Political Spin: Current polls show an endangered BC United

A column by Bruce Uzelman
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B.C. United Leader Kevin Falcon Tuesday (May 14) confirmed the existence of talks to find “common ground” with the Conservative Party of B.C. to defeat the B.C. NDP government. Falcon was responding to earlier comments from Conservative leader John Rustad. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

A column by Bruce Uzelman

A May 14, Abacus Data poll reveals that 47% of British Columbians definitely want a change of government, and 21% say it would be nice to have a change but is not important. Only 20% want to definitely re-elect the NDP, while 12% say it would be nice to keep them.

The NDP’s lukewarm support is not surprising, given their disappointing performance over Premier David Eby’s short tenure. The healthcare and housing crises and the level of the deficit are unprecedented, and the crime and toxic drug crises roll ever forward.

It is surprising that the Conservative Party of BC enjoys strong support, with B.C. United trailing far behind. BC United has a solid record of prudent government from 2001 to 2017, while the Conservatives have been an unproven, unknown fringe party for decades. Their current program is an amalgam of standard conservative policies and a few far right positions.

Abacus shows the NDP at 40% support, the Conservatives not far behind at 34%, and BC United at a distant 13%. It is a stunning result, though the Conservatives’ rise has been developing for some time. Given the lack of progress on many current issues, the softening of the NDP vote, down 4% from November, is understandable. In fact, it is surprising it has not fallen further.

The cost of living remains elevated, though inflation has moderated. The housing crisis is acute in B.C. with Canada’s highest rental costs, and major healthcare problems persist, despite reforms in both areas. Abacus shows that sixty-four percent of B.C. pollees view the cost of living to be among the top three most important issues, while 54% select housing affordability and accessibility and 41% select healthcare. Voters appear willing to give the NDP more time to fix these priority issues.

The poll shows poverty and homelessness is in the top three issues of only 26% of voters, and only 19% select drug addiction. All other issues rate even lower. B.C. residents lower level of concern with issues the government has blatantly mishandled – drug decriminalization and addiction, crime, and high deficits – also may explain the somewhat resilient support of the NDP.

The free fall of BC United and the strength of the BC Conservatives is puzzling. It’s true, BC United engaged in what appears to have been a catastrophic name change process over the last year. The Conservative Party, meanwhile, has benefited from the currently hot federal Conservative brand.

James Moore, a cabinet minister under former Prime Minister Harper, said on Power and Politics, “People have been looking in British Columbia for a credible alternative voice for the incumbent government, and frankly they didn’t find it in BC United. You know, if you are going to rebrand a party from the Liberals to B.C. United, you have to define what you are united for and what you are united against. And they haven’t done that….”

Moore says John Rustad and the Conservatives, “have picked tough issues, and they’ve fearlessly pushed back against the government, and have provided a genuine political opposition….” Moore’s analysis does not appear to be based on political bias – he identifies as a friend of BC United leader Kevin Falcon and lauds the BC United team. But he may give the Conservatives too much credit.

The Conservative Party and leader John Rustad have an unadulterated conservative message, but their views on climate change and vaccination mandates are not mainstream. The party may not be ready. It only has two members in the legislature, and evidently had some questionable candidates.

BC United, with plummeting support, must loudly proclaim its message, or it will fade away. Clear policy priorities and a direct, understandable communications style are essential. Attacks on NDP policies must sharpen.

The party and Falcon have not been sufficiently prominent. Both must be more visible. Falcon held a town hall in Tsawwassen. He needs to do that over and over and over again across the province. Such moves may save the party from elimination, but cannot now produce an election win.

Uniting BC United and the Conservatives is key to defeating the government. Talks occurred. But last week, Falcon said a merger is not on because some Conservative candidates are too extreme, and Rustad declared he is running a full slate of Conservative candidates.

Moore said the two leaders “can get along and should get along in the best interests of the party. If they don’t, both leaders will be deposed of, and British Columbians will look for something new going forward.” Moore thinks that the best strategy is to fold BC United into the Conservatives. As he points out, Eby is vulnerable. The opposition parties need only exploit that, together.

After the statements of both leaders last week, however, a merger appears highly unlikely. The NDP will win handily over a divided right. And BC United, if present trends continue, risks disappearing.

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Bruce Uzelman, based in Kelowna, holds interests in British Columbia history as wells as current political and economic issues.

Bruce had a career in small business, primarily restaurant and retail. He holds a Bachelor of Arts, Advanced from the University of Saskatchewan, with Majors in Political Science and Economics.

Contact: [email protected]