Insights West Vice President for Public Affairs Mario Canseco has spent more than a decade in the polling industry, working with public sector and educational clients across British Columbia. As 2013 comes to a close, Mario shared his insight into where BC is headed and what stories will be making news next year.
With your history in the public sector, what topics do you believe will become provincial debates in 2014?
There are three key issues for the year. The first one is energy, which entails handling the fracking, LNG and pipelines issues. The public is divided on most of these projects, and this is definitely something that the government and the opposition will concentrate on. The second one is the economy. The BC Liberals were able to rally their voters to give them another term on the basis of their financial credentials, but the jobs numbers have been up and down. The third one is what happens with the opposition. The BC NDP has about 10 months left before they choose a leader, and the prospective contenders will have to talk about the problems they see with the government. It is ultimately about who can have the best audition for the job of putting pressure on the BC Liberals, and growing the base.
What do you believe will be the most important issue facing BC schools and overall education in 2014?
For the government, the education file boils down to reaching the promised ten-year agreement with teachers. This was one of the main points of discussion during the campaign. However, if no deal is reached and some work stoppages occur, the issue could become very problematic. British Columbians are usually mad at workers and unions at the start of a strike, but if no solutions are reached, it is the government—municipal or provincial—that ultimately pays the price.
There has been a lot of talk about the disparity between the polling and the results of the 2013 general election. Even though you’re in different market, what are some of the lessons Insights West took away from that situation?
I think some of us have learned from what happened in May. It was a combination of several factors, including people who changed their minds. However, I don’t buy the argument of simply forgetting about the youth vote and looking at the middle-aged and over 55 demographics as the only ones that actually vote. At Insights West, we conducted surveys in Calgary and Edmonton before their municipal elections this year, and were able to predict the order of the main candidates. But if we had simply forgotten about the youth vote, the forecasts would not have been close to reality. It’s enticing to look at a result and work backwards to try to match what happened, but no amount of after-the-fact weighting will tell you what can transpire in a different democratic process. The only way to know if your techniques and voter turnout models work is to try them. In many occasions, they worked for me in several Canadian provinces, federally and in U.S. national and statewide races. At Insights West, we went for it in Calgary and Edmonton, and are pleased with our showing.
[If you’re interested in looking at the data, it is here with full tables at the bottom]
A June survey found that the “reasons for not voting are complex and varied, and overall, greater voter participation likely wouldn’t have changed the election outcome.” Do you think a spirited American presidential campaign in 2016 will influence voter turn out across the border in 2017?
It may be too early to tell. We had an election in BC in 2009, seven months after Obamamania, and we did not experience a wild swing on voter turnout. There was no fresh face—we had the same two party leaders from 2005 contesting again, and the results were very similar to the previous election. More than anything, 2017 will be a contest for the non-voter. Governments fall when people who do not usually care about politics end up caring—that was the lesson of the first federal Conservative victory. The leaders of the BC NDP and the BC Conservatives in 2017 have to seek a way to enhance their voter base, and one of the most successful ways of doing it is to focus on the misgivings of the government, be it on policy or accountability. Most Canadian voters in 2006 had a hard time understanding the full scope of the sponsorship scandal, but they knew enough about it to make them wary of the federal Liberals and look for a different option. This is the best approach to dent support for the BC Liberals in 2017, by starting to make people question whether they are, essentially, the only ones fit to govern the province.
In September, Insights West found that only 54% of British Columbians are familiar with “fracking.” Among those, only one-in-four residents (26%) supports fracking, and almost half (47%) oppose it. As interest groups and the government increase public awareness, where do you see the public headed on the issue?
The one thing that surprised us was that very few people knew that fracking was already being done in the province. BC is special because the public is staunchly divided on the question of economic development versus environmental protection. The government has been unwavering in discussing the energy file in terms of jobs created and millions (or trillions) of dollars in the coffers. But that does little to persuade those who are concerned about the effect on the landscape and fauna, or contamination due to a spill. The government needs to address these environmental concerns in a meaningful way, and not simply point to a calendar and talk about how much money would conceivably be available for the province.
Photograph: CGP Grey