Monday, November 08, 2010

Campbell’s departure could dash NDP dreams

I've lived in Ontario for five years now but I’ve never really gotten involved in provincial politics here. I think it’s because, having come from the always entertaining and wacky world of BC politics, Ontario seems pretty dull by comparison. Certainly watching the HST drama from afar has been far more interesting than some supposed drama about Dalton McGuinty and hydro rates or something.

It’s hard to know where to start. Arguably the most electorally successful premier in BC history in Gordon Campbell, who survived a drunk-driving charge while in office, only to be felled by a caucus and taxpayer revolt. A taxpayer revolt led by Bill Vander Zalm, a former premier who presided over the destruction of the once-mighty Social Credit brand and left office in disgrace and mockery. And an opposition party in the BC NDP that, with the government at historic lows in the polls, seemed more interested in knifing its own leader, Carole James.

The latest development, Campbell’s resignation as Premier, was both inevitable and surprising. He tried to save himself with a televised infomercial a few weeks ago, offering large personal tax cuts, but the damage was done. With a caucus revolt brewing, Campbell recognized the writing was on the wall and decided to go as gracefully as possible.

Campbell’s departure triggers what should be a pretty interesting leadership race to replace him with all kinds of names being thrown out, from current minister like Kevin Falcon to past ministers like Christy Clark, as well as popular mayors and even federal Conservative cabinet ministers like James Moore.

Surprisingly, polling shows that, unlike when Rita Johnston beat-out Grace McCarthy for the Socred leadership after Vander Zalm ran the party into the ground, the BC Liberal leadership may still be a prize worth winning.

If Campbell had stubbornly decided to stay on the BC Liberal brand seemed destined to join Social Credit in the political graveyard, its support splitting between the BC Conservatives, the BC NDP and possibly a new centrist alternative. That erosion could still happen at a slower pace, but by falling on his sword Campbell has given his party a chance to live on.

New polling from Angus Reid taken after his televised infomercial but before his resignation indicates Campbell’s last-ditch hail-mary didn’t land, but he stands a good chance taking a lot of the voter animosity with him when he leaves the legislature.

The NDP still has a strong lead in the horserace, 47 per cent to 26 per cent over the BC Liberals, with the Greens and Conservatives tied at 10 per cent. And if the HST referendum goes ahead, 66 per cent will vote to abolish, 21 per cent would keep and 13 per cent are undecided.

The poll shows while they liked the policy promises in Campbell’s infomercial they’ve completely lost faith that he’ll keep his word on anything, with 66 per cent calling him unconvincing.

There is, however, a lot of underlying weakness evident in the NDP numbers. While Campbell scores an anemic 12 per cent leadership approval rating, James isn’t a whole lot better at 25 per cent.

And here’s an interesting set of numbers. While only six per cent said they’d like to see the next election return a BC Liberal government led by Campbell, remove Campbell from the equation and the NDP lead is only preferred 32 per cent to 28 per cent.

While the level of remaining resilience in the BC Liberal brand is surprising, the NDP weakness isn’t. Their numbers are very soft. For many years BC has been a two-party system, swinging back and forth between two defaults. People are pissed off with Campbell’s Liberals and James and the NDP are the default choice, but she’s still the leader and the party the electorate soundly rejected in the last election.

With a new leader at the helm of the BC Liberals and a few years to govern before the next election, that 47 to 22 NDP lead will shrink and this could be a very tight race once more. It will depend, of course, on who the new leader is and, more importantly, what they do with the HST. While the HST is the right policy, the people seem to have spoken pretty clearly and the referendum seems a formality at this point. If a new leader reverses the HST it's a new ball-game. If they try to sell it in a referendum battle, it will be closer but I don’t see them pulling it out.

Finally, even if a new leader can bring the BC Liberals off of life support, it remains clear that British Columbians remain utterly unsatisfied with their status quo options. While 32 per cent want the NDP to former the next government and 28 per cent the Campbell-less Liberals, the leader, with 34 per cent, as not sure/none of these.

Campbell’s departure may slow the process, but another dramatic shake-up of the BC political landscape remains inevitable. And it’s still very much needed.

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The Rat said...

You have been away too long. Kevin Falcon is too far right and has too limited a base to win. Carole Taylor has taken a very good job as Chancellor at SFU. Christy Clarke's afternoon radio show has shown that she is really quite a ditz. Dianne Watts, while a better potential candidate than many has little profile in the interior. James Moore would be interesting but why leave a successful federal ministry for a potentially career ending disaster leading the BC Libs? The facts here in BC are that there is no obvious leader for the BC Libs. It's so bad that there isn't even a potential leader for the BC Conservatives and the NDP is trying to whack their leader so they can have who? Leonard Krog??? God help us, we're are so screwed in BC.

Gene Rayburn said...

Wow, I can't believe I agree with The Rat... but he's bang on.

Jeff said...

This post wasn't meant to be a candidate analysis, just a look at the polling and electoral landscape.

But since you asked, I don't really buy James Moore as a candidate either, but there are plenty of reasons why it would make sense for him to make a move.

* Maybe he sees no further room for growth for him in the CPC. He's not going lead that party, and I don't see Harper giving him upper-level portfolios.

* Maybe he believes the party will lose the next federal election, and he wants to get going while the going is good.

Moore is young, well-respected and reasonably ambitious. There are plenty of reasons for him to seek opportunities outside of Ottawa. Is this the right opportunity for him though? That I'm more skeptical of.

Does Carole Taylor still have the political bug? She seems to young to fade away. I hear Watts is out. As for Clark, there's online buzz, that's all I know. I didn't listen to CKNW when I lived there, except for Canucks games.

What about the (l)iberal side of the BC Liberals, no names there? Or have they all left the party? I know I did many years ago.

Jonny Quest said...

"the NDP lead is only preferred 32 per cent to 28 per cent."

You mis-read the numbers. It's actually 34% (28% without Campbell, 6% with Campbell) who prefer a Liberal gov't over an NDP government in the ARS poll that was undertaken just prior to Campbell's resignation.

And Surrey mayor Dianne Watts (who is one of those rare politicians) has a +30 NET positive approval rating in a poll released by Ipsos on Friday. She's wayyyyyyyyy out in front in that regard and only 15% of BC'ers have never heard of her.

If Watts decides to go for it, the political landscape will change dramatically overnight - something akin to when Bennett stepped down in 1986 and was replaced by Vander Zalm. BTW, unlike Vanderzalm, Watts has savvy and brains.

I dunno if Watts will go for it though.

On the other side of the ledger, the knives are out for Carole James and her personal approval ratings are dismal.

The Rat said...

What about the (l)iberal side of the BC Liberals, no names there? Or have they all left the party? I know I did many years ago.

The Left Liberals are all in the provincial NDP, like Ujjal Dosanjh. Of the most likely right Liberals a number are tainted by Basigate, specifically Gary Collins. Carole Taylor would be the banner carrier for that wing of the party but I doubt she's interested. I'm not sure there are many right of centre Liberals left, actually, and I mean provincially and federally. The only one that comes to mind is Kash Heed and he's so badly damaged from his pedophile-leak scandal and the Chinese pamphlet that there is just no way he can stand. After that I can't think of any names. Maybe Wally Oppal???