Housing and homelessness displace economy as B.C. residents' top concern: poll

“Whoever can connect on that file is going to tap into a lot of dissatisfaction:" Mario Canseco, Insights West

Premier Christy Clark at a B.C. technology conference earlier this year

British Columbians now rank housing, poverty and homelessness higher than the economy on their list of concerns.

The previous instalment in the Business in Vancouver-Insights West B.C. government report card series showed the economy as B.C. residents’ No. 1 concern. Results in the updated report card represent the first time in three years that the province’s residents have picked housing, poverty and homelessness as their top issue of concern.

“I think it really speaks to the situation that we’ve had over the past few months, especially over the past few months: discussions about realtors, discussions about foreign ownership,” said Mario Canseco, vice-president of public affairs at Insights West. “Whoever can connect on that file is going to tap into a lot of dissatisfaction.”

The debate about the role of foreign investment in the Metro Vancouver housing market has been heated, with real estate economists saying capital outflows from China are landing in B.C. real estate and driving up prices, while the real estate industry and provincial government have pinned the problem on a lack of supply.

B.C.’s robust economic performance compared with other parts of the country, especially Alberta, could be one reason survey respondents weren’t as concerned about jobs and the economy this time around, Canseco said, noting the economy is “the best-rated file for the Liberals, but not by a lot.”

However, a healthy economy makes the preoccupation with housing even more curious; 71% of British Columbians said the government had done a bad job on the  housing file.

“If the situation has been going so well on the economic front, why are so many residents concerned about housing, poverty and homelessness?” he said.

Aside from housing, poverty and homelessness, the current government also scored low on accountability, with 67% giving the provincial government a failing grade, while 62% said the Liberals have done a poor job of handling education.

The BC Liberals have faced embarrassing stories about donors paying $20,000 in return for a private meeting with Premier Christy Clark and a $50,000 “stipend” Clark receives from the BC Liberal party that comes out of taxpayer funds.

Clark’s disapproval rating sits at a relatively high 59%, while 34% of British Columbians approve of her performance.

That’s not entirely surprising for a premier who has now been in office for five years, Canseco said.

Opposition leader John Horgan of the BC NDP has an approval rating of 40% and a disapproval rating of 28%, but Canseco said he is still failing to make much of an impression on voters.

And poll results show that many voters still don’t know much about Andrew Weaver, the lone Green Party MLA.

The next provincial election is still a year away, and making an emotional connection with voters is going to be key for Horgan, because he will be carving out a stance on natural resources when the BC Liberals will be keen to paint the NDP as the “party of no.”

“Can you find a way to deal with that message and say we’re not necessarily saying no, given the situation we’ve had over the last couple of years – and the report from the auditor general certainly helps them – we think there’s a better way to do things in this province?” Canseco asked, referring to the auditor general’s May 3 report that criticized the government’s ability to protect the environment from damage caused by mines.