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B.C. Liberals only have time on their side

The B.C. government is receiving a lot of kudos over its decision last week to aggressively push for liquefied natural gas plants and to wean BC Hydro off private power producers.

The B.C. government is receiving a lot of kudos over its decision last week to aggressively push for liquefied natural gas plants and to wean BC Hydro off private power producers.

The news coverage of the energy announcements was widespread and generally positive.

But for all the plaudits shes receiving for moving away from yet another holdover policy from the Gordon Campbell era, I doubt it will translate into any boost in support.

Thats because the government is in such deep trouble with the public that one has to wonder whether its reached the point of no return.

There comes a point in any governments existence where nothing it does can save it from demise the next time it faces the electorate.

The Liberals have to be wondering whether theyve reached that point. Ive long held that after roughly 10 years in power, a stench of sorts begins to envelope a government and it can be very hard to get rid of it.

The latest Angus Reid poll shows the steep uphill struggle facing the Liberals. The poll gives the NDP a whopping 14 point lead (42 per cent to 28 per cent) over the Liberals.

But two other numbers are equally as alarming for the ruling party. The upstart Conservatives support is pegged at 19 per cent, which is roughly where it was three months ago.

That means the Conservatives are not a flash-in-the-pan party. Its support appears to be solidifying, which is disastrous news for the Liberals.

The other number is the 22 per cent Clark polled when respondents were asked who would make the best premier. Thats a bit behind NDP leader Adrian Dixs level of 26 per cent.

In the last three months, voters positive impressions of Dix have improved by seven points, while positive impressions of Clark have dropped three points.

Thus, the one argument Clark could use when defending her performance against critics within her party that she was more popular than the Liberal party itself seems to be disappearing.

Also troubling for the Liberals is that they are losing ground on credibility in running the economy and fighting crime, two issues that should be their bread and butter.

Finally, the poll shows just 60 per cent of those who voted for the Liberals in the last election would do so today. More than a quarter of those former Liberal voters now say they would vote for the Conservatives.

The poll really held no good news for the ruling party, but the one thing it has going for it is time. There is a lot of time before the next election, unless Clark pulls the plug early.

And certainly, there is enough time for some surprises to occur. Perhaps Clark can find an issue (maybe taking on public sector unions, for example) that is a turning point for voters.

Perhaps the NDP and Dix will take a serious misstep and lose the publics trust. And perhaps the Conservatives and their leader John Cummins will decline as voters take a closer look at their policies.

But time also allows for other potential events to occur. What if a few Liberal MLAs, whose ridings are part of those old federal ridings where the now-defunct Reform Party used to put up huge victories, start to look at their backyards and realize the only way they can get re-elected is to join the Conservatives? Will a few cross the floor and bolt the government benches?

And what if whispers about yet another leadership change for the Liberals become louder if the poll numbers dont substantially improve?

Those are the kinds of scenarios that now must make Clark and her cabinet colleagues very nervous.

As Betty Davis would say, Buckle up! Its going to be a bumpy year!

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.