Politicians and governments can get into trouble because of their legislative policies, but a more serious kind of trouble can emerge from something else: a lack of respect.
And that is precisely the problem facing Premier Christy Clark right now. Quite frankly, it appears the voters (a lot of them, anyways) simply don't respect her.
Evidence of this can be seen in the spate of recent public opinion polls that show her approval rating nose-diving with the electorate. An Ipsos Reid poll showed her approval level dropping 14 percentage points since February, while an Angus Reid poll showed her to be one of the most unpopular premiers in the entire country.
But polls aside, I'm struck at the nearvisceral negative reactions Clark gets from many people. We did some personon-the-street interviews at Global news this past week, and when we asked for
opinions of Clark as premier the response was rather startling.
The people we talked to were harshly critical, and almost mocking of her leadership. She was seen as being in over her head, lacking vision or a game plan, and being interested more in political gamesmanship than actually being a leader.
Given the bleak poll findings, these comments are clearly indicative of wider public opinion, and as a result put Clark in a very deep hole that will be very hard to climb out of.
I'm not entirely sure why she sparks such emotional and negative reactions in people. The fact she's a woman is no doubt a factor with some people (female political leaders seem to be judged more harshly than their male counterparts). As unfair as that is, the truth is that female politicians will always be battling sexist attitudes.
Some critics call her the "queen of the photo ops," given her constant appearances at government announcements. But her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, also insisted on attending most of his government's events and I don't recall much criticism aimed at him for that practice.
However, the photo-op approach means Clark is starting to look like a politician who is constantly campaigning and not so much leading or governing. This no doubt causes many voters to question her sincerity.
This drop in her personal popularity has robbed her of her argument that she is much more credible than her party. The B.C. Liberals still lag behind her numbers, but the gap has shrunk considerably.
She is now descending to the level of her party, which spells disaster for her and her caucus colleagues come election time.
The latest Ipsos Reid poll showed the NDP leading the B.C. Liberals by huge margins in all areas of the province, and also shows a huge gender gap. Women voters have deserted the B.C. Liberals in droves, as women in particular appear to be turned off by Clark.
Applying the recent poll numbers to the 2009 election results, on a riding-by-riding basis, suggests the B.C. Liberals would be lucky to win 15 seats if an election were held today, and would probably be nearer to a half dozen wins.
This bleak situation will no doubt start whispers about whether it's possible for the B.C. Liberals to oust Clark from the premier's office and rally around someone else to remount a charge against the surging New Democrats.
Frankly, I don't see how, say, Kevin Falcon or Rich Coleman or any other member of the B.C.
Liberal caucus could right their party's ship. They are all tainted by association with the Campbell government and the HST debacle.
Clark's personal popularity may be plummeting, but I see no evidence to suggest one of her caucus colleagues would do much better with the voters.
Now, I'm not sure whether she can regain her own popularity. Certainly, the gap between the NDP and the B.C. Liberals should close at least a bit by the time the election campaign rolls around, or so most observers think.
But Clark would be well advised to try something different. What she's doing right now clearly isn't working - and getting back the respect of the voters is the only way to even think of getting out of that very deep hole.
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