Sunday, February 27, 2011

Christy Clark triumphant

After three dramatic rounds of vote counting Christy Clark emerged as the new Premier elect of B.C. Her swearing in by the Lieutenant Governor of B.C. is but a formality. Her immediate challenge is two-fold to get elected in a by-election to the legislature and to keep the BC Liberal coalition united.

Complicating matters still further is the fact that Premier Clark and many of her key supporters are staunch federal Liberals while the candidate she narrowly defeated Kevin Falcon is very much a federal Conservative.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office made no secret of the fact that they would have much preferred to have seen Kevin rather than Christy win. This in part is due to the fact that Christy Clark’s ex-husband, Mark Marissen was then Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin’s right hand man in British Columbia.

But Prime Minister Harper and Premier Clark need each other. A federal election this April is likely and it will be British Columbia that will determine whether or not Harper is finally able to achieve a majority government. Harper thus needs to quickly mend fences with Premier Clark in order to ensure she does not do anything implicit or otherwise that is seen as endorsing the federal Liberals.

Any such move by Premier Clark would of course cause huge dissension within the BC Liberal caucus, which despite its name is made up of a majority of federal Conservative Party supporters. Clark already has her work cut out for her as prior to winning she had only received the endorsement of one sitting MLA. The rest had been fairly evenly divided between cabinet ministers Kevin Falcon and George Abbott.

But having known Christy Clark since she was 18 years old, I can tell you that few have ever prospered by underestimating the tenacity of this life long political warrior. The political left first felt threatened by her when she was elected President of the Simon Fraser Students’ Society back in the mid 1980s. This was a campus where historically the political divisions ran between the left (the NDP) and the extreme left (various forms of Communist sympathizers). To have a Liberal elected President was all but unheard of.

But elected she was and then when the BC Liberals emerged from political obscurity under the leadership of Gordon Wilson, she went to work at the legislature as a research officer. A few years later she then ran as an MLA under the leadership of Gordon Campbell and eventually served as Education Minister and Deputy Premier.

But as many people, especially women, found working for Premier Campbell was not an easy task. If you did too well and took too much attention away from him you could incur his wrath. But if you didn’t do well enough or made a mistake that also would put you in the political doghouse. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t is not a very tenable political situation to be in and so five years ago Christy bowed out of provincial politics.

Christy Clark was soon back in the spot light seeking the nomination from the NPA to be the candidate for Mayor of Vancouver. Both Mike Harcourt and Gordon Campbell had served first as Mayor of Vancouver before becoming Premier of B.C. and as most people surmised Christy was intent on following the same path.

In that instance she came up short in terms of support and it was Sam Sullivan who would instead win the nomination and go on to be a one term Mayor of Vancouver. Christy then landed on her feet as a radio talk show host at CKNW. It was there she not only remained in the public spotlight but more importantly was able to be in an environment where she was inundated on a daily basis with the concerns of British Columbians.

And nothing concerned British Columbians more after the last provincial election than the sudden and wholly unexpected imposition of a 12 per cent HST by Gordon Campbell. Although the HST has some benefits to it, the complete lack of consultation thoroughly alienated voters. In the end Premier Campbell resigned and called for a leadership vote.

During her time at CKNW Christy had not only become much more attuned to the concerns of voters she had also earned the respect of many long serving journalists. Pamela Martin who had for years served as a nightly news anchor actively campaigned on Christy’s behalf while other scribes wrote glowingly about her.

But the biggest ace that Christy Clark had up her sleeve was that she had not been in government when the much hated HST was rammed through by Premier Gordon Campbell. Kevin Falcon, George Abbott or Mike deJong had all been in cabinet when that fateful decision was made and although it is doubtful that they had much input on Premier Campbell’s decision, they all had to answer for it.

Unless another MLA volunteers to step aside, the most likely constituency that Christy Clark will run in will be Premier Campbell’s Vancouver Point Grey riding. Assuming as is likely that she wins that by-election her triumphant return to the legislature in Victoria will be complete.

Michael Geoghegan is a government relations consultant based in Victoria, BC He has known Christy Clark since they were both 18 years old.