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Gateway pipeline standoff fails to give B.C. Liberals a boost with voters

B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks to media at the B.C. Legislative Building in Victoria, Tuesday March 27,2012.

Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail/chad hipolito The Globe and Mail

Premier Christy Clark's high-profile campaign to seek a better B.C. deal from the controversial Northern Gateway project does not appear to have lifted support for her embattled BC Liberals ahead of the next provincial election, a new poll suggests.

Half of voters would support the NDP were a provincial election held now, according to the Forum Research Inc. survey of more than 1,000 B.C. residents provided exclusively to The Globe and Mail.

The survey was conducted on Tuesday and is the largest test of public support for the Liberal government's aggressive Gateway stand.

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Toronto-based Forum suggests the results of the survey indicate the NDP would take 79 of 85 seats in the legislature, reducing the now-majority Liberals to four. The other two seats would go to independent candidates.

The BC Liberals, who will be seeking a fourth term in the May, 2013, provincial election, are at 23 per cent, up from 20 per cent, as measured by a Forum poll last month. The BC Conservatives – who, like the Liberals, have no connection to their federal namesake – are at 18 per cent.

Forum's president said Ms. Clark's forceful advocacy for a better deal for British Columbia on Gateway has not had the impact the Liberals need.

"To get re-elected, [the BC Liberals] need a game changer. Everyone has been waiting for the game changer because they are so far behind," Lorne Bozinoff said.

Mr. Bozinoff said it's unlikely the Liberals will be able turn things around in the middle of next year's election campaign.

They need to begin winning support ahead of time, but it does not yet appear the pipeline approach will accomplish that.

The Liberals have been trumpeting Ms. Clark's advocacy through tweets and proclamations on their website since the divide between B.C. and Alberta became apparent at last week's meeting of premiers and territorial leaders in Halifax.

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Ms. Clark dominated the meeting with her government's five conditions for supporting the $6-billion energy project that would use a pair of pipelines to stream bitumen from Alberta to the B.C. coast for export to Asia.

Ms. Clark's conditions for supporting the Enbridge Inc. project include approval of the proposal by a joint review panel, a world-leading response to either land or water spills and appropriate deals and engagement for native communities.

But the key condition is improved fiscal benefits for British Columbia. Ms. Clark's government has noted the province would receive only 8 per cent, or $6.7-billion, of $81-billion of expected government revenues over 30 years. Ms. Clark says British Columbia would face most of the risk in the event of spill without a satisfactory financial return.

The Premier has been travelling outside the Lower Mainland since returning to B.C. after the meeting in Nova Scotia. She has been unavailable for comment on such issues as what happens next in possible talks with Alberta and Ottawa, and what work the province is conducting to define the fair fiscal deal she says she is seeking.

Mr. Bozinoff suggested one problem for the Liberals may be that the party has not yet been able to show voters "something concrete" from their stand.

The Forum poll found Ms. Clark's approval rating to be at 26 per cent, steady from 27 per cent in a Forum poll last month. NDP Leader Adrian Dix has a 42-per-cent approval rating.

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The survey also suggests 65 per cent disapprove of Gateway and its accompanying tanker traffic, up from 59 per cent last month.

The survey was conducted through an interactive voice-response telephone survey of 1,064 randomly selected B.C. adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

On Wednesday, when asked in a radio interview, whether he had "real serious doubts" about Enbridge, federal Heritage Minister James Moore replied: "Sure."

He said the company has not adequately explained recent spills in the United States or done enough to gain the confidence of British Columbians. "This project will not survive scrutiny unless Enbridge takes far more seriously their obligation to engage the public."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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