Liberal leader Christy Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix pose for the cameras before a debate on April 29. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)
By Cassidy Olivier, The Province
Gary Young, a vocal independent candidate for Cariboo-Chilcotin, offers an old saying when the conversation turns to trust in government, something that he says is sorely lacking.
“It’s not a given,” he said during a recent phone call. “Trust has to be earned.”
In an election campaign that has been easy to forget for its lack of flair, the words offer a timely reminder of the major themes that have been driving the current race to the ballot box.
While Premier Christy Clark, hardhat firmly on head, has tried to frame election 2013 as a choice between a bright, prosperous future and a return to the cursed ’90s, political observers agree that the real ballot questions will be ones of change, credibility and trust.
Who do I trust? Who do I believe will make good on their promises? Who will offer the change I want?
The Province wants to hear your thoughts on this election issue. There are five ways to tell us:
“Change is the word,” said Martyn Brown, a political commentator and Gordon Campbell’s former chief of staff.
“But it is also a loss of trust and confidence that are the issues in this campaign.”
The main reason for this is a direct result of what Brown’s old boss did in 2009 after winning a third term in office on a ballot that was exclusively about who was best able to handle the chequebook during the global financial crisis.
Soon after a victorious Campbell gave B.C. the thumbs-up on the front page, another finger was waving figuratively in the air in the form of a soon-to-be-despised harmonized sales tax. Within months, Campbell was before the TV cameras offering his resignation.
Clark has done much since then to change the channel: the party has been rebranded, the bulk of the old guard has left, the message has been repackaged and the course re-charted. “Today’s BC Liberals” is what their logo now says, which is code for “We’ve Changed.”
A string of recent polls suggest that this has had some success in altering the narrative, with one poll showing the Liberals have cut the NDP’s lead to seven points, half of what it was at the start of the campaign. Clark’s approval ratings have also gone up considerably.
Yet there remains a sense that the sour taste left by the HST still lingers and that the public at large isn’t buying the change being sold.
An Ipsos Reid poll released Tuesday, found that only 31 per cent of respondents have trust in Clark and the B.C. Liberals with 65 per cent saying they have no trust in the party and its leader. Adrian Dix and the NDP scored 43 per cent and 54 per cent respectively.
The results coincide with the start of a targeted ad campaign by the NDP aimed at reminding voters about the HST and other Liberal black eyes from the past.
“It was going to be a tough challenge from the start for Christy Clark and the Liberals to restore public trust over the course of the short campaign, and it appears they have not managed to do that,” said Kyle Braid, vice-president of polling firm Ipsos Reid.
There is also the question of Clark’s own credibility and trustworthiness, issues her chief rival, Dix, has also had to deal with.
Clark came into the election run still wobbling from the ethnic memo scandal, which cost her a deputy chief of staff and a cabinet minister. While her campaign has, for the most part, been run well, said Braid, it hasn’t been without its share of ridicule.
Despite what has been claimed, the hard facts don’t back up the B.C. Jobs Plan. Promises of a balanced budget are also looked on with doubt as is the pledge of paying off B.C.’s debt with a still-unrealized liquefied natural gas industry. There was also that red light.
While Clark has regained a slight edge over Dix in a recent Angus Reid poll on the question of who is best suited to handle the economy (37 per cent to Dix’s 36 per cent), she didn’t score as well on questions of truth and honesty.
Of the 807 respondents surveyed in the May 2 Angus Reid poll, only 25 per cent expressed confidence that Clark would keep her campaign promises. Twenty-nine per cent said expressed confidence that she would tell the truth and be honest.
Dix scored 37 per cent and 35 per cent on the same questions, these relatively low numbers hinting at the trust questions the NDP leader has himself had to answer for.
“It is not as if Dix is setting the world on fire here,” said Mario Canseco, vice-president of polling firm Angus Reid.
“If you are someone who is advocating for change, you want to be over 50 per cent on most of it.”
The only question that Dix scored higher than 50 per cent on in that poll was on whether or not the infamous back-dating memo incident, which cost Dix his job as Glen Clark’s chief of staff, remains a relevant issue. Fifty-one per cent of British Columbians said yes.
Questioned about a more recent incident, in which Dix was caught riding a the SkyTrain without a ticket, 44 per cent of respondents said it is an issue that “matters a lot/somewhat” to them.
The Liberals have used these points, as well as his sudden flip-flop on the Kinder Morgan proposal, to not only discredit Dix, but also to create the impression in voters’ minds that the kind of change he is offering isn’t the kind B.C. wants.
Judging by the results of the Tuesday poll on trust, Braid said that the strategy may be working.
“It looks like they may have shaken some of the trust in Adrian Dix and the NDP who now have a majority of voters who disagree that they trust the No. 1 candidate for change in this election,” said Braid. “So the B.C. Liberals haven’t restored trust in themselves, but they have perhaps made some voters question whether they trust Adrian Dix and the NDP.”
Dix’s unwillingness, until this week, to hammer the Liberals over the HST and past transgressions could be part of the reason Clark’s party has been able to gain ground, said Norman Ruff, political scientist emeritus at the University of Victoria.
As such, he expects that the NDP will up their attack in the closing week of the campaign. But that may not be enough, he added.
“They need to give people a stronger reason for voting for the NDP other than distrust,” he said. “I don’t think that will be enough. They can’t just rely on the government defeating itself as they have been. They need a stronger end game than they’ve shown.”
WHAT THE POLLS SAY
Who do you trust? (don’t trust)
Jane Sterk and the Green Party: 46% trust (31% don’t trust)
Adrian Dix and the NDP: 43% (54%)
Christy Clark and the BC Liberals: 31% (65%)
John Cummins and the B.C. Conservatives: 24% (58%)
— Ipsos Reid, May 7, 2013
Adrian Dix: 26%
Christy Clark: 24%
Jane Sterk: 6%
John Cummins: 5%
— Angus Reid, May 2, 2013
Adrian Dix: 34%
Christy Clark: 31%
Jane Sterk: 8%
John Cummins: 7%
— Ipsos Reid, May 3, 2013
BY THE NUMBERS
A recent poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion offers some insight into how trustworthy British Columbians feel Adrian Dix and Christy Clark are. Of those surveyed in the May 2, 2013 poll, 37 per cent said they trust Dix to keep his campaign promises while 25 per cent said they feel the same for Clark.
Respondents also had more trust in Dix to tell the truth and be honest (35 per cent compared to Clark’s 29 per cent), and to put the interests of the people ahead of lobbyists, businesses and unions (40 per cent compared to Clark’s 28 per cent). Clark, however, had a slight edge on the question of who will best handle the economy (37 per cent to 36 per cent).
The poll also asked respondents about the following incidents from the past:
Adrian Dix riding public transit without a ticket: 44 per cent of respondents scored it as an issue “that matter a lot/somewhat to me now”
Adrian Dix backdating a memo when he was chief of staff to Glen Clark: 51 per cent
The way the previous Liberal government brought in the HST: 66 per cent
The decision by the previous Liberal government to pay the $6 million in legal fees for Dave Basi and Bobby Virk in the B.C. Rail case: 67 per cent