For a number of reasons, it doesn’t look like new provincial Liberal leader and soon-to-be premier Christy Clark is going to get the traditional period of grace that politicians can usually expect. She has a pile of mending to do that even the volunteers at Creston Valley Gleaners might find daunting.
I don’t think there is any question about her strength and resolve to face tough issues. She left provincial politics in the middle of the last decade after having been a key cabinet minister and deputy premier, clearly having the confidence of a premier we now know to have been as autocratic as some of the dictators who are now being challenged in the Middle East. But she’s only one part of any equation.
Internal issues have to be resolved quickly. Clark will have to find a way to reach out to dissidents like Bill Bennett and Blair Lekstrom, both powerful and articulate spokesmen for residents of Interior B.C. In the end, neither was able to tolerate Campbell’s approach to governing and Clark can show her strength of character and her self-confidence by inviting the pair back into caucus. If nothing else, it would be a sign that hearing all points of view is more important than maintaining control over each and every aspect of the party.
Just as important is the need to lure the candidates she defeated back into the fold. The leadership race wasn’t exactly a group hug, and word is that none of the defeated challengers or other caucus members showed up at Clark’s post-victory party. The new Liberal leader is going to have unflattering quotes about her character and inconsistency (like this one from the usually reasonable George Abbott, “More and more, it’s abundantly clear that Ms. Clark’s positions are simply not credible, and it shows that she has no real plan for our province, our economy or our families. On these significant issues, the public wants certainty and clarity, not more double-speak and misdirection.”) thrown back at her now that she has defeated the men who made them — Mike de Jong, Abbott and Kevin Falcon. She’s going to have to shrug off those observations as having been made in the heat of the battle and find ways of luring those three, along with other caucus members and their constituents into the fold. But don’t be surprised if a number of key players from the Campbell regime opt to get out of politics.
While Clark did an admirable job of positioning herself as a voice of change, she might have a tougher time selling it to voters across the province than she did among party faithful. She was the co-author of the Liberal policy guide back in 2001. She was a minister of education who became heartily disliked by teachers and other unions. She is a supporter of the harmonized sales tax. Her promises don’t break significantly from the government of the past decade. And, for people of the Creston Valley and other food producers, there is little in the way of good news. A 19-page document on her website makes brief references to ranches and the need for fencing, but not a word is to be found about food production. Either Clark doesn’t think about what she eats or she doesn’t consider the issues faced by farmers, orchardists and small producers worthy of mention.
Some of the promises dredge up a vague sense of déjà vu. Cabinet meetings will be held in rural areas — that happened a few times before the luster wore off for Campbell, didn’t it?
And Clark’s flip-flops on some issues undoubtedly will be remembered by a public already distrustful of politicians. She wanted to kill the HST referendum, then decided it should be moved up to early summer. She wanted to call a spring general election and then abandoned the issue when it was met with cold stares.
On the plus side, she is bright, strong and experienced. Much of her website document is a commitment to better communication and consultation, and to focus on families. Those are pretty good starting points for a new premier. Now comes the challenge of proving she really isn’t just Gordon Campbell recycled.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.