A new poll gives the opposition New Democrats a massive lead of 22 percentage points, suggesting that the BC Liberals are too far behind for Premier Christy Clark to save her governing party in tonight's televised leaders' debate.
"It's an insurmountable gap," said Barb Justason, whose firm, Justason Market Intelligence, conducted the online/telephone survey of 600 British Columbians between April 15 and 23.
The pollster added that controversy over NDP Leader Adrian Dix's new opposition to the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline is unlikely to breathe new life into the BC Liberal campaign.
"A majority of voters are focused on eliminating a party that they see as being past its sell-by date."
The Justason survey released today found that 49 per cent of decided voters favour the NDP under leader Adrian Dix with the BC Liberals supported by 27 per cent. The poll shows that 12 per cent of decided voters back the Green Party and 11 per cent support the BC Conservatives.
"We are seeing that things are very stable," Justason said of the survey that has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. "We are not seeing an electorate that is jumping around."
No Clark traction on Kinder Morgan: pollster
Clark is expected to go into attack mode tonight on TV just as she did during Friday's radio debate, repeatedly using catchphrases such as "it's the same old NDP" -- and criticizing Dix for his Earth Day decision to oppose Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline expansion.
However, said pollster Justason, "All these things she (Clark) may be attempting to do during the debate -- they aren't catching hold because the bigger issue is that everyone feels the BC Liberals need a break after 12 years of governing."
Several media pundits have suggested that Dix's new opposition to the Kinder Morgan project has given Clark the wedge issue she needs to gain ground. But Justason said this scenario is improbable. She noted that a survey conducted by her polling firm two months ago found that a majority of B.C. residents -- 57 per cent -- oppose Kinder Morgan's plan to twin the Trans-Mountain pipeline and increase B.C. coastal oil tanker traffic.
Dix announced on Earth Day, April 22, that he opposes the Kinder Morgan plan because he believes it would boost the traffic of tankers carrying Alberta oil to unacceptable levels. Until then, Dix's public position was that he would not pre-judge the proposed $5.4-billion project -- as a matter of principle -- until the pipeline builder's plans had been filed with a federal environmental review. Clark, in the radio debate, accused Dix of hiding his true view of the Kinder Morgan project, noting that he had told Globe and Mail reporter Justine Hunter that he made up his mind to reject the project in January. In fact, what Dix said in the article was that "he made up his mind to oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal after the company signaled its expanded ambitions for the project in January." In that month Kinder Morgan said it intended to increase the capacity of its proposed pipeline project by almost 20 per cent.
Clark tried to turn Dix's timeline into a character issue, charging that "if he is concealing that, what about the labour code? How is he going to pay for $3 billion in out-of-control spending?"
Justason said that most voters are more concerned with Dix's final decision, not with the thinking process behind it. "She (Clark) is trying to play the subtlety of this, and in fairness, she has a legitimate point, but people are thinking much more broadly in terms of we just don't want this pipeline."
Clark's message backfires: Martyn Brown
Martyn Brown, who was campaign director for the BC Liberals in the last three elections, predicted after Friday's radio debate that the BC Liberals will probably run TV ads suggesting that Dix's switch on Kinder Morgan shows he isn't true to his word.
"But every time Clark raises the issue, it plays in his favour. By raising it, she implies that she is for turning Vancouver into a major oil export port. Every time she raises the issue, she will drive Green voters to Dix. Every time she raises it, she will drive a number of BC Liberal voters to Dix, because this is an issue that crosses party lines.
"She's not going to gain any new votes because the people who want that development are already going to vote for the BC Liberals or the Conservatives."
Brown, who was former premier Gordon Campbell's chief strategist, said that Dix's Earth Day announcement may have cost him "some initial early ground with people saying he's anti-business. But fundamentally, he is on the side of the angels with the position he has taken."
While Clark and some media commentators have questioned Dix's claim that he made up his mind on Earth Day, said Brown, "his new position is one that will be widely popular, more popular than his previous position. It will make people more comfortable voting NDP who would otherwise be voting Green."
BC Green Party Leader Jane Sterk, during the radio debate, called Dix's new Kinder Morgan position an "election ploy" released to please the NDP base and the majority of British Columbians opposed to the proposal.
High profile enviros switch to NDP this time around
There is evidence that Dix's Earth Day about-face is gaining support among environmentalists. Tzeporah Berman and Mark Jaccard, two prominent climate change activists who strongly rebuked the NDP in the 2009 election for its opposition to the carbon tax, have endorsed the New Democrats this time around.
Berman is now urging support for the NDP and has been canvassing for New Democrat David Eby in Clark's riding of Vancouver-Point Grey.
"For those of us who prioritize climate change issues and are really concerned about the dramatic expansion of oil tankers on our coast, I think the NDP announcement this week gives us more security," said Berman.
"That should they form government, they will fight to defend our coast and our interests."
Berman is not surprised that some media commentators are saying that Dix is showing an anti-business bias by opposing the Kinder Morgan plan.
"This is the expected right-wing fossil fuel backlash. They like to portray the opposition to dirty energy projects as opposition to a strong economy. And it's a false polemic."
Berman said the NDP is "saying no to projects that don't have significant benefits to B.C. and put us and our climate at risk. Saying yes to everything, as Christy Clark is doing, isn't leadership. It's a desperate cash grab."
'Extremely frustrated' with Liberals: former supporter Jaccard
Jaccard, an energy policy professor at Simon Fraser University known for his activism against climate change, is urging potential Green Party supporters to vote for a New Democrat in every riding where the NDP can defeat a BC Liberal.
Jaccard said he is "extremely frustrated" by Clark's unwillingness to see a difference between business investment that is relatively benign and pipeline projects carrying Alberta oil, which "wreck havoc on the entire planet."
"It was a breath of fresh air to hear someone like Adrian Dix, who might become premier, making that distinction.
"And it's a real disappointment to see the media not able to distinguish between good jobs and bad jobs. What if it was nuclear weapons we were making, or heroin, or land mines?"
Emma Gilchrist of the Dogwood Initiative, an environmental group, said that the new NDP position "may help them attract some voters back from the Greens, especially on the [Vancouver] Island where Green support is particularly high and so is opposition to the expansion of oil tanker traffic."
Gilchrist, whose group is not endorsing any political party, said that residents of Oak Bay-Gordon Head, for instance, "could see six times more oil tankers sailing past their shores if the Kinder Morgan expansion went ahead."