Tied with Greens, BC United slouching towards fall election bust, says poll

Mired in tie for third place

The provincial election in British Columbia has turned into a contest between an incumbent party with a new leader and an upstart party that has not elected a member of the Legislative Assembly in this century.

A couple of years ago, few would have imagined that the juggernaut that governed British Columbia from 2001 to 2017—winning four majority mandates under the name B.C. Liberals—would become a secondary player.

In our latest voting intention survey, BC United (formerly the B.C. Liberals) is tied for third place with the B.C. Green Party, garnering the support of 12 per cent of decided voters. The Conservative Party of B.C. is 20 points ahead (32 per cent). The ruling B.C. New Democratic Party (NDP) is 30 points ahead (42 per cent).

Many will say the rebrand is a major factor in BC United’s low standing with British Columbians. Its problems, however, began years earlier. The campaign finance reform legislation introduced by the B.C. NDP and the B.C. Greens in 2017 ended the reliance of the B.C. Liberals on corporate handouts. Fundraising in smaller amounts from individual donors can be immensely challenging.

The last provincial election took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, making it impossible for the B.C. Liberals to do what it did best—fill gyms and hold town halls with candidates. A contact-less campaign made then-leader Andrew Wilkinson’s job more difficult.

A third issue worth noting is the system the B.C. Liberals relied upon to choose its leaders. Wilkinson had the worst vote total in the party’s history in 2020 (34%) and current BC United Leader Kevin Falcon is barely in double-digits right now.

When we asked British Columbians how they would vote with different people leading BC United instead of Falcon, the highest scores came in for (former B.C. Liberal leader and premier ) Christy Clark (18%), (former Surrey mayor) Dianne Watts (18%), (Vancouver-Langford BC United MLA) Michael Lee (14%) and (political strategist and former B.C. Liberal leadership candidate) Gavin Dew (13%). While mathematically superior to Falcon’s current standing, these are not particularly compelling numbers, with the B.C. Conservatives in second place and the B.C. NDP in the lead.

Three other names would give BC United the same level of support it currently has under Falcon (12%)—(BC United Kelowna-Mission MLA) Renee Merrifield, (Abbotsford West B.C. United MLA) Mike de Jong and (former B.C. Liberal MLA) Sam Sullivan. Support is lower under (Skeena BC United MLA) Ellis Ross, (Vancouver Mayor) Ken Sim and (former B.C. Liberal leader) and Andrew Wilkinson (all at 11%), (Kamloops-South Thompson BC United MLA) Todd Stone, (Victoria developer and former B.C. Liberal leadership candidate) Stan Sipos (both at 10%) and (former B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Val Litwin and (North Island-Powell River federal Conservative candidate) Aaron Gunn, (whose candidacy to run for leader of the B.C. Liberals in 2021 was rejected) both at 9%.

Falcon, who ran for the B.C. Liberal leadership in 2011 and made it to the final round against eventual winner Clark, cited the experience of the 2013 election (a contest where he chose not to run as a candidate) in his initial blanket dismissal of voting intention surveys last year.

There are several factors that make 2013 and 2024 incomparable. Clark was in government, could steer policy through, had not tinkered with branding and could count on above-board assists from outside entities—like the long-defunct “Concerned Citizens of BC”—to push her message. Falcon is in opposition, is caught between policy extremes in the New Democrats and the B.C. Conservatives, leading a party still unknown for some voters and with little possibility of major help from a business community that is not as preoccupied about the current state of affairs as it may have been 11 years ago.

With five months to go before British Columbians cast their ballots, there are still opportunities to connect. BC United’s 15 incumbent candidates are well-known entities and could wind up with a significantly larger share of the vote than 12% in their districts. Still, many voters want to know more about the leaders, before and after the debates take place.

This brings us to another key difference between Clark’s 2013 B.C. Liberals and Falcon’s 2024 BC United. In April 2013, a candidate profile written by Jonathan Fowlie in the Vancouver Sun became a political conundrum. Those who disliked Clark lambasted her for running a red light at 5:15 am. Those who liked her were more likely to react with empathy and think: “I would have done that too.”

The candidate profile written by Rob Shaw for Northern Beat last month ended with Falcon admitting that leading BC United to defeat in October “wouldn’t be the end of my world.” In a parliamentary system, commanding the opposition into government has to be the cause of an individual’s life. It must have been disheartening for those who agreed to put their name forward as BC United candidates to see a leader so uncommitted to the task at hand, months before the campaign they signed up for begins.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from May 13 to May 15, 2024, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error—which measures sample variability—is +/- 3.5 percentage points, nineteen times out of twenty.

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