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Opinion: Premier John Horgan seems unfazed by drop in popularity among B.C. voters

Premier John Horgan’s popularity appears to have dropped, but I get the feeling he is not losing much sleep over this development.
John Horgan
Premier John Horgan's approval rating has dropped seven points to 56% among B.C. voters.

Premier John Horgan’s popularity appears to have dropped, but I get the feeling he is not losing much sleep over this development.

A recent online poll by the Angus Reid institute pegged his approval rating at 56 per cent, a drop of seven points from a June poll.

A drop is a drop, but the fact that Horgan still has the approval of well more than half the electorate after more than four years on the job is a scenario any political leader will grab in a heartbeat.

There is no question Horgan and his government have made mistakes and court controversy on a number of fronts.

Hundreds of people dying during the summer heat dome, mounting frustration over pandemic restrictions, long ambulance waits, frustratingly high housing prices – all can contribute to a decline in support for a government and its leader.

However, for a number of reasons, the steady and inevitable rise in negative issues does not seem to be having much of an impact on the voting public, at least for the moment.

I have pointed out that the extraordinary pandemic has given many sitting governments cover from their voters, who may not embrace change at the top until things get back to normal.

Horgan’s personal political style is also a major contributing factor to his continuing ability to put up good approval numbers.

For starters, he is not in people's faces all the time. Where premiers like Alberta’s Jason Kenney and Ontario’s Doug Ford attach themselves to all kinds of announcements, Horgan prefers to stay in the background and only emerge at weekly news conferences or special events.

Kenney and Ford’s unpopularity (22 and 36 per cent approval respectively) is undoubtedly partly linked to their endless personal publicity campaigns.

Even though he occasionally slips up with a flippant or uninformed response to a question, it does not seem to hurt him with the public.

Horgan is also aided because he faces an Opposition that is yet to find its sea legs during the pandemic. The B.C. Liberals, like pretty well opposition parties in most places, struggle to be heard when so many issues that would traditionally get a fair amount of attention (huge budget deficits, a massive overrun in the Site C dam costs, the affordability crisis etc.) often get lost in the conversation.

The B.C. Liberals are also understandably distracted by their lengthy leadership race and their internal rebuilding exercise.

However, the B.C. legislature has resumed sitting, which gives the Opposition parties a platform they would not otherwise have.

At least twice a week, the B.C. Liberals and the Greens will have a chance to square off against Horgan in Question Period (there are four such Question Periods a week, but Horgan – like his predecessors – does not attend them all).

In the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see if the Opposition can put a few dents in the Horgan vehicle, or whether he will continue to drive it unscarred by political attacks.

The road ahead is an uncertain one. COVID-19 cases continue to appear by the hundreds every day, hospitalizations are rising as a result, and more and more people are dying from the virus.

Such a situation would normally suggest the head of the government might not be that popular. However, British Columbians have yet to turn on the man who took over the premier’s office more than four years ago, and it is by no means clear when, or even if, they ever will.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.