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Liberal lead slips to 5 points, poll shows Voter support for Grits drops to 45 per cent, NDP rises to 40 per cent; Greens still at 12 %

Voter support for Grits drops to 45 per cent, NDP rises to 40 per cent; Greens still at 12 %

With a report from Gary Mason


B.C. Liberals' lead over the NDP has narrowed to five points in the last week of the increasingly heated campaign, according to a new poll.

The Mustel Group poll, taken May 5-9, shows the Liberals with the support of 45 per cent of decided voters and the NDP with 40 per cent. The Greens remain steady at 12 per cent.

The Liberals have slipped about one point from February and April standings, while the NDP has made gains of two points since April. It has regained the 40-per-cent support it held in February.

It was widely expected that the Liberal lead would narrow after the May 3 debate, where NDP Leader Carole James had a strong showing while Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell appeared to be on the defensive.

"Carole James is starting to get more of a profile and the TV debate probably helped her gain recognition," said Evi Mustel, owner of Mustel Group. ''There were indications that he [Mr. Campbell] didn't gain any support from the debate."

The poll, a random sampling of 603 voters, is accurate within plus or minus four percentage points 19 times out of 20.

While the poll shows the Liberals leading in the North Coast/Interior region, and in the suburban areas outside Vancouver, the NDP is leading in Victoria and on Vancouver Island. The two parties are in a dead heat in the city of Vancouver and in the southern Interior region near Kamloops. Health care continues to be the dominant issue in all regions, but particularly in the southern Interior.

The shift in standings has prompted Mr. Campbell to take a more aggressive stand, renewing his focus on the NDP's troubles during the 1990s.

In Richmond yesterday, Mr. Campbell warned a business audience that they need to get out and vote on May 17, saying it will be the most important business decision they can make for the next decade.

"In democracies, accidents happen," he said. "One way to ensure we keep the province going is to make sure you vote and build on the gathering momentum."

With one week of campaigning left, both the NDP and the Liberals unveiled new attack ads to scoop up the undecided votes. The new Mustel poll shows 11 per cent of voters are still undecided.

The television ads focus on what are perceived to be the weakest links in the two campaigns. The NDP is pinpointing Mr. Campbell's personal unpopularity while the Liberal ads draw attention to the NDP's ties to labour unions.

The NDP ads show Mr. Campbell giving the thumbs-up with a backdrop of newspaper headlines about training wages at $6 an hour and smiling next to a headline about a nursing shortage.

In the Liberal ads, a tired-sounding female voice tells viewers, "It's the same old NDP," and on a stark white screen three black letters say the party stands for Negative, Destructive and Pessimistic.

In a campaign stop in Surrey yesterday, where the Liberals announced they were moving quickly with a review to build or expand a hospital in one of the fastest-growing regions in Canada, Mr. Campbell said he's heard nothing positive from the opposition party during the campaign.

"They are very pessimistic about the future," Mr. Campbell said. "We're holding the NDP to account for their record. I haven't heard anything positive about their party as they move forward."

The stop in Surrey is the third time in three days Mr. Campbell has campaigned in the seat-rich region. The NDP received a big morale boost last fall when its candidate, Jagrup Brar, won a by-election in Surrey-Panorama, increasing the party's number of elected MLAs from two to three.

The loss for the Liberals was largely attributed to a major shift in the Indo-Canadian population that benefited the NDP.

Mr. Campbell made his announcement about the review for the new facility in the riding won by Mr. Brar.

Surrey-Cloverdale MLA and candidate Kevin Falcon said Mr. Campbell's pledge will help gain votes. Mr. Falcon added that he is reaching out to rebuild relationships with the Indo-Canadian community.

"When the premier of the province makes that kind of commitment to the residents of Surrey, that resonates," Mr. Falcon said. "I've tried to make more of an effort to be engaged in the community and to get involved and get on the radio and attend their events to let them know the B.C. Liberals care about the community."

Ms. James, touring northwestern B.C., said she is not going to alter her campaign to respond to the more aggressive tone taken by Mr. Campbell in recent days.

"We're going to continue the strategy we've had from the start, which is pointing out this government's record and actually fighting the 2005 election not the one we had in 2001."

Bolstered by the Mustel poll, Ms. James said her campaign is gaining power.

"Of course, the only poll that matters is the one on May 17," Ms. James said. "But we've been working very hard on this campaign. We've had a great campaign and we've seen a lot of momentum in the last week on the ground."

The NDP Leader maintained her hectic pace, making stops in five different communities throughout the day. She began in Williams Lake, where she visited a long-term-care home closed by the Liberal government. She told a small group of supporters that if the NDP forms the government it will reopen the home and put in place 15 long-term-care beds.

Ms. James criticized Mr. Campbell for campaign pledges in the Lower Mainland yesterday. He promised to spend money to address problems of overcrowding at Surrey Memorial Hospital and also committed $1-million toward renovations at a hospital in Delta.

"It's an insult to the people of Surrey," Ms. James said of the final-week campaign pledge by the Liberals.

"Gordon Campbell is not credible and cannot be trusted. It's exactly the Gordon Campbell we saw in the last election.

"It [the promise] holds no weight and is not worth the paper it's written on."

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