Watch British Columba.
The six-year-old provincial Liberal government of Premier Christy Clark meets the electorate on May 9, and the outcome is anyone’s guess.
B.C. elections are often isolated provincial phenomena with little impact beyond the mountains. This time, however, the outcome will resonate as far east as Ontario where another Liberal premier, Kathleen Wynne, is in even deeper trouble than Clark. A Clark victory would at least buoy depressed Liberal spirits in Ontario.
First, British Columbia. The centre-right Liberals – in some respects they are closer ideologically to Progressive Conservatives parties in other provinces than they are to Justin Trudeau’s left-centre federal Liberals – have been in power in Victoria for 16 years, first under Gordon Campbell and since 2011 under Clark.
If she wins on May 9, it will be the fifth consecutive mandate for the B.C. Liberals. But it won’t come easily. A Mainstreet/Postmedia poll two weeks ago had the Liberals in a dead heat with the New Democrats at 37 per cent apiece (with the Greens at 17). Worse, for Clark, her average disapproval rating in three relatively recent polls was 56 per cent. Not good.
Mind you, Ontario’s Wynne would kill for numbers like Clark’s. The poll aggregator ThreeHundredEight.com put her Liberals at 27 per cent in a new consolidation on Feb. 26; that was 14 points behind Patrick Brown’s Progressive Conservatives (at 41 per cent – enough for a majority government) and just one point ahead of Andrea Horwath’s NDP (26 per cent).
Wynne’s own approval rating is disastrous – just 16 per cent, compared to 70 per cent disapproval – and she places a dismal third when Ontarians are asked which party leader they would prefer as premier.
Wynne’s problems are not new, but they are getting worse. The enthusiasm that greeted her when she became premier in 2013 (taking over from the uninspiring Dalton McGuinty) was genuine and it carried her to a majority government in 2014. But the zest did not last for long after that election. Today, the Liberals seem tired, grey, uninspired and not very competent.
Their support is concentrated in the old city of Toronto. They trail both the PCs and NDP in the 905 region, Northern Ontario and Southwestern Ontario and are well behind the Tories in Eastern Ontario.
Recently, in a bid to regain support in 905, Wynne overruled Toronto Mayor John Tory’s plan to impose tolls on the overcrowded Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. Last week, she announced cuts in the price of electricity (17 per cent added to an earlier 8 per cent) – vastly expensive moves designed primarily to sooth angry hydro customers in the north and rural Ontario.
Will it work? Probably not. Liberals are starting to protest – anonymously to date – that Wynne may well drag the party down to defeat in the election scheduled for June 7 next year. Last week, the Toronto Star, the Liberals’ most loyal friend among the media, published profiles of seven potential candidates for Wynne’s job.
There is a message in all this for the Premier. It is: Turn the ship around in a hurry or turn the helm over to someone else.
No ranking Liberal will say this on the record (yet), but the party is looking for a go-or-stay decision from Wynne this summer, followed by a leadership convention, if required, in the fall to give a new leader time to save the Good Ship Liberal by June of next year.
CORRECTION. Last week’s column, in commenting on Andrew Scheer’s campaign for the leadership of the federal Conservative party, made this reference to a former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “Harper loyalist Guy Giorno may not be Scheer’s official campaign manager, but insiders believe he is calling the shots.” Not so, say both Giorno and Scheer campaign manager Hamish Marshall. Now an integrity commissioner for various Ontario municipalities, Giorno says he is no longer active in partisan politics and is not supporting Scheer or anyone else. I stand properly chastised.