Opinion

Christy Clark's Conservative Conundrum

Poll shows dip in BC Lib support as 'iron snowbird' premier spreads her right-wing.

By Bill Tieleman 13 Mar 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

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Premier Clark: which direction to go?

"I would rather go to any extreme than suffer anything that is unworthy of my reputation, or of that of my crown." -- Queen Elizabeth I, 1533-1603

Why was BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark -- a longtime federal Liberal -- speaking last week at "a conservative family reunion" organized by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning that was filled with Liberal-despising right-wingers?

Why has Clark hired three ex-Conservative operatives closely connected to Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- her chief of staff Ken Boessenkool, communications director Sara MacIntyre and senior advisor Dimitri Pantazopoulos?

Why hasn't Clark yet called by-elections in the Port Moody-Coquitlam or Chilliwack-Hope ridings, where incumbent Liberals in previously safe seats resigned long ago?

And why did ex-Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day visit Port Moody-Coquitlam on Monday to support BC Liberal candidate Dennis Marsden's campaign?

The answer is in the polls.

'Iron snowbird' dips

The BC Liberals are bleeding support to the BC Conservatives, who are a viable option for the first time in decades under new leader John Cummins -- a former Reform Party colleague of Manning's.

So Clark thinks shameless pandering to right-wingers is her only salvation to get back those votes, a big comedown for a federal Liberal once warmly thanked by then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion and someone who once worked in Ottawa for former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien's government.

And it may backfire, alienating those who have previously voted BC Liberal but fear Harper and Manning's style of conservatism.

A Forum Research poll conducted just after the Feb. 21 B.C. budget was tabled paints a grim picture: BC New Democrats at 42 per cent, BC Liberals at 24 per cent and the upstart BC Conservatives in hot pursuit at 22 per cent.

For Clark -- now dubbed the "iron snowbird" by Manning in some bizarre Margaret Thatcher meets Anne Murray moment -- it gets even worse.

In results not previously made public, Clark's favorability rating dropped to 31 per cent compared to NDP leader Adrian Dix's "dramatic increase" to 43 per cent from 35 per cent in January, Forum notes. Cummins is also up, to 27 per cent from 21 per cent.

NDP voters are "the most enthusiastic about voting for their party; Liberals least so," Forum found, with 62 per cent of NDP supporters "very enthusiastic," 52 per cent of BC Conservatives and 46 per cent of BC Liberals.

With those results, it's not surprising that Forum's projected seat count would give the NDP a "crushing majority government" with 63 of 85 ridings.

Polls present NDP gains

In an email interview, Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff said the poll was not commissioned by anyone and rejected suggestions posted by some BC Liberal supporters on Twitter that his firm's interactive voice response or IVR polling system was less accurate than telephone interview or online polling panel approaches used by other pollsters.

"We used IVR for both the Ontario and Saskatchewan provincial elections and were the most accurate poll of all the polls in both," Bozinoff wrote.

IVR polling allows a computer to call voters and record their opinions via the telephone keypad responses -- i.e. "press one for BC Liberal, press two for BC NDP, etc."

The Forum Research results also show that BC Liberal Party's $1-million attack ads and websites separately targeting Dix and Cummins coincided with Clark's decline in the polls, another ominous sign for the party.

But Forum isn't the only pollster asking questions in B.C.

Another poll by Innovative Research Group asks very specific questions about the negative or positive impact of the budget.

The online omnibus 20/20" includes questions about whether respondents think it will result in higher or lower unemployment, make the education and health care systems better or worse, if they will pay more or less user fees for government services, personally pay more or less taxes and if it will make the environment better or worse off, or make no difference in any or all of these.

Innovative president Greg Lyle was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell's election campaign manager when he was opposition leader in 1996, and employed Christy Clark's now ex-chief of staff Mike McDonald last year.

Innovative polled in the Vancouver-Point Grey riding in March 2011 to see if Clark could win the by-election forced when Campbell resigned. Clark narrowly defeated NDP candidate David Eby by just less than 600 votes.

Lyle said by email Sunday that his firm conducts its own polling about public responses to provincial and federal budgets and that the B.C. budget poll was not commissioned by another organization, but declined to say if the B.C. government is a subscriber to the 20/20 omnibus.

Lyle noted that government purchases are a matter of public record -- meaning that the finance ministry's annual public accounts statement would report any expenditure for his firm's services. But public accounts do not list what services those costs were for -- only a Freedom Of Information request could likely determine detailed expenditures.

Regardless of who does the polling -- and both Angus Reid Public Opinion and Ipsos-Reid polls have also showed the NDP ahead by a wide margin and the B.C. Conservatives gaining strength -- it's clear that the two impending by-elections could be catastrophic for Christy Clark.

Why else would she schmooze with hard-core right-wingers speaking at the Manning Centre for Building Democracy's "conservative family reunion?"

Those people include former Harper strategist Tom Flanagan, columnist and Sun TV host Michael Coren, current Conservative cabinet ministers Tony Clement, Jason Kenney, Joe Oliver, Diane Finley, Peter MacKay and Rona Ambrose, ex-Harper staffers Dimitri Soudas, Guy Giorno, and Ian Brodie, John Mortimer, head of the anti-union group LabourWatch, National Citizens Coalition Director Stephen Taylor, C.D. Howe Institute CEO Bill Robson, ex-Fraser Institute staffer Leah Costello, Tom Long, campaign chair for ex-Ontario Conservative Premier Mike Harris and a raft of other former Conservative and Reform MPs and staff.

It may give Clark a slim chance at redemption, but the increasingly un-Liberal premier might also be on a right-wing road to ruin.  [Tyee]

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