Housing issue could spell trouble for BC NDP, poll suggests

As pandemic recedes, party faces renewed concerns about affordability, public safety, taxes, survey by Research Co. and Glacier Media finds

If the COVID-19 pandemic had not arrived, this summer would mark the time for British Columbians to ponder the first four years of a provincial administration headed by the BC New Democratic Party (NDP) and with the support of the BC Green Party.

The government, however, abandoned the deal and called an early election for October 2020.

When British Columbians were asked to vote again, the province enjoyed a high satisfaction rating for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The BC NDP was ultimately returned to power with a larger majority, which extended into areas that had usually been the domain of the BC Liberals.

Research Co. and Glacier Media wanted to gauge the impressions of British Columbians on the first four years of John Horgan’s tenure as Premier. Half of the province’s residents (50%) believe the current head of government has performed about the same as they expected.

Roughly the same proportions of British Columbians believe Horgan has been better (20%) or worse (19%) than they originally envisioned. The premier’s rating on this question is more positive in his party’s stronghold of Vancouver Island (28%).

Right now, a third of British Columbians (33%) believe it is too early to judge Horgan’s accomplishments in Victoria. Smaller proportions either see him as a premier who has done much (26%, climbing to 38% among NDP voters) or little (21%, rising to 37% among BC Green voters and 42% among BC Liberal voters).

The subdued nature of the answers to these two questions are a glimpse into what British Columbians are yearning for after the pandemic is behind us. While the BC NDP was immensely successful in 2020 –  effectively turning the ballot into a referendum on COVID-19 management – the public remains deeply distraught by matters related to cost of living.

Almost three in five British Columbians (59%) say it is harder now for them to make ends meet than four years ago. Practically half (49%) say it is now more difficult to find a job than it was in 2017, and a slightly higher proportion (52%) feel the same way about paying for post-secondary education. These are not exactly ringing endorsements for a party that pledged to “make your life more affordable.”

More than three in five of the province’s residents (63%) say it is more difficult now to save money for retirement and practically three in four (74%) say it is now harder to buy a house. In spite of the remarkably consistent levels of support for the housing measures that the current government brought in, the public still feels that dwellings remain largely unattainable for those who want to enter the real estate market.

On some issues, British Columbians see little change when they look back at the last four years. Roughly half of residents believe public schools (49%), health care (48%) and the justice system (46%) are about the same as they were in 2017.

The public is divided on how the current provincial government has managed the environment, with 42% thinking the situation is the same as it was under the BC Liberals and 42% saying it is now worse – a proportion that jumps to 56% among BC Green voters. Specific commitments on issues such as electric vehicles have not made a significant number of residents look at the current government as environmentally friendly.

The government fares poorly on three other concerns. Almost half of residents (48%) think public safety is worse now than it was four years ago, and a majority (53%) feel the same way about taxation.

Housing continues to dominate the conversation, and the results are not enthralling for the party in power. Just over seven in 10 British Columbians (71%) believe this issue is worse now than it was under the BC Liberals.

When the 2017 election rolled around, large proportions of the electorate were dismayed by the coziness of the then-governing party with some developers. This time around, the public appears upset at the pace of change and eager to see the revenues generated by housing taxes turned into meaningful projects for the province’s residents.

It is impossible to know what would have happened if the election had been held as it was supposed to, in October of this year. The survey shows that, as COVID-19 starts to disappear, the governing party needs to establish a clearer emotional connection on the crucial housing file. Young voters may be open to new and bold ideas coming from the opposition, especially if the BC Liberals settle on a fresh face to lead the party into the 2024 contest.

British Columbians rarely embrace incoming premiers as saviours. The common practice has been to vote people out. The level of satisfaction with the BC NDP government on most issues ranges from indifference to disappointment. Still, the governing party can look into a silver lining: almost three in ten residents aged 55 and over (28%) think Horgan has performed better than they expected. The province’s oldest voters may have initially supported the BC NDP in 2017 to send a message, but currently appear content with what they see in Victoria.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from July 17 to July 19, 2021, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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