It remains to be seen whether James will close the gap enough to actually beat out the Liberals. It seems unlikely. Other polls do not show the race this close. However, given the state of the economy perhaps voters are ready to turf out the party in power.
Campbell stumbles heading to B.C. vote TheStar.com - Canada - Campbell stumbles heading to B.C. vote
Premier's patronizing on TV is NDP's gain as election battle tightens in final days
May 09, 2009 Petti FongWESTERN CANADA BUREAU CHIEF
VANCOUVER – Pay attention, honey: Premier Gordon Campbell knows being a leader is "a big job, and it's hard to get a handle on it."
The defining phrase of the last week of the B.C. election campaign was the premier's response in the televised debate to his swiftly rising rival Carole James of the NDP.
No, Campbell didn't call James, a former school trustee from Victoria, "honey" or "little lady," but the perception was that he was condescending and patronizing.
James had asked Campbell to justify his plans to fight gang violence while his government cut funding for prosecutors and closed courts.
"I think, Ms. James, you should understand," said Campbell, and he paused. "I know this is a big job, and it's hard to get a handle on it, but the fact of the matter is we've added additional prosecutors to fight crime and to fight the gangsters."
As the comment dogged him on the campaign trail the next day, Campbell told reporters "it wasn't meant to be" patronizing.
Meanwhile, James's performance in the debate bumped her up in the polls, narrowing the gap between the NDP and the B.C. Liberals to two points just days before Tuesday's vote.
When the campaign started four weeks ago, James trailed Campbell in the polls by as much as 17 points.
Campbell's Liberals, who are seeking a third mandate, soundly defeated the NDP in 2001, reducing the party that governed the province for most of the 1990s to two seats in the legislature. The NDP rebounded in the 2005 election.
At dissolution, the Liberals held 42 of the B.C. legislature's 79 seats and the NDP held 34. There were three vacancies.
While Campbell's approval rating has stayed at 36 per cent, James's has jumped nine points since late April to match the premier's, according to the latest Angus Reid Strategies poll.
The first half of the campaign looked disastrous for the NDP. One candidate, Ray Lam, dropped out after racy photos popped up on his Facebook page. As well, an online ad featuring the phrase "Does Gordon Campbell Hate You?" was put together by a union supporting the NDP, and included hyperbolic lines about Campbell trying to kill grandmothers and eating small children.
John Winter, CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, said business leaders have to warn voters about what an NDP government would do.
"When we think of their policies – of increasing taxation and putting the protection of union jobs against the investment of private sector enterprise – it's kind of worrisome."
Until Campbell's poor showing in the debate, a Liberal re-election seemed like a sure thing. The only setback the Liberals had faced was the resignation of Solicitor General John van Dongen, who stepped down after his speeding tickets were publicized. Van Dongen remains a candidate and will almost certainly keep his seat in the Fraser Valley riding of Abbotsford South.
Political scientist Derek Cook at Kamloops' Thompson Rivers University said the pitch James and the NDP have been making effectively in the interior and rural parts of the province is that the current government isn't providing enough stimulus to help workers.
"In the forestry sector, and in the interior and rural B.C., things are getting worse and the NDP is outlining effectively that the government has a responsibility to do something," said Cook. "The NDP is able to say, Obama in the U.S. is stepping in and trying to help out while our own federal and provincial governments are just sitting on their hands."
Some top forestry executives issued a statement denouncing the NDP, but in interior ridings such as Kootenay East, NDP candidate Troy Sebastian said workers are coming back to the party.
Sebastian, who ran in 2001, said he's getting a much warmer reception from voters in a riding won last time by Liberal Bill Bennett.
"There's been such a massive decline in forestry over the last eight years and people who are out of work have looked to the government and didn't get any help," said Sebastian. "There's a real appetite that something needs to be done and changed."