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BC Politics

The Earthquake Shaking BC Politics

The surging BC Conservatives could doom BC United and raise challenges for the NDP.

Paul Willcocks 17 Apr 2024The Tyee

Paul Willcocks is a senior editor at The Tyee.

Six months from now Kevin Falcon is going to be staggering toward a catastrophic defeat for the remnants of the BC Liberals.

But what that will mean for the province’s political future is still up in the air, with the uncertainty increased by two shocking polls that show the Conservatives far ahead of BC United and only a few percentage points behind the NDP.

BC United is already toast, done in by self-inflicted wounds and the arrival of John Rustad and the Conservative Party of BC.

Falcon’s party has stumbled since the decision to abandon the BC Liberal brand in favour of BC United. The change, promoted by Falcon and approved by party members, took place a year ago this week. It was an immediate disaster.

That was made much worse when Rustad relaunched the B.C. Conservatives after Falcon kicked him out of caucus for doubting the basic science of climate change.

Falcon’s party had fallen from 33 per cent support to 19 per cent, trailing the Conservatives at 25 per cent. (The NDP were found to have 42 per cent support.) That’s despite his repeated assurances that voters would quickly become familiar with the BC United brand.

BC United is left with almost no safe seats in this election based on the current polling.

Take Abbotsford West, where Mike de Jong is quitting after 30 years in the legislature to seek a federal Conservative nomination. It’s been a BC Liberal/United stronghold. In 2020 de Jong captured 46 per cent of the votes to the New Democrats’ 37 per cent and the Conservatives’ nine per cent.

But that was when the Conservatives were at about eight per cent in the polls, not 25 per cent.

Double their vote in this October’s election at the expense of the Liberals — a cautious estimate — and the NDP wins.

United’s prospects are even worse in ridings that were close in the 2020 election, like Skeena. Ellis Ross took it for the BC Liberals in 2020 with 52 per cent of the vote to the NDP’s 45 per cent.

But there was no Conservative candidate. Rustad has committed to running a candidate in every riding and the NDP can count on an easy win in Skeena.

It’s the same story across the province. The Conservatives and BC United will split the centre-right vote, handing the NDP easy wins and a big majority. And BC United will be fighting to avoid being beaten by the Conservatives in the ridings that are in play.

United’s situation became even more dire last week. A Liaison Strategies poll found the NDP at 38 per cent support, Conservatives at 34 per cent, United at 16 per cent and Greens at 11 per cent. That’s similar to a March poll from Mainstreet Research.

If those polls are accurate, BC United could end up with no seats. Voters who don’t want an NDP government will consider strategic voting based on which party has a chance of winning in their ridings. Based on the Liaison poll, that would be the Conservatives. That’s especially true outside Vancouver and Vancouver Island, where the poll shows the Conservatives at 39 per cent, the NDP at 30 per cent and United lagging at 19 per cent. (The caveat about the polls’ accuracy is important. Curtis Fric and Philippe J. Fournier offer a useful analysis of possible factors affecting the results on Substack.)

And contributors will also be making some hard choices about which party gets their money. Until now BC United was far ahead of the Conservatives, thanks to its strong fundraising structure and the perception that it was the frontrunner on the right. That’s under threat.

The polls also mark a big change in the NDP’s situation. This election looked like a cakewalk, with a divided centre-right splitting the vote and a big majority almost guaranteed. Most polls this year gave the New Democrats at least a 17 per cent lead over the Conservatives.

If the two recent polls prove accurate and that gap is much smaller, the NDP faces a tougher campaign challenge than anyone expected a few weeks ago.

Come back next week for more from Paul Willcocks on the B.C. Conservatives surge.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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