British Columbia opposition widens lead on ruling Liberals

(Reuters) - British Columbia’s opposition New Democratic Party has surged to a lead of almost 10 percentage points over the ruling Liberal Party two weeks before an election in the Western Canadian province, according to a new Mainstreet/Postmedia poll released on Tuesday.

Most of the change came from the Lower Mainland region around Vancouver, the province’s biggest city, where the left-leaning NDP has been campaigning heavily, said David Valentin, executive vice president at Ottawa-based Mainstreet.

“I think we may see further shifts as a result of the softwood lumber decision,” Valentin said referring to the United States’ decision on Monday to impose tariffs on lumber from Canada.

British Columbia is Canada’s largest provincial producer and exporter of softwood lumber, accounting for 50 percent of Canada’s exports to the United States.

“Voters may start asking themselves who would be the better negotiator with Donald Trump and it is sure to feature heavily in tomorrow’s debate,” Valentin said.

Party leaders face off in a second debate on Wednesday evening.

They were quick to present themselves as best placed to protect forestry sector jobs.

Premier and Liberal Party leader Christy Clark said that since 2011 under her government the province has added nearly 10,000 forestry jobs, which she said was more than any other Canadian province.

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan accused Clark of having failed to make getting a lumber deal a priority and said he would travel to Washington within 30 days if elected premier to make sure the province is properly represented in the dispute.

The Liberals, who are not linked to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party and are more right-leaning, are seeking a fifth consecutive term on May 9.

But voter fatigue after nearly 16 years of Liberal rule and anger among environmentalists at the government’s approval of an oil pipeline expansion in the province by Kinder Morgan could see them ousted.

According to the latest Mainstreet/Postmedia poll, which surveyed respondents April 20-22, 27 percent of voters would back the Liberals, 36 percent the NDP, and 16 percent the Green Party. Some 21 percent of voters were undecided.

Nearly three weeks ago, a Mainstreet poll showed the NDP only three percentage points ahead of the Liberals.

Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver; Editing by Bill Trott