time. A lot of our gain is due to increased mining but that is thanks mostly to higher prices for some metals than any new Liberal policy.
    I agree tax cuts are a good thing, but only to a point. I tend to be a moderate, or center winger, and I think we're starting to go too far with tax cuts in this country and province. The government needs money to operate. How well they spend it is a matter of opinion. In a province where patients are lined up in hallways awaiting treatment, the choice of the Liberals to spend about $550 million on a new stadium roof is curious to say the least. I also think it's a good sign of how tired and complacent the Liberal government is getting.
    I'd also argue that before they formed government a couple decades or so ago, both the Sask and Manitoba NDP were painted as raving Reds by their opponents. I admit, I don't know how Dix would rule as premier, but I do think we're going to find out in 2013, unless the Libs make a remarkable comeback or fold completely and the Conservatives sweep the province. The Conservatives have a chance, but I don't think it's their time yet. We'll see. Meanwhile, the next 16 months or so should be an interesting time politically for BC, don't you think?

  23. Norway, Finland, and Sweden also have carbon taxes.

    Emissions have all gone up in those countries.

    They've gone down in Denmark, on the other hand, because they switched from coal fired power plants to using German hydro energy as a baseload and then selling energy from their wind farms whenever they're active.

    Again, you need to look at the industrial level and not consumer behaviour.

    Expanding BC's hydro production is essential. The Liberals have done a decent job in this area but we need to ramp it up A LOT.

    We used to be an exporter of energy to the US. It was highly profitable. Now we've gotten stagnant, our supplies haven't grown in 20 years, and rates are going up.


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