Martyn Brown: New poll suggests Horgan’s NDP in for a whole new world of hurt, maimed by its legacy of failure
Looking at Angus Reid’s latest opinion poll, premier John Horgan must be wondering how on Earth he can remain still so personally popular, while his government’s performance on almost every major issue is so badly failing in the eyes of so many British Columbians.
With COVID essentially now relegated to the media sidelines and Dr. Bonnie Henry no longer commanding centre stage as she did, Horgan now finds himself uncomfortably back in the spotlight.
The new numbers suggest he is newly exposed as B.C.’s nakedly ineffectual Emperor, suddenly vulnerable and not so beloved as he was hiding for so long in Henry’s shadow.
Indeed, the poll portends real trouble on the horizon for Horgan’s New Democrats.
They are in for a whole new world of hurt, maimed by their legacy of failure, compounded by inflation, hubris, ineptitude, and misplaced priorities.
British Columbians aren’t just feeling cranky these days. According to Statistics Canada, B.C. now has the lowest life satisfaction levels of any province in Canada.
And yet, despite a seven-point decline since the last survey, Horgan is still sitting relatively pretty as Canada’s third most popular premier, with a 48 percent approval rating.
Moreover, even though the NDP’s support has fallen by eight points over the past year, to 42 percent, that’s still 11 points higher than the intended decided and leaning voter support for Kevin Falcon’s party.
His B.C. Liberals are now at 31 percent, barely up from 24 percent a year ago, with the B.C. Greens still stuck at 15 percent, down three points from their June 2021 standing.
Falcon’s personal favourability rating now stands at only 23 percent, with some 32 percent of respondents saying they don’t know or can’t yet say—a large target universe that remains to be convinced of his leadership potential.
The other 44 percent rate him unfavourably, which is notably a tad better than Horgan’s current 47 percent disapproval level.
Hardly cause for NDP panic just yet, those numbers. But the bigger polling picture paints an ominous political landscape for the governing party.
One that stands to inevitably sewer Horgan’s personal approval ratings as it also gives Falcon’s newly energized and soon-to-be-renamed conservative fan base new cause for hope.
Exhibit one: Horgan’s $1-billion Royal BC Museum vanity project, which the survey characterized as “landing with a thud.”
Politically, that ill-conceived legacy project isn’t just a dog that won’t hunt, it’s a bona fide vote-killer.
It’s a monster of already mythic proportions that immediately turned on its master from the moment it was unleashed; one that now has the NDP locked in its jaws, with Horgan still stroking its snarling head.
What was he thinking? Who knows. It defies common sense and all political judgment.
Clearly, Horgan’s g.a.s. quotient is running on empty, as was also betrayed by his recent f-bomb in the legislature.
I’m guessing he has already secretly resolved not to run again and simply no longer much gives a shit what people say or think about him or his government’s spending priorities.
His eight-year, $1-billion museum replacement plan is opposed by 69 percent of all respondents, including by 73 percent of all females surveyed and by 56 percent of voters now otherwise intending to vote NDP.
Horgan’s legacy project is resoundingly rejected by 81 percent of voters on Vancouver Island. And also, by 76 percent of those 55 and older—the cohort most inclined to vote.
But never mind that debacle.
On virtually all of the top-of-mind issues most likely to guide voters’ intentions, the public’s assessment of the government’s performance is damning and decisive, albeit with one marked exception.
One might think that with some 40 to 50 British Columbians still dying each week from COVID, largely due to the government’s abysmal policies of neglect, denial, and disinformation, that deadly virus would still be a central voter concern.
Not so much, apparently.
Only six percent even rated it as one of their top three issues.
Remarkably, the survey found that some 63 percent of respondents still approve of the Horgan’s government’s COVID response, even as B.C.’s per capita death rates have been running at nearly triple Ontario’s rate.
And despite B.C.’s claims to having one of the lowest COVID-related mortality rates in North America, which one recent study exposed as essentially so much b.s., given that B.C. outstripped all provinces for excess deaths between March 2020 and October 2021. Not to mention during the most recent wave that also hit B.C. hard with a vengeance.
Which mostly proves that you can do almost everything wrong and still remain popular if you can rely on your best spinmeister to win over enough fawning fools in the legislative press gallery to echo your false narrative as its opposite.
For over two years, Horgan has been basking in Dr. Bonnie Henry’s telegenic, carefully orchestrated glow, aided and abetted by her cheerleaders in the mainstream media.
Many are still banging their pots and pans for her supposed "science-based" decisions, which have in fact too often disregarded expert advice and the empirical evidence, and thereby put more people’s lives and welfare in jeopardy.
Ironically, in successfully reframing B.C.’s unrelenting COVID deaths as basically a minor issue, barely worth reporting or answering for, the government has refocused public attention on other concerns that it is widely blamed for authoring and exacerbating.
The verdict on the NDP government’s performance is shockingly negative across the board.
It should put shivers down the dubious spines of Horgan’s elected minions in caucus who have been too afraid to raise a peep in protest about anything.
The Angus Reid poll found that some 87 percent feel the Horgan government is doing a poor job or very poor job on affordable housing, including 80 percent of NDP respondents.
Eighty-one percent say it’s doing a bad job in combatting the rising cost of living and inflation. A position shared by 65 percent of NDP supporters.
Eighty percent rate the government’s performance on poverty and homelessness as poor or very poor, including 70 percent of NDP voters.
A whopping 70 percent say the Horgan government is doing a bad job on health care and 71 percent disapprove of its response to drug use, the opioid crisis, and drug addiction
Those negative opinions are respectively shared by 53 percent and 56 percent of NDP supporters.
A significant majority—57 percent—rate the Horgan government’s performance on the environment and climate change as poor or very poor.
Fifty-two percent of respondents give rate the government poorly on the economy and jobs—despite B.C.’s status as one of Canada’s top provincial economies—while 62 percent say the Horgan administration is doing a bad job on energy/oil/gas pipelines.
Sixty-three percent of respondents give the government failing marks on seniors care, including 63 percent of women. It’s a terrible indictment of neglect, also expertly articulated by the Seniors Advocate.
Some 59 percent also disapprove of the government’s management of the deficit and government spending. An opinion that wasn’t helped by the NDP’s recent decisions to give the premier and cabinet a 10 percent raise.
On education, only 41 percent rated the NDP’s performance as good or somewhat good, while only eight percent of respondents even rated that issue as one of their top three concerns.
The assessment of the government’s performance on First Nation/Indigenous issues virtually mirrored those numbers.
More troubling for the NDP’s 2024 reelection outlook is that almost all of those results are consistent across B.C., with some of the harshest negative appraisals held by voters in its electoral strongholds.
For example, 82 percent of Vancouver Island respondents rated the government’s performance on health care as poor or very poor.
Not surprising, perhaps, given that nearly one million British Columbians don’t have a family doctor, including nearly one in three Island residents and over 50 percent of Victoria residents.
Health care isn’t just a mess, it’s a disaster-in-the-making under the NDP, despite the Horgan government’s substantial investments.
It is literally falling apart before our eyes, while Health Minister Adrian Dix gamely tries to convince us all that he’s actually making things better.
More than any other vote-driver, the slow-motion collapse of B.C.’s public health care system is probably Horgan’s most devastating systemic legacy.
British Columbians have by far the longest walk-in clinic waiting times in Canada, with nowhere harder hit than Vancouver Island.
The evidence now suggests that the average wait time to see a doctor at a walk-in clinic in Victoria was 161 minutes in 2021, as compared to Canadian average of 25 minutes. The average wait time for walk-in clinics across B.C. was 58 minutes, as compared to Ontario’s average wait time of barely 15 minutes.
If anything, that situation has grown exponentially worse since that research was conducted, notwithstanding the government’s maddening boasts about “improving access to primary care” on Vancouver Island and elsewhere.
The public now knows that the government’s urgent and primary care centres are not at all as billed.
They are only actually staffed by a tiny fraction of the promised numbers of physicians, nurses, and other health-care providers that the government vowed to hire in announcing those facilities.
They are mostly fully booked for the day within an hour or two after opening and are never accessible by anyone really needing urgent care. That’s put new undue pressure on E.R.s as the only option for many British Columbians to even access a physician.
Every day we see horror stories about hospital emergency departments shutting down for lack of staff, as the NDP’s long promised health human resource “strategy” is still nowhere to be seen after five years in government. It was recently further delayed for more months to come.
British Columbians can’t believe that any government would allow 911 services, emergency response, and ambulance services to so badly deteriorate, with seemingly no plan to fundamentally improve them.
Hospitals are unbelievably stressed, as health authorities seem more intent on covering their asses than transparently addressing their own challenges and failings.
And where is Dr. Henry on all of those problems, as B.C. top medical health officer? Nowhere to be seen.
It seems she has no appetite at all to investigate and publicly report on those and other health-care problems, as one might expect of her office and its mandate to spearhead such special reports.
I dare say that of all the issues, health care and inflation will ultimately prove to be the NDP’s undoing, in part because they both go hand in hand.
With inflation now running at triple what the Horgan government has offered nurses and other health workers at the collective bargaining table, on top of the doctor shortage and acute-care crisis that is also compounded by inflationary pressures, the wheels are coming off the NDP bus.
What the opinion poll reflects is a profound lack of confidence in the government to boldly lead as required to save us all from material calamity on that and so many other issues.
The NDP’s climate action strategy is disingenuous at best, hamstrung as it is by Horgan’s enthusiastic support for fossil fueled growth through LNG, notwithstanding his recent initiative to eliminate some oil and gas subsidies.
The government’s early efforts to promote affordability by scrapping the Port Mann tolls, phasing out MSP premiums, leading the national effort to promote $10/day childcare and significantly boosting income assistance rates are mostly long forgotten.
True enough, they put thousands of dollars annually back in many families’ pockets. But inflation, skyrocketing gas prices and other affordability challenges are rapidly erasing those gains.
It must frustrate the hell out of Horgan, who must feel like he just can’t get a break.
Between COVID, B.C.’s record fires and floods, and last year’s heat dome the NDP has found itself lurching from crisis to crisis.
In each case its performance has been poor, as the chief coroner’s review of that record heat wave recently highlighted, which claimed the lives of 619 British Columbians. In part that was because of the government’s woeful failure to protect vulnerable citizens as it should have.
Which brings me back to the poll and its depressing assessment of Horgan’s legacy-in-motion.
He would be forgiven for deciding that he’s had enough and quitting while he’s still respectably ahead in the polls, as B.C.’s most resiliently popular premier in recent memory.
He, of all people, knows that it is only a matter of time before the crushing gravity of his government’s real and perceived failings brings his own approval numbers down.
Sooner or later, they will start to make his leadership the central issue for the NDP’s re-election chances.
As surely as darkness falls on every hopeful new dawn, the prospects for premiers and their parties are always dictated by their governments’ “right track” versus “wrong track” numbers.
Above all, what this poll suggests is a perceived wrong track record that is only now coming to the fore and that may have already escaped Horgan’s ability to stymie and reverse.
July 18th will mark his government’s fifth anniversary in power.
Even in the most unlikely event that he did decide to pack it in before his numbers head terminally south, he would still be the most consequential B.C. premier since W.A.C. Bennett.
For better and for worse.
For one thing, he has largely redefined himself and his leadership as an example to emulate for anyone who would hope to follow in his footsteps.
For another, he has mostly governed with humility, humanity, authenticity, and folksy personability—all qualities that have been sorely lacking in most of his predecessors dating at least back to Dave Barrett.
Politically, he has fundamentally redefined the NDP as the new real liberal party—centrist to the core, tentatively progressive, aligned with contemporary values, brimming with diversity, and fiscally responsible.
Horgan has redefined his liberal-cum-labour party as one newly committed to fossil-fueled growth through LNG and natural gas pipelines, secured with previously unimaginable tax cuts and cut-rate electricity that would have been enough to make Christy Clark blush.
To say nothing of his multibillion-dollar support for Site C.
For a few years, he also proved for many British Columbians that minority governments can work well, or even better than majority governments, in serving the broader public interest.
Then again, he has forever rendered legislatively fixed election dates utterly meaningless.
In so doing, he has also demonstrated that no solemn “confidence and supply agreement” with any minority partner is really worth the paper it’s printed on.
That sad fact stands to profoundly impact any future hung parliament’s potential for formal power-sharing arrangements.
Horgan has forever ended the “wild west” of private campaign financing, permanently padding his and all of the establishment parties’ pockets with public subsidies in the process, in flagrant violation of his election commitments.
It’s tremendously consequential, insofar as it flipped the party fundraising game to the NDP’s advantage. That windfall especially benefitted the cash-poor B.C. Greens, while making it all but impossible for other minor contenders to fairly compete, with no access to public funding.
Of equal consequence is Horgan’s deliberate or slipshod bungling on electoral reform.
His government’s self-sabotaged referendum on that issue effectively drove a spike in the heart of any hope for proportional representation for decades to come.
Horgan further changed the ground rules for all future governments with his assault on the freedom-of-information law and with his undemocratic penchant for blank-cheque legislation.
If transparency and accountability were lacking before, they are values that Horgan’s majority government permanently debased and devalued with cold, calculated precision, purely in its partisan interest.
Of course, nothing Horgan has done or will do is remotely comparable in consequence to his national leadership in legislating the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in furtherance of reconciliation.
If he quit tomorrow, it would likely stand as his most significant legacy.
More than any other initiative in recent history, or perhaps ever, it will change British Columbia’s power structures, institutions, laws, Crown land title, and revenue-sharing arrangements with Indigenous people from top to bottom.
Nowhere more so than in respect to resource ownership, management and development, especially in mining and forestry.
As the June 6 agreement with the Tahltan Nation demonstrates, along with the NDP’s historic initiative to protect and newly co-manage old growth forests with First Nations, Horgan has forever changed B.C. in ways that few imagined possible only a decade ago.
In so doing, he has fundamentally assured that the application of his legislated commitment to “free, prior and informed consent” will afford First Nations a de facto veto over any unwanted resource development in their traditional territories, as the acknowledged holders of constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights and title.
How that will play out is anyone’s guess. It certainly won’t be without stress, controversy, or unintended consequences—hopefully, mostly for the better.
But it’s fair to say that Horgan’s legislated UNDRIP commitment will profoundly impact every facet of government and the intrinsic nature of British Columbia in so many new and positive ways.
In my mind, that will be Horgan’s most enduring legacy.
One of which he should be rightly proud, whenever he decides to call it a day and never again worry about another public opinion poll.
If I were him, I’d make that leap sooner rather later, determined to leave his many NDP fans and admirers wanting more and his party time enough to renew itself with a new leader in advance of the next election.