Liberals need to address trust deficit

When MLA Colin Hansen mused recently that BC’s Liberals should change the name of their party, he failed to appreciate how many folks were only too happy to slap lipstick on his pig.

When MLA Colin Hansen mused recently that BC’s Liberals should change the name of their party, he failed to appreciate how many folks were only too happy to slap lipstick on his pig.

Rather than encouraging serious discourse about political branding, Premier Christy Clark’s stalking horse launched a new game for Liberal detractors with too much time on their hands.

The blogosphere was rife with suggestions such as the Fiberals, the Lie Ability Party, the Christy Crunch Party, Snow White & the 47 Dwarfs, the Alliance of Used Car Salesmen of BC and, my personal favourite, the New Christy Minstrels.

Hansen said: “In the minds of a lot of voters, I think there is confusion between the federal Liberal Party and the BC Liberal Party which have no connection at all. And yet, in the minds of a lot of voters, they believe there is a connection.”

The former finance minister’s attempt to get rebranding off the back burner got a frosty reception from senior cabinet colleagues such as Education Minister George Abbott and House Leader and Energy Minister Rich Coleman.

The notion that the Liberals can so readily escape the legacy of former premier Gordon Campbell and dodge the taint of the Liberals’ near death experience federally is about as probable as convincing the public that the Golden Arches are orthotics for seniors. Rebranding is not accomplished quickly or easily.

Earlier this year the Kootenay East Liberal constituency association submitted a proposal for changing the name. Even so, the riding’s maverick MLA Bill Bennett said he was “not naive enough to think we can change the relationship of the party with the public simply by changing the name.”

In fact recent opinion polling makes it clear that the Liberals’ issues with voters are not skin deep. They are fundamental. An Ipsos Reid poll showed the Liberals and NDP neck and neck in public support. However, the really bad news was buried deeper. Survey respondents were asked to give the Liberals an approval rating in eight categories of government stewardship.

The only issue on which the government got more approval than disapproval was the economy where a slight majority, 51 per cent, approved of the government’s performance, while 43 per cent disapproved.

In all the other categories the government’s ratings were pathetic: Crime/justice: 53 per cent disapproval; environment: 53 per cent disapproval; education: 59 per cent disapproval; taxes: 64 per cent disapproval; health care: 65 per cent disapproval; spending taxpayer money wisely: 65 per cent disapproval; and, worst of all, ethics and accountability: 70 per cent disapproval.

The only good news for the Liberals was that Clark had a big lead over the NDP’s Adrian Dix as the leader British Columbians think would make a better premier with 47 per cent choosing Clark compared to just 25 per cent for Dix. Regardless, while it is still early in the premier’s mandate, her government is not benefitting from her personal appeal and charisma.

What can the Liberals take away from this? Clearly they must reject any notion of changing the party name in the near term. Such a gambit would be seen as cynical cosmetics. The pig would still be the pig.

Premier Clark’s sole challenge between now and the election likely this fall should be addressing the public trust deficit that has become Gordon Campbell’s lingering legacy. M

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