People are enormously angry at Premier John Horgan for his decision to spend $1 billion on a new provincial museum in Victoria, but they aren’t necessarily clamouring to throw him out of office over it.
That’s the takeaway from two recent Angus Reid polls, which clearly illustrate how badly the BC New Democrats have bungled the museum file, and the continued danger to not only the government but to the premier’s brand if they keep charging forward with the plan.
Only four per cent of more than 600 people polled by Angus Reid said they “strongly support” the premier’s museum project.
Not only that, but almost half the people who identified themselves as NDP supporters felt the government should just back off and leave the Royal BC Museum alone — proving that the widespread anger has seeped into the loyal New Democrat base as well.
The museum project has cost the premier seven percentage points on his approval rating already, according to a second poll by Angus Reid earlier in the week.
All of this in less than a month since the project was announced.
New Democrats must be asking themselves two questions: What’s next? And how bad can it get?
The polls offer clues.
NDP support still strong
First, the damage to Horgan’s personal popularity so far hasn’t bled into overall voter intent for the NDP, which, while on a downward trend, is still almost 10 points higher than the BC Liberals.
But at 48 per cent approval, Horgan is down to the level of voter support he first saw in 2017 when he took power.
Back then, voters weren’t sure what to make of the self-described mercurial Irishman. But they learned to love him in large part because he listened to, and responded to, their concerns.
The NDP minority government of 2017-2020 often went to great pains to consult the public on its ideas before acting, and then rethink proposals that missed the mark.
In those days, Horgan recognized the value in pivoting; that changing an idea in response to public feedback was not giving your opponents a victory or showing weakness, but, in fact, a show of strength and thoughtful leadership.
Voters responded to those qualities in 2020 by giving him the largest majority ever won by a New Democrat government.
Which is what makes the museum project all the more confounding.
It’s entirely against the Horgan brand.
There was almost no public consultation. And when people got upset at not being asked about an eight-year closure to a beloved provincial institution – the most expensive museum project in Canadian history – Horgan doubled and tripled down on the move, insisting he knew better than anyone else whether to proceed.
The lessons New Democrats supposedly learned in their minority days about the confidence of consensus-building appear to have been forgotten in the second year of their majority.
Listening has been replaced by lecturing. Humility by arrogance. Empathy by entitlement. And above all else, New Democrats are obsessed with not letting BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon be right on any criticism — forgetting, perhaps, that he may simply be repeating what the public is feeling to a New Democrat government that’s stopped listening.
As Angus Reid president Shachi Kurl put it, the museum controversy is “a body bruise, but it’s far from fatal.”
Horgan has burned through public goodwill to push the museum forward, and it seems he’ll continue for the foreseeable future.
The smarter play for the NDP would be to split the museum project into two parts: Proceed with the $200-million archive building in neighbouring Colwood to protect historical artifacts (which even opponents like the BC Liberals support), but pause the $789-million main museum rebuild for more consultation to address overwhelming public concerns.
At least, that’s what the minority NDP government would have done a few years ago.
This current version of the NDP appears to have forgotten one of the key things that made it successful in the first place.
Museum or not, that’s what should really concern voters going forward.