The evidence is in: British Columbians have collectively hit the "off " switch to anything the B.C. Liberal government has to say.
Nothing the B.C. Liberals have tried for months has improved their standing with the voters, who now appear firmly entrenched in the anti-B.C. Liberal camp.
Two recent polls back these assertions up. One, by Ipsos-Reid, showed that just 12 per cent of those knew the government had tabled a new budget believed the government when it claimed it was "balanced."
The latest Angus Reid poll provides a mountain of findings that show the B.C. Liberals continue to be mired in a swamp of negativity from the voters. The party trails the NDP by 16 points, and has lost about one-third of the people who voted for it in 2009.
Most tellingly, the Angus Reid poll showed that 59 per cent of the electorate want a new government.
That is an astounding figure, one that must send shudders through the B.C. Liberal camp.
But the governing party is pressing on, and has decided to make its alleged fiscal prowess the central theme of its platform.
You may well ask how a government that has wracked up four deficits in a row and almost doubled the provincial debt can expect to be re-elected on a platform that says it's the only party to be trusted to manage government finances properly.
Yet that is precisely the seemingly contradictory argument the B.C. Liberals are putting forth as we head towards the election.
Unfortunately for the ruling party, its track record for managing finances is hardly a stellar one.
The B.C. Liberals have brought home seven deficit budgets during their time in office, and have pushed the provincial debt level from $34 billion when they were first elected to $63 billion next year.
And since nothing has worked for them, there is little reason to think the public is going to suddenly start listening to their arguments about financial management.
The only variable left in the game is all about the NDP. Only a major stumble or scandal in the NDP camp is likely to derail their election chances.
The NDP is constantly battling its stereotyped image as a left-wing, tax-and-spend party. Certainly, its time in office in the 1990s won't help it dispel that image, as it raised taxes considerably and balanced the books a mere two times.
And now the NDP is facing an interesting challenge. After branding the B.C.
Liberals' latest budget as "phony" and "bogus" it can hardly put the same fiscal plan in front of the voters.
It's more than likely the NDP will have to put forth a budget that shows a deficit next year. The key question may be, just how high a deficit can the party get away with?
I suspect something less than a $500 million deficit may strike voters as reason-able. After all, the current fiscal year shows a $1.3 billion deficit on the B.C.
But how the NDP gets to that figure is unclear and perhaps problematic.
They've condemned the government's sell-off of $475 million worth of assets and its taking of a $245 million dividend from B.C.
Hydro, plus it has suggested health care is about $235 million short.
It adds up to a deficit of about $750 million, which may strike some as too high (and I haven't even included the various demands from NDP caucus members to increase spending in other areas).
Of course, none of this may matter. If the general public keeps that "off " switch to anything the B.C. Liberals have to say, that big gap between them and the New Democrats won't be closing come Election Day.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.
© Copyright 2013