Housing, health care stay solidly atop list of B.C. voters’ concerns

Economy and jobs, issues that handily topped the charts in the elections of 2009 and 2013, dropped to third place in the middle of the 2017 campaign

As the British Columbia electoral campaign heads to its final week, the perceptions of residents on the main issues facing the province have not gone through any significant fluctuations. Housing, homelessness and poverty (for millennials), health care (for baby boomers) and the economy and jobs (for generation X and baby boomers) are still the key concerns outlined by residents in Insights West surveys.

Across the province, 38% of British Columbians think housing, homelessness and poverty is the most important matter – a proportion that reaches 63% among people aged 18 to 34. Our province’s youngest voters are more likely to believe that BC New Democratic Party (NDP) leader John Horgan is better suited to handle these issues (31%) than incumbent premier and BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark (9%).

Health care is second on the list of British Columbians’ concerns at 19%, but climbs to 25% among a demographic that is vital for the BC Liberals: voters aged 55 and over. When looking at the issues that are troubling British Columbians as they assess the health-care system, the main problem, outlined by 75% of residents, continues to be “long waiting times for procedures and tests.”

Two-thirds of would-be voters (66%) are worried about a perceived “shortage of doctors and nurses,” a proportion that grows significantly in Vancouver Island, the Okanagan and northern B.C. The third-ranked concern, at 57%, is “long waiting times in emergency rooms.”

In a separate question, more than three in five British Columbians (63%) say they have personally experienced a wait of more than one hour during an emergency-room visit, while more than two in five (43%) say they waited more than six months for a procedure or test. This includes practically half of would-be voters aged 55 and over.

Economy and jobs, issues that handily topped the charts in the elections of 2009 and 2013, dropped to third place in the middle of the 2017 campaign. Clearly, there is animosity from baby boomers toward the NDP on the finance portfolio. This group would place Clark in charge of the economy instead of Horgan by a two-to-one margin (50% to 25%).

The views of residents on the most important issues facing the province leave the three contending parties with different tasks in the final stretch of the campaign.

For the BC Liberals, reconnecting with voters who have been put off by the premier’s leadership style will be pivotal, especially as three in five British Columbians (61%) disapprove of her performance. In spite of this setback, the governing party continues to be regarded as superior on economic management, particularly by older voters.

Recent elections have provided opportunities for politicians to apologize for perceived misdeeds. Two examples are Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson’s personal plea in 2014 and Stephen Harper’s electoral ad in 2015 claiming that the federal election was “not about him.” One of these incumbents emerged victorious, but the other one did not. An act of contrition on the part of the provincial head of government would suggest a much closer race – and a much more vulnerable ruling party – than any voting intention survey could.

For the BC NDP, motivating the base needs to take a back seat to the one thing that would certainly lead to a change of government: enticing past BC Liberal voters to switch sides. Young voters appear motivated, and the province saw little trouble supporting a party (at the federal level) that openly discussed deficits.

Still, it is difficult for most opposition leaders to be perceived as better stewards of the economy than the incumbents they are trying to unseat, unless economic conditions are notoriously bad. Before the recent elections in Alberta and Manitoba, Rachel Notley and Brian Pallister, respectively, were given votes of confidence as economic managers by residents before all ballots were cast. It remains to be seen whether Horgan will enjoy the same fate on the weekend prior to the provincial vote. 

Mario Canseco is vice-president of Insights West’s public affairs division.