Politics

Palmer: Eby shifting focus to soaring Conservatives as election nears

Opinion: Eby’s main contender in the provincial election scheduled for Oct. 19 could be Conservative leader John Rustad, not B.C. United’s Kevin Falcon

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VICTORIA — Premier David Eby reacted anxiously to an opinion poll this week showing the B.C. Conservatives had closed to within a half dozen points of the New Democrats.

“I have flagged repeatedly my concern about the growth of the extremist Conservative Party in B.C.,” Eby told reporters Thursday.

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“The poll is an important reminder certainly for anyone who has been quick to dismiss the B.C. Conservative Party as an extremist party that will not find traction in our province.”

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The premier was responding to a Mainstreet Research poll conducted earlier in the week, showing 40 per cent support for the B.C. NDP among decided voters, 34 per cent for the Conservatives, 14 per cent for B.C. United and 10 per cent for the Greens.

Eby said he was glad that Mainstreet had the NDP five points higher than in a survey taken last August. He didn’t dispute the findings that placed the Conservatives second and B.C. United well behind.

If those numbers are sustained in subsequent polls by Mainstream and others, Eby’s main contender in the provincial election scheduled for Oct. 19 would be Conservative leader John Rustad, not B.C. United’s Kevin Falcon.

“I look forward to engaging with Mr. Rustad on his far-right extremist ideas, his Republican culture war ideology he’s trying to bring to British Columbians,” said the premier, rehearsing his lines in anticipation of a matchup with Rustad.

“I just have trouble believing that this anti-science, right-wing extremist perspective will prove successful at the ballot box.”

The premier cited the call from Rustad and the Conservatives for reinstatement of health-care workers who refused to be vaccinated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“Even though there’s a measles outbreak in Quebec and there are measles cases across Canada, now is the time that they want to bring unvaccinated health care workers into our hospitals,” said the premier.

“Measles kills and seriously injures babies and toddlers. This political party, that makes ideological decisions that puts babies and infants at risk, is not one that has the best interest of British Columbians at heart.”

I doubt Rustad’s flirtation with anti-vaxxing sentiment accounts for his rise from nowhere to second place in this and other opinion polls since he took over the leadership of the Conservatives a year ago.

More likely it is the B.C. Conservative party’s alignment with the populist stance of federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre — especially his opposition to the carbon tax.

The poll provided telling evidence on that score.

When Poilievre called on Eby to put a hold on the pending 23 per cent increase in the made-in-B.C. version of the carbon tax, Eby fired back that he wanted no part of Poilievre’s “baloney factory.”

Poilievre fired back that under Eby, “many British Columbians are forced to eat boloney because they can’t afford anything else.”

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Mainstreet asked British Columbian, “when it comes to the carbon tax dispute between Pierre Poilievre and Premier David Eby, who do you agree with?”

More than half, 54 per cent, picked Poilievre. Only 34 per cent sided with the premier, relegating him to the losing side of the “baloney” exchange.

The poll also confirmed that Poilievre is in a commanding position among the federal parties in B.C.

“The results point to a federal Conservative rout with almost one in two voters supporting Pierre Poilievre and the federal Conservatives (49.6 per cent). The Liberals place second with 22.8 per cent and the NDP third with 19.4 per cent,” said the Mainstream news release.

The question about federal voting intentions had B.C. United supporters grumbling that it might have skewed the provincial findings in favour of the B.C. Conservatives.

Mainstreet CEO Quito Maggi discounted the possibility. His survey asked for provincial voting intentions first and only then proceeded to the federal question.

Why did his numbers differ significantly from other polls, such as the recent the Angus Reid survey which found the Conservatives and B.C. United in a dead heat with 22 per cent apiece for second place?

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One possibility is that Mainstreet is contacting voters by landlines and cellphones while the others rely on pre-selected panels. Maggi also agrees that there is likely some voter confusion between the federal and provincial parties of the same name.

Maggi says that his firm was the first to put the B.C. Conservatives in second place ahead of B.C. United, a trend that has since been borne out in most other polls.

He expects that when other pollsters weigh in with their next surveys, they will confirm Mainstreet’s findings, within the margin of error.

Already, says Maggi, the numbers “suggest that the B.C. United rebrand is a failure.”

Any more polls like this one, and the drift in support from B.C. United to the Conservatives could turn into a full-blown exodus.
The Mainstreet poll was conducted using automated telephone interviews March 18 and 19. Just over 1,000 B.C. adults were surveyed. The margin of error is plus or minus three points, 19 times out of 20. Full details on the questions, regional breakdowns and so forth are published at mainstreetresearch.ca, the firm’s website.

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