VICTORIA One of Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell's major hurdles to winning a third term as B.C. Premier on May 12 is himself, a poll has found.
Voters overwhelmingly rank Mr. Campbell and his Liberal Party as their top choice when it comes to handling the No. 1 issue of the election, the economy. But the second most important issue for voters is mistrust of Mr. Campbell.
The online Harris-Decima poll was conducted for The Canadian Press and surveyed 1,000 people from April 27 to May 2.
Jeff Walker, a senior vice-president with Harris-Decima, said voter boredom with Mr. Campbell after eight years as Premier, along with the ongoing BC Rail issue are likely reasons why mistrust has risen to near the top for voters.
“Over time, becoming too familiar sometimes can be a difficult thing for a leader to face,” Mr. Walker said.
“Premier Campbell has been the Premier for a long time and that comes along with a certain amount of baggage where people just get tired with a person or are unhappy with a decision or two or three that they've made over the course of their leadership.”
The poll found that 48 per cent of decided voters named the economy as the most important issue. Mistrust of Mr. Campbell was second, at 22 per cent.
But when respondents were asked to name what would most influence their vote, 37 per cent said it was the party best able to handle the economy.
And 64 per cent of respondents rated Mr. Campbell either very capable or capable of handling the B.C. economy, which has slipped into recession after several years of record job growth and surplus budgets.
NDP Leader Carole James was far behind, with only 5 per cent saying she was very capable of handling the economy and 33 per cent saying she was fairly capable.
Like another recent poll, the Harris-Decima poll also concluded that the Liberals and the NDP are in a neck and neck race, but there is a huge swath – some 28 per cent – of respondents who said they were still undecided with only six days to go before voting day.
Mr. Campbell was first elected Premier in 2001, but has been Liberal Leader since 1993. Along with Manitoba Premier Gary Doer and Quebec Premier Jean Charest, he is one of the longest-serving Premiers in Canada.
Mr. Campbell consistently fought image issues during his early years in provincial politics. As Liberal opposition leader in the mid-1990s and during his first term as Premier after the 2001 election, he was portrayed as more comfortable in a boardroom or library than in front of a crowd.
Mr. Campbell was forced to show his emotional side after he was arrested for drunk driving in Maui in January of 2003. He admitted the mistake during a public news conference, but did not resign, and his support and popularity increased.
During the current campaign, Mr. Campbell has been gregarious to the point where he makes it a point to greet protesters at his campaign stops.
But during last Sunday's televised leaders debate he was criticized for telling Ms. James that handling the province's crime wave was a big job.
“I do think there's a bit of an overlay here maybe with the BC Rail story, with some of the others that are more specific, and maybe they are hurting Premier Campbell a little bit more than we might expect,” Mr. Walker said.
The BC Rail issue has been fuel for the NDP fire in the Legislature and on the campaign trail.
Controversial Liberal insider Patrick Kinsella, who co-chaired two Campbell election campaigns, and whose name surfaced at the long-running B.C. Legislature raid trial, demanded an apology from the NDP days into the campaign.
The NDP sent a letter to the RCMP to investigate allegations that Mr. Kinsella was working for CN Rail and provincially owned BC Rail when the Liberal government sold BC Rail to CN Rail.
Mr. Kinsella's lawyer sent a letter to the NDP demanding an apology, which so far hasn't materialized.
Mr. Kinsella's name surfaced at the trial of two former Liberal government aides charged with fraud and breach of trust after the unprecedented 2003 police raid on the B.C. Legislature in connection with the privatization sale of BC Rail.
The Crown believes the aides provided confidential government documents to a third company that was in the running to buy BC Rail.
Defence lawyers said earlier this year that emails disclosed as possible evidence seemed to suggest Kinsella was paid $300,000 by BC Rail as the government tried to sell the railway in 2003. It is alleged that at the time, Kinsella was also on the payroll for the eventual buyer of the railway, CN Rail.
Campbell has been asked about Kinsella throughout the campaign, but said he has not spoken to his former campaign aide in ages.
Among the other issues of importance for B.C. voters, in descending order, are health care, the environment, mistrust of James, anger over the Liberal carbon tax and anger over the NDP plan to axe the carbon tax.