Electorate turns off, tunes out B.C. Liberals

THE evidence is in: British Columbians have collectively hit the "off" switch to anything the B.C. Liberal government has to say.

Nothing the B.C. Liberals have tried for months has improved their standing with the voters, who now appear firmly entrenched in the anti-B.C. Liberal camp.

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The multi-million taxpayer ad campaign that made questionable boasts about job creation has been a dud.

The nasty attack ad on NDP leader Adrian Dix has had no impact.

The throne speech was a flop.

And the budget fell flat with the public, who appear to have collectively flipped the "off" switch on anything the government has to say.

Two recent polls back these assertions up. One, by Ipsos-Reid, showed that just 12 per cent of those knew the government had tabled a new budget believed the government when it claimed it was "balanced."

The latest Angus Reid poll provides a mountain of findings that show the B.C. Liberals continue to be mired in a swamp of negativity from the voters. The party trails the NDP by 16 points, and has lost about one-third of the people who voted for the Liberals in 2009.

Most tellingly, the Angus Reid poll showed that 59 per cent of the electorate want a new government. That is an astounding figure, one that must send shudders through the B.C. Liberal camp.

But the governing party is pressing on, and has decided to make its alleged fiscal prowess the central theme of its election platform.

You may well ask how a government that has wracked up four deficits in a row (and maybe even five) and almost doubled the provincial debt can expect to be re-elected on a platform that says it's the only party to be trusted to manage government finances properly.

Yet that is precisely the seemingly contradictory argument the B.C. Liberals are putting forth as we head towards the election. Unfortunately for the ruling party, its track record for managing finances is hardly a stellar one.

Despite their claims of being financial geniuses, the B.C. Liberals have brought home seven deficit budgets during their time in office, and have pushed the provincial debt level from $34 billion when they were first elected to $63 billion next year.

And since absolutely nothing has worked for the B.C. Liberals, there is little reason to think the public is going to suddenly start listening to their arguments about financial management.

The only variable left in the game has nothing to do with the B.C. Liberals. Instead, it's all about the NDP.

Only a major stumble or scandal in the NDP camp is likely to derail their election chances. The gap in popularity between the two parties is so huge that only a self-inflicted wound can take the NDP out.

The NDP is constantly battling its stereotyped image as a left-wing, tax-and-spend party. Certainly, its time in office in the 1990s won't help it dispel that image, as it raised taxes considerably and balanced the books a mere two times.

Now the NDP is facing an interesting challenge. After branding the B.C. Liberals' latest budget as "phony" and "bogus" it can hardly put the same fiscal plan in front of the voters.

It's more than likely the NDP will have to put forth a budget that shows a deficit next year, not a "phony" surplus like the B.C. Liberals' plan. The key question may be, just how high a deficit can the party get away with?

I suspect something less than a $500 million deficit may strike voters as reasonable. After all, the current fiscal year shows a $1.3 billion deficit on the B.C. Liberals' watch so a reduction of almost two-thirds may prove acceptable.

But how the NDP gets to that figure is unclear and perhaps problematic. They've condemned the government's sell-off of $475 million worth of assets and its taking of a $245 million dividend from BC Hydro, plus it has suggested health care is about $235 million short.

It adds up to a deficit of about $750 million, which may strike some as too high. I haven't even included the various demands from NDP caucus members to increase spending in other areas, and party leader Adrian Dix would be wise to muzzle his caucus's spending calls.

Of course, none of this may matter.

If the general public keeps that "off" switch to anything the B.C. Liberals have to say, that big gap between them and the New Democrats won't be closing come Election Day.


Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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