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Rob Shaw: A year to the election and the NDP sits pretty

If an election were held today, the BC United party would be nearly wiped out
David Eby has picked up where John Horgan,the most popular premier in memory, left off. Province of BC/Flickr

If an election were held today, the BC NDP would win a massive majority government — driving their long-time opponents, the BC United party, to the verge of political extinction. At least, that’s what polling and public sentiment seems to be saying, 12 months before the Oct. 19, 2024 scheduled general election.

New Democrats are sitting pretty, no matter how you crunch the exact numbers from the last four polls, including the most recent by Angus Reid last week. The latest seat projections (and take them with an extreme grain of salt) put the NDP at 74 seats, the BC Conservatives at 13, BC United at only four and the BC Greens at two.

The NDP has successfully transitioned from the retirement of the most popular premier of our generation, John Horgan, to the new guy, David Eby, without missing a step.

Eby is pushing hard to get a handle on multiple crises at once: In the healthcare system, housing market, public safety, as well as on the overdose crisis and affordability challenges. That many of these areas have actually worsened under six years of the NDP hasn’t seemed to faze voters at all — yet, anyway.

Eby said he feels “a huge sense of urgency” to live up to his promise to show visible progress on those issues by the scheduled election date. The ultimate appeal to the electorate, he says: “We need more time.”

“I think that for me, the part that keeps me up at night is how are we going to, in the timelines that we have, be able to show that real progress,” Eby told me recently in an interview with CHEK News.

“Because that’s what I think the election question is going to be: Is it worthwhile to have these government programs, to intervene in this way? Or is it better to have government not be involved and to be out of your hair?

“It’s a different philosophy. I believe that government should be actively involved in building middle income housing. And I believe that government should be actively involved in a public health care system first. And then others say, no, we just got to get government out of the way.

“And so that kind of ballot question is one that people can understand. It's clear. But in order to demonstrate the programs can work, that government can be a force for good, we actually do need to demonstrate the government can work and be a force for good. We need those projects in the ground.”

Voters, however, have a funny way of picking their own ballot box issues.

For the upstart BC Conservatives, who have skyrocketed into competing for second place in all recent polls, the bet over the next 12 months is that voters want a discussion on “values,” said leader John Rustad.

To meet that, Rustad has opposed the Sexual Orientation and Gender Equality (SOGI) policies in schools, trans men competing in women’s sports and sexually-explicit books in school libraries.

“Most people still don't know just what we stand for yet, but they're considering whether they should be supporting us,” said Rustad.

“They're not happy with the NDP, but they certainly aren't interested in what the BC United is offering. “As we expand out the issues that we want to champion, the fact that we want to stand on values, as opposed to just trying to bounce around like the other parties do, I think that has the real potential to be able to connect with people in this province.”

BC United leader Kevin Falcon has said his goal is to have most major platform items out over the next 12 months, so that voters can contrast his approach to the NDP. He’s promised big swings, such as his ambitious addictions treatment system reforms, plan to end decriminalization, a public safety crackdown and changes to the forest fire fighting system.

But BC United’s coalition of centre-right voters appears to be haemorrhaging on the right to the BC Conservatives. BC electoral history has shown a centre-right vote split helps the NDP win a majority.

Falcon admits his coalition has fractured, but said the party has stitched it back together before, and once voters will be turned off once they get a look at the extreme views of the the BC Conservatives.

“I guarantee you this, that John Rustad and Bruce Banman and their gang of candidates that they're going to have are going to say some very interesting, crazy stuff,” said Falcon.

“And people are going to look at them and say, you know, frankly, that's not representative of the British Columbia I want. They're not ready for prime time.

“And people are going to say, if there's going to be an alternative government, that they want to make sure that those are responsible adults, they know how to go in and govern on day one. That's what we'll be presenting to the public.”

The BC Greens, meanwhile, appear largely fighting over the next 12 months to maintain their two seats and 16 per cent popular vote from the last election.

On paper, they are B.C.’s third official party at the legislature. In reality, according to polling and public attention, they’ve slipped to fourth behind the BC Conservatives.

“We're preparing for that election bringing forward extraordinary candidates, changemakers in their community, people have already shown that they can make things happen,” said Furstenau, who argues she has a year to prepare instead of the 2020 snap election that occurred one week after she was named party leader.

“And we're excited to present to British Columbians an option of logical, evidence-based, rational solution-making in the B.C. legislature.”

The 2024 election could be history-making for the New Democrats if they manage to ride their current popularity through to a third term. Dave Barrett only won one election in 1972, and the NDP of the 1990s only won two.

The party’s biggest threat currently appears to be itself, as it enters year seven in power and navigates all the risks of inertia, arrogance and government-itis that can creep into an administration leading in the polls.

Eby reminds me in our interview that he was part of the 2013 B.C. election in which then NDP leader Adrian Dix appeared a lock to win in opinion polling, only to be crushed at the last minute by a resurgent BC Liberal Party.

“I’ve seen polls before, and there’s only one that really counts at the end of the day,” he said.

He seems cognizant of the need to keep pushing hard, as opponents attempt to highlight the worsening metrics in key areas after six years of NDP governance.

“In terms of being able to get traction on these big issues that people care about — if you're talking about training a new nurse, you're talking about building a new home, you're talking about building transit, or building a new ferry boat, or whatever the thing is, these are multi-year projects,” he said.

“It just doesn't feel like enough time. And so that's what I'll be asking for, from British Columbians.”

So far, voters seem inclined to give it to him.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio. [email protected]