The B.C. Liberals, seeking a fourth straight term in the May provincial election, have slightly narrowed the gap in voter support with the NDP to a still-daunting 14-point lead, a new survey suggests.
The Angus Reid Public Opinion poll released on Thursday suggests the Liberals have gained three points on the New Democrats since a survey earlier this month.
But the New Democrats maintain a formidable lead in various areas, suggesting the sole televised debate in the campaign, to be held on Monday, has new relevance as a possible turning point.
Angus-Reid vice-president Mario Canseco said the big problem for the Liberals is they have only about two weeks left to turn things around. "They haven't really dented the level of support for the NDP," he said. "It's certainly a tough hill to climb."
The party standings in the online survey of 812 adults selected randomly are B.C. NDP at 45 per cent, unchanged from the last Angus Reid poll; B.C. Liberals up three points to 31 per cent; B.C. Conservatves down one point to 11 per cent, and B.C. Greens down three points to 10 per cent. The margin of error for the survey conducted April 24-25 is plus or minus 3.5 per cent 19 times out of 20.
Mr. Canseco said the results set up challenges for the leaders going into the TV debate.
He said B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark needs to connect with voters. "It's about trying to project an image of somebody who knows what is happening and who cares," he said. "You're not going to connect by degrading the strategy of the other person, especially when the other person is 14 points ahead."
The challenge for NDP Leader Adrian Dix, he said, is to seal the deal with voters who may be wavering about actually supporting New Democrats at the ballot box.
Mr. Canseco said B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins needs to persuade prospective supporters that the centre-right coalition is broken and his party is the best option for voters who adhere to those values. Green Party Leader Jane Sterk, he said, would be advised to bolster the party's best candidates. "It's almost like she's there to promote other people."
The survey found the NDP leads across age demographics, and Mr. Dix is seen as the best prospective premier by 32 per cent of respondents compared with 20 per cent for Ms. Clark, and is regarded as the best choice among four provincial party leaders to handle education, health care and crime.
On the all-important economic file, Mr. Dix is in a virtual tie with Ms. Clark at 29 per cent to 27 per cent. Ms. Sterk has the lead on the environment at 32 per cent, and Ms. Clark is seen as best able to manage federal-provincial relations. Ms. Sterk's approval ratings are 32 per cent compared with 30 per cent for Ms. Clark and 20 per cent for Mr. Cummins. Mr. Dix leads at 45 per cent.
The poll, conducted after Mr. Dix made clear his opposition to a proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline from Alberta to the Lower Mainland, also suggests a three-point decline in Green Party support, which may indicate the NDP has picked up voters from that party. Standings in the legislature at dissolution were Liberals 45, New Democrats 36, and four independents.
In the campaign on Thursday, Ms. Clark's key appearance was a speech in which she promised a Liberal government would create a new Premier's Women's Economic Advisory Council to help spur business opportunities for women. The volunteer group would build on the already strong role women play in B.C., which has the second-highest number of female small business owners in Canada, Ms. Clark told about 140 people at a Women's Executive Network event in Vancouver.
Meanwhile, Mr. Dix rejected the suggestion the NDP is turning into the party that says "no" to major projects such as the Kinder Morgan and Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines.
"We're a party that says 'yes.' I'm very supportive and optimistic about mining development in B.C. I think it's very important that British Columbians work in the mining industry," he told reporters, adding the NDP would invest much more than the Liberals in forestry and film and TV production. "But I don't want Vancouver to become primarily an oil tanker export post. That's what I've said about the proposals [Kinder Morgan and ENG] before us."