As British Columbia’s 39th Parliament came to a close, many members of the Legislature, particularly the B.C. Liberals, will have found that their nostalgic walk down memory lane is now a thorn trodden path, lined with confusion and unanswered questions. The foremost being: what happened?
Four years ago, the B.C. Liberals were still riding high, having won a historic third straight election, making Gordon Campbell the first premier in 23 years to win three in a row. Gone was the 77-2 win of 2001, however a 49-35 victory, following another record low voter turn out, and on the precipice of the recession, left them in good standing. Four years later, and the once stalwartly confident B.C. Liberals closed off the fifth session at the legislature with a litany of forced legislation being pushed through, whimpering apologizes and defensive notes on a multitude of accusations.
Premier Christy Clark, who was elected by B.C. Liberal Party members back in February 2011 to replace Campbell following his resignation, immediately attempted to separate herself from the controversial HST, which had been brought in before her tenure as premier. However, the tax would anchor to her as it had to Campbell and led to two years of debate, backtracking and a historic referendum that finally culminated in the Provincial Sales Tax Act and PST Transitional Provisions and Amendments Act, which abolished the HST, and set rules regarding the April 1, 2013 transition back to the PST.
This final session of the legislature, following a nine-month break between the 4th and 5th sessions, only lasted five weeks, during which a number of allegations were brought forth stemming from the government’s much maligned ethnic-outreach strategy which suggested B.C. Liberal government staffers co-ordinate activities with the B.C. Liberal Party to pander to ethnic voters through actions described as quick wins, such as making apologies and dispensing compensation to ethnic communities for historic wrongs: the Komagata Maru incident of 1914 and the Chinese head tax.
This coincided with the B.C. Liberal government’s failed multi-million dollar taxpayer funded, questionable-at-best job creation ad campaign and a throne speech and budget announcement that fell flat with a public that just didn’t seem to care anymore, which recent polls elaborate.
An exclusive Ipsos Reid poll, commissioned by Global News/BC1 and released March 14, 2013, showed the NDP having widened their lead on the B.C. Liberals. Since November, the NDP have picked up three points, at 51 per cent, and hold a 19 point lead over the Liberals at 32 per cent among decided voters.
When looking at particular approval ratings, Christy Clark has slumped four points to 30 per cent, with NDP leader Adrian Dix holding fast at 51 per cent. Both have had increases with their respective disapproval ratings, but with 41 per cent of 65 per cent of British Columbians strongly disapproving of Clark’s performance, the Premier finds herself in far dire straights.
An independent Angus Reid poll, published on March 21, 2013, found that with a three point increase, 62 per cent of respondents think it’s time for a change in government in British Columbia.
“People are going to see a lot more of me over the next month or so,” Clark said of the impending May 14 election. Though, with a campaign that seems to be snowballing out of her hands, Clark will be hard pressed to make up ground and present British Columbians with a campaign and bag of promises that will actually be given the light of day.
Despite holding a slight lead in the polls regarding the B.C. economy, having delivered seven deficit budgets and pushing the provincial debt level from $34 billion to $63 billion, standing by their track record, fiscal plan and recent budget, which was lovingly termed “bogus” and “phony” by the opposition, may not be the best course of action for B.C. Liberals at this time.
Though with the ethnic vote scandal and missteps regarding the B.C. Film Industry still fresh in the minds of voters, campaign options are starting to look pretty thin.
Back in 2009, on the opening day of the house, Campbell said, “We are living in significantly changing times.”
Those words may end up ringing all too clearly come election day.
Written and researched by Andrés Markwart, a Political Columnist at Vancity Buzz. Connect with Andrés on Twitter at @AMarkwart.