Premier David Alward’s Progressive Conservatives are facing a tough battle in September’s provincial election because too many tough decisions were taken late in their mandate, according to a veteran pollster.
Don Mills, the president and chief executive officer of Corporate Research Associates, said the Alward government is following a similar path to Shawn Graham’s former Liberal government.
When Graham’s Liberals were elected in 2006, Mills said his approval ratings started out high but over the course of his mandate, that all changed.
Graham’s popularity fell after trying to sell NB Power and his handling of Atcon loan guarantees worth $50 million. He was not able to recover in time for the 2010 election campaign.
Graham’s Liberals ultimately became the first one-term government in New Brunswick history.
'Unfortunately for the Alward government is that the economy has really led them to where they are, which is likely not to have a second mandate because the economy has been so bad.' - Don Mills, CRA pollster
Mills said his polling data indicates the Alward government's numbers may be following a similar path.
"They would have been better off just to make a bunch of decisions in the first 18 months. They would not have been any worse off than they are right now by delaying the decision making,” Mills said.
In CRA’s February poll, the Liberals were leading with 43 per cent of the decided vote, followed by the Progressive Conservatives at 31 per cent, the NDP at 21 per cent and the Green Party at four per cent. The number of undecided voters stood at 31 per cent.
In February 2010, Alward’s Tories had 42 per cent of decided voters, followed by the Liberals at 36 per cent, the NDP at 18 per cent and the Green party at four per cent. The number of undecided voters, four years ago, stood at 45 per cent.
CRA will be releasing its latest political polling results this week.
Tough decisions taken late
The political landscape described by Mills is not discouraging Progressive Conservative loyalists.
Michel Leger, a Shediac lawyer and a long-time Progressive Conservative supporter, said poll numbers can change quickly.
"Polls are a reflection of, you know, it's been a hard winter," Leger said.
"I mean, you know, look with the weather and everything else I mean the mentality of the people they went through that hard winter and the economy hasn't been all that good."
Mills said agrees that one of Alward's toughest opponents is the provincial economy, which he said is worse now than it was during Graham's term.
The province’s unemployment rate stood at 10.5 per cent in April 2014 compared to 8.5 in March 2010.
Mills said governments are better off making tough decisions in the first 18 months of their mandates.
"When you get to a certain point in your term where it's too late because making unpopular decisions really makes it very hard to get re-elected," Mills said.
"Unfortunately for the Alward government is that the economy has really led them to where they are, which is likely not to have a second mandate because the economy has been so bad."
The Alward government has faced a backlash on several policies, such as pension reform and a new forest policy. Further, Alward’s Tories promised in 2010 that the budget would be balanced in four years and they would not raise taxes.
The provincial deficit for 2014-15 is estimated at $391 million and Finance Minister Blaine Higgs has said the budget will not be balanced until 2017-18. Higgs also raised personal income taxes in his 2013 budget.