Sleepless nights for the B.C. Liberal party

Premier Christy Clark must be holding her breath wondering what next bad day/worse day event is going to crush her work week.

Premier Christy Clark must be holding her breath wondering what next bad day/worse day event is going to crush her work week.

When elected as leader of the Liberal Party a year ago, she knew there would be challenges, but I doubt even she and her soothsayers predicted this degree of upheaval.

Stepping up as premier meant she inherited a lot of baggage from departing Gordon Campbell who landed on his feet with that plum job as Canada’s High Commissioner to the U.K. with an office just off Grosvenor Square in the exclusive Mayfair district just a stone’s throw from Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Not bad for a post-HST policy wonk.

Clark, though, is living in the real world of B.C. where she’s had to put on multiple brave faces to cope with the defection of Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen to the Conservative camp and polls showing her popularity and that of the Liberal Party free-falling. Clark’s approval rating has dropped eight points since January from 40 per cent to 32 per cent while NDP leader Adrian Dix’ rating remains at 45 per cent and Conservative leader John Cummins has gained five points giving him 28 per cent.

And it must gall Clark to no end that the Libs have dropped 20 points behind the NDP to tie – yikes – with John Cummins’ re-vamped Conservative Party. That’s got to hurt.

Marry that stuff up with labour union wars, smart meters, increased ferry fares, bonus cheques to public executives, van Dongen’s personal and public decision to open up the BC Rail legal pay-off while taking cheap shots at his caucus ex-colleagues and it must all add up to a lot of sleepless nights for the Liberals now being branded as damaged goods.

So it’s no wonder sharp eyes are being turned to the upcoming byelections in Chilliwack-Hope and Port Moody-Coquitlam Thursday April 19th.  Popular NDP Port Moody former mayor Joe Trasolini is considered the favourite against Liberal contender Dennis Marsden and Conservative nominee Christine Clarke.

But it is here in Chilliwack-Hope where there’s a battle brewing. We’ve long been provincial Liberals and federal Conservatives. But the knives are out for a close three-way race between Conservative nominee John Martin, criminologist and media commentator, Liberal Laurie Throness who was the long-time chief of staff to retired federal cabinet minister Chuck Strahl, and NDP nominee Gwen O’Mahony.

Clearly, the back-channels are buzzing with anticipation. Chuck Strahl felt it necessary to take out a full page ad in support of the Liberals while pointing out that the B.C. Conservatives are not the same as the federal Conservatives. When he speaks, the much-respected, six-term MP has words that mean a lot here.

There are 32,709 registered voters in the Chilliwack-Hope electoral district as of May 12th, 2009 and 33,487 in the Port Moody-Coquitlam electoral district. Voter turnout in the 2009 General Election was 51.85 per cent in Chilliwack-Hope and 57.44 per cent of registered voters in Port Moody-Coquitlam. The last by-election held in the province was the May 11th 2011 Vancouver-Point Grey by-election when voter turnout was 38.94 per cent.

The top priority for voters, according to the Angus Reid poll, is the economy (24 per cent) followed by health care (19 per cent), leadership (12 per cent), education (10 per cent), tax relief (6 per cent), then poverty and the environment (tied with 5 per cent).

In analysis, the poll claimed that the bleed of voter support for the Liberals translated into gains for the Conservatives. And byelections, historically, have never favoured the sitting party. Over the past 40 years there have been 23 provincial byelections of which the opposition parties won 21.

Sleepless nights.