B.C. Liberals' job performance on downhill slide

Business in Vancouver/Insights West poll finds B.C. public increasingly dissatisfied on job creation, LNG and other key economic files

A new Insights West poll commissioned by Business in Vancouver shows public support for Christy Clark's Liberals waning, while approval ratings for the Opposition NDP are on the rise 

The BC Liberals have staked the province’s future on liquefied natural gas (LNG). But as the months pass with few concrete results on the file, the voting public is getting weary, according to a new Insights West poll commissioned by Business in Vancouver.

The BC Liberals’ approval rating on every issue is down compared with a similar poll released six months ago. Most significantly, the Liberals have lost ground on jobs and the economy.

“This was a government that was elected on the basis of creating jobs and maintaining a steady economy,” said Mario Canseco, vice-president of public affairs at Insights West. “Now those numbers are lower than they’ve ever been since they came to power.”

The BIV/Insights West poll last December was conducted just days after LNG proponent Petronas announced it would delay a final investment decision on a proposed plant near Prince Rupert. Survey results at that time showed approval rates for the government’s handling of LNG falling to 28% of respondents from 38% six months previous.

Since that time, the Lax Kw’alaams Band voted to reject a $1 billion payout from Petronas in return for its support of the project. 

Considered the front-runner of the 19 LNG projects proposed for B.C., Petronas has yet to make its final investment decision. And now only 27% of respondents think the government has done a good job on LNG and pipelines. 

The poll shows support has also fallen (from 47% to 41%) for the file with the highest approval rating: the government’s initiative to loosen liquor laws. Canseco said major changes such as liquor sales in grocery stores have yielded far different results than what people expected. Restrictions have meant that, in reality, few supermarkets will be allowed to sell alcohol.

For Canseco, the poll illustrates the government’s inability to manage public expectations.

“People start to lose their patience. Similar to what happened with the LNG file. We spoke about billions of dollars; now we’re speaking about an opportunity.”

BC NDP leader John Horgan became leader one year ago. His approval rating was 31%. That has increased to 43%, according to poll results, which underscore the headway he has made in raising his public profile. 

Premier Christy Clark’s approval rating has slipped to 30%, down from 34% in December. 

But while the BC NDP was clearly emboldened by Rachel Notley’s historic “orange crush” win in Alberta on May 5, a different set of factors is at play in B.C., Canseco said.

“There’s this difficulty with trying to go beyond your base,” Canseco said. “There’s not a lot of movement of Liberal voters going to the NDP or Greens going to the NDP.”

Education and poverty are two issues that Christy Clark’s Liberals have consistently polled poorly on, and that trend is even more pronounced in the current survey. 

Poor education and poverty approval ratings, as well as softening results on the all-important jobs and the economy file, is siphoning support away from “soft” Liberal voters.

“There’s a tendency for incumbent governments to look only at things that are going to appeal to their base,” Canseco said. “There are ways to win government that way. But the number I pay attention to is the people who voted Liberal last time. … [They] are saying, ‘I like a few things that you’re doing, Madame Premier, but there are other files where I’m deeply disappointed, and I would like to see some action.’”

Insights West’s BC Government Report Card online survey of 801 adult British Columbians was conducted from May 16 to May 19. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.