THERE was a lot of high-fiving and backslapping in B.C. Liberal ranks this past week after the B.C. Conservative party engaged in a public meltdown, but they're fooling themselves if they think their path to retain power is cleared of obstacles.
Yes, the B.C. Conservative party appears to be drifting backwards to fringe party status, which is good news for the B.C. Liberals. Last weekend's convention that was supposed to put to rest questions about John Cummins leadership turned into a comical sideshow that left the party looking even worse.
The party's own MLA, John van Dongen, quit the party over Cummins' leadership. The day before, one of the party's candidates in last spring's byelection in Chilliwack quit the party and joined the B.C. Liberals.
As for Cummins, he received the support of 71 per cent of his members, a rather weak showing that looks even weaker when one realizes that two-thirds of the party membership didn't vote and many people apparently didn't even receive a ballot.
Rather than looking like a party ready to govern or even form the official Opposition, the B.C. Conservatives simply look disorganized and marginalized (they also seem to have some serious financial problems).
Unless Cummins and his party pick up their game, public support for them has likely peaked and may now start to dwindle. Last week's Ipsos-Reid poll showed the party had already slipped four points since June, and that poll was taken before the events of the weekend.
This is all good reason for the B.C. Liberals to start smiling again. Certainly, there is now at least a sliver of light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel for a long time.
But I suspect there are a lot of people out there who voted for the B.C. Liberals in the past few elections who never intended to vote for the B.C. Conservatives (or the NDP for that matter) but who still harbour resentment and misgivings towards the B.C. Liberal government.
These are the disaffected voters who may just choose to stay home come voting day, seeing no party worthy of their support.
This is the chief challenge facing the B.C. Liberals: motivating their own pool of one-time supporters to come their way again.
They might want to start by reconnecting with a segment of the population that has largely deserted them: women voters.
A huge gender gap has developed on the political scene. That Ipsos-Reid poll showed the NDP has a 33-point lead over the B.C. Liberals when it comes to the voting intention of decided women voters. This is a staggering gap: 54 per cent of decided female voters back the NDP; a paltry 24 per cent of women support the B.C. Liberals.
There is some rich irony here, of course. It was the NDP who unceremoniously dumped a woman as its leader in favour of a man, and it was the B.C. Liberals who chose a woman as its leader.
Yet, women seem to have turned on Premier Christy Clark in droves. Her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, also had a problem garnering the support of women voters, but his troubles on that front were nothing like those faced by Clark.
I'm not sure how Clark can win those women back. But I was struck by comments made by several female callers to our Cutting Edge of the Ledge segment on CKNW's The Bill Good Show last week, who complained that Clark "lacked humility" and was always making "everything about her."
The B.C. Liberals have made a conscious effort to rebrand themselves as the "Christy Clark Party." As I wrote in this space some months back when they first made that shift, such a strategy could backfire if Clark became unpopular.
That's exactly what's happened. According to the Ipsos-Reid poll Clark's disapproval rating among voters is climbing, and NDP leader Adrian Dix is widening his lead over her on the question of who would make the best premier.
Perhaps it is time for the B.C. Liberals to stop making Clark the centrepiece of their communications strategy, and try something else. Goodness knows the current approach isn't working.
For now they will take delight in the foibles of their rival B.C. Conservatives. That's understandable. But it's Dix and the NDP who are still in the driver's seat, and they show no sign of getting out of that leaders' position anytime soon.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.