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Portrait of the Christy Clark strategy up close

March 28th, 2012 · 27 Comments

I did a profile of Christy Clark shortly after she was chosen leader of the B.C. Liberals, a year ago. One of my big takeaways then: This is a woman who loves the political battle and is a master of strategy. (So strategic that she declined to talk to me for the profile, giving me the chance to talk to many others around her.) But it wasn’t clear how she would perform in a non-war situation.

A year later, I spent two days with her as she waded through a schedule of premier’ing, mom’ing, and campaigning. Here’s the result, which represents a fraction of what she had to say and what I got to observe, but captures the feeling of what it’s like to live in her shoes (which are sometimes runners and sometimes high heels).

My takeaway: Her ability to morph into whatever will appeal to the audience in front of her is still obscuring a clear view of her style as a leader and long-term vision setter.

I know her critics will say she has no style in either of those categories. And yet she’s chosen to pin her hopes on one of the toughest long-term strategies of all — creating jobs. That’s something any economist will tell you is extremely difficult for an individual government to have a large or quick effect on, given the way the world economy works. And she’s pushing and pulling various ministries into line to try to achieve that, which takes a commitment to a faraway goal.

Oddly, she sees herself as steadier than her “predecessor,” as she often refers to Gordon Campbell. She said one of the key difference she sees between the two of them is that she doesn’t develop a new interest every six months.

Until this week, she was also been successful, or someone has been, at keeping many Conservatives and conservatives in her camp. I realize the news of the last week is about John van Dongen bailing and others, like Kevin Falcon and George Abbott, appearing to waver.

What I was struck by when I was out in Chilliwack was the number of long-time federal Conservatives who were pulling for her. Some were lesser known party operatives, people whom I’d heard in the past would have nothing to do with Clark because of their bad treatment at the hands of the Liberal Party when Clark’s former husband, Mark Marissen, was in charge.

Others were people like former federal MP Chuck Strahl, who was unequivocal when he told me that the B.C. Conservatives can’t win in B.C. and that if conservatives want a conservative government, they should stick with the Liberals.

“It’s too narrow cast here,” he told me in early February. “They’ll never be able to form the government. I tell people to wrestle with the political reality before us. The only way it will work is to coalesce around one party.”

Strahl, who described John Cummins’ role during his time with the Conservatives federally as a “loner,” said the B.C. Conservatives under here will only attract a limited group of voters who think exactly like them.

Although he didn’t say it, it’s clear that that small group is enough to help the Liberals lose and the NDP win. The NDP doesn’t have any greater a share of support than it has at other times. But it’s in the lead, in polling, because the group that used to support the Liberals is now fractured, with a third of them claiming they’ll vote B.C. Conservative.

Obviously, the ground is shifting under everyone’s feet in the last few days. If long-time ministers like Kevin Falcon and George Abbott start hinting at bailing, if polls continue to show the Conservatives creeping up, if there are more public-relations disasters … well, who knows.

But I’m always disinclined to write people off too quickly as lost causes, especially when it’s a case of the public being in full lynch-mob mode, which seems to happen so easily these days. Especially for someone who’s such a relentless war campaigner.

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  • Mark

    really, we don’t need wars

  • ron wilton


    You bring a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘out in Chilliwack’.

    You clearly misinterpret the CrapCon ‘swarming’
    tactic as ‘pulling for her’.

    I guess not being a lower mainlander, and never wanting to be, really disqualifies me from commenting here, given the name of your blog, the ‘State’ of Vancouver.

    FYI, CC is yesterday’s news in the other ‘States’ of British Columbia.

  • I agree with you, Frances. The ‘lynch mob’ mentality was present in the 90s when Glen Clark’s DeckGate and police raids became too much to manage, and again when Campbell’s premiership went down in flames in late 2010 (in fact, I was on the political panel on Ms. Clark’s show on CKNW on the day Campbell stepped down, and we had a field day with it). And it’s here again (the tables have turned).

    But Christy Clark didn’t get where she is by being a lightweight or having lightweight advisors. I dare submit that suggestions of ‘weakness’ and ‘freefall’ in part have to do with the fact that she’s a woman – a presumption of inherent weakness in women that most smart people don’t subscribe to.

    I also think that the only way the Premier is going to rally is to show more of who she truly is – to ‘morph’ less into what people want her to be and to say “this is who I am, this is who we are. Let’s fight on the issues and may the best person win.” Oh, and ditch the attack ads, please.

    I don’t share the Premier’s politics on many things, but can’t deny that I like her and respect her accomplishments. I’d like to see if she’s got a few rounds left it in her yet.

  • G West

    Accomplishments, Lesli? Pray tell, could you give us a comprehensive ‘list’ of those accomplishments?

    As I read the record she was the Minister of Education who brought in legislation that failed before the Supreme Court; the Cabinet member who walked in 2005; the candidate who failed to get elected mayor of Vancouver and now the premier who is failing to keep the Liberal Party together.

    And, I guess I should also mention: the student who failed to complete a degree at ANY of the institutions she attended.

    Some record of accomplishment!

    She may have been a success as a talk-show host – one begins to wonder if she’d have been better to stick to that.

  • spartikus

    Some disjointed thoughts….

    Clark inherited a ship that was already sinking. It would have taken the 2nd coming of…well…I don’t know. The Zalm briefly turned Socred fortunes around (but look at his legacy now)

    I have to disagree with Lesli here – there is a built-in constituency that wants to like the “free-enterprise” party who are willing to overlook many unpleasantries. And there was an “elite” press corps willing to cheerlead. Oh sure, Gary Mason wrote a negative story recently. He also was the coiner of “Premier Mom”.

    Although Gordon Campbell left a negatively stacked deck against her, Clark’s style as Premier has made things worse not better, the notable example being Sarah MacIntyre’s disastrous first day.

    Clark doesn’t represent anything. Love him or hate him, you know what Kevin Falcon believes. Ditto others. Clark seems to be in the politics game simply for the sake of being in the politics game.

    And then there’s BC Rail….

    I’ve noted some sexist commentary against the Premier. I’ve also noted some supporters using charges of sexism as a shield against legitimate criticism.

    There’s simply too much here. The BC Liberals are bleeding supporters on both sides of the spectrum. That tells you everything. By-election losses and a couple more defections….I really doubt this government will make it to the election.

    Although the coalition behind it will simply latch onto to something else, the BC Liberal party is finished. Kaput.

  • For Christy to suggest (or you to claim) that she maintains focus, while Gordo the Gangster changed focus every six months is laughable. Gordo focused in on stealing BC Rail starting in the nineties, managed to do it at the beginning of the millenium and continued to cover it up for a decade since. Now that is focus.

    Christy can’t decide whether the Stanley Cup Riots being televised, or the hit on Sedin is the issue of import and the vacuous blab about jobs or families is just that, empty rhetoric that is meant to comfort the uninterested class.

    As to issues re: who is a Con and who is a BC Liberal, it is irrelevant and essentially impossible to differentiate. With Sara “bubble gum” MacIntyre, Ken Boosenkool et. al. surrounding Christy and Strahl praising her to the skies, they are all on the same team. They just can’t decide which alias to use to try and fool the idjits that vote one more time.

    The only question is will we have an NDP government in BC next May, or earlier and oh yeah, will the renamed SoCred party currently called the BC Liberals still exist next year or maybe they will morph into Wildrose or more BC appropriate the Magnolia Party!

  • Bill

    The red flag was the lack of endorsements from the sitting MLA’s during the leadership race. (ok there was Harry Bloy but I think that only strengthens my point.) These are the people that would have seen her in action when she was in government and obviously found her lacking.

    And don’t make the mistake in ascribing leadership qualities to her just because she won the leadership race. (VanderZalm, Dionne, and Ignatieff are just three that are top of mind). Opportunists set policy because they want to be Premier. Leaders want to be Premier because they have a vision for the Province they want to implement and can build a team that supports it.

    Yes, the NDP will win the next election and it will not be good for the Province but it is offensive for the Liberals to say we must stick together with them to prevent it. They made the mistake of the Federal Liberals – try to cling to power with a star candidate when they should have stayed with someone solid like Kevin Falcon or George Abbott. Either one would still lose to the NDP but the rebuilding of the free enterprise coalition would be easier and maybe limit the NDP to one term.

  • Sparty, I’m not suggesting that the Premier hasn’t made some big mistakes – TransLink gaffes, interesting choices in press secretaries, etc. – that have helped her get into the situation she’s in now. And the press secretary’s “are you talkin’ to me” Mexican standoff with the press gallery certainly didn’t help things…

    My point is that at 33 per cent approval, she’s got a lot further to fall yet, the dubious record going to her “predecessor” Gordon Campbell’s nine per cent approval rating on the day of his resignation.

  • spartikus

    After Gordon Campbell anyone with a pulse could have stepped into the Premiership and shot up 30pts.

    But since then the trendline for her favorability is firmly downward. And the disapproval ratings are shooting up. What’s more the BC Libs ditched Campbell because he was bringing them down, but now the the situation is reversed and Party’s ratings are lower than their leader’s.

    And it’s the way they are bleeding support on both sides. Move to the centre, you lose conservatives. Move to the right, lose the centre. This coalition is no longer held together by duct tape, but scotch tape.

    I stand by my notion there was an initial moment Clark had where she had the goodwill of the punditry that she not only failed to seize but screwed up. It might not have been enough to right the ship but it probably would have won her seats in the double digits.

    Forum Research’s seat projections on March 19 had the BC Libs winning 9. That’s pre-van Dongen.

  • Morry

    Christy Clark is a flaky lightweight. She hasn’t demonstrated one iota of Leadership in her brief tenure as the unelected premier of BC. She is ignored on the rules of the legistilative. And she shoots from the hip surprising her caucus colleagues who will soon have to do the only honourable thing: push her or resign.

    She is putting her feet (runners on or in high heels) into her mouth on a daily basis.

    It will get much worse for her and the Liberals in the coming weeks.

  • brilliant

    Dix was fortunate van Dongen distracted the media from his being a transit cheat. Once a slimeball, always a slimeball.

    And if the BC Cons think the superannuated Cummins is going to do anything other than assure an NDP victory, someone must be spiking their Metamucil.

  • IanS

    I’m no fan of Adrian Dix, but his failure to produce a transit ticket when asked is not high on my list of concerns about him.

    I agree that the BC Conservative party is the NDP’s best friend in the upcoming election. IMO, the NDP likely would have won in any event, but it might have been a real contest at least.

  • Morry

    @brilliant – 0 ZERO

  • tf

    I can’t understand those voters who continue to vote for corrupt political servants just because the voters are afraid of the NDP.
    Historical facts prove your fear is based on ideology and not on reality. Wake up! Vote for the people, not for corporations!!!

  • MB

    If only we had voted for STV (or other forms of proportional representation). We could have voted for our top two or three individual choices irrespective of their party affiliation.

    Actually we did, but the ‘majority’ bar was set a lot higher than a government needs to attain office and make law.

    The politicos, of course, don’t like PR. It forces them to actually build consensus on policy and devote far less energy to creating division and polishing and honing their backstabbing knife collections.

  • brilliant

    @Morry 13-Maybe you’d like to elaborate. Are you defending the Hypocritical Fare Cheat Leftists or the Angry Old White Guys Party?

  • West End Gal

    You click the link and it takes to a page where it says:
    “Lesli Boldt … Communications!” LOL!
    Every pimpled girl sitting in front of her computer, thinks she is the queen of her own early morning talk show. But you take he top!
    i can’t even start to think what to do first… to laugh, or laugh louder, after reading your “communication” piece re. Christy Clark!

  • Christy Clark represents the worst characteristics of Federal Liberals: the all consuming need to hold onto power. The only reason they’re aligned with Conservatives in BC is because that’s their only avenue to power. It’s certainly not out of any commitment to being a “free enterprise coalition” or whatever other bilge their trying to sell.

    She happily took a leftist tack to get elected leader of her party and is now tacking rightward to try to hold it together. It’s pure pandering and after a decade of scandals, anemic growth for the working and middle class and unpopular policies, pandering is pretty much guaranteed to fail.

    Oh, and FYI to anyone who thought the Adrian Dix thing was at all a story, guess what? On planet Earth, no one gave a damn except for cracking a few jokes.

  • Morry

    @Morry 13-Maybe you’d like to elaborate.


  • Everyman

    @Jack Hope 18
    As opposed to the Federal Conservatives who of course aren’t interested in holding onto power at all, right? Did someone say robocall?

    As for Dix, he seems to have a pattern of ethical lapses. Does anyone believe this is the only time he, ahem, misplaced his faresaver?

  • Mira

    Everyman #20
    “As for Dix, he seems to have a pattern of ethical lapses. Does anyone believe this is the only time he, ahem, misplaced his faresaver?”
    Can you believe that Dix could become the Premier one Day?
    And can you believe that Robertson is Mayor? What a bunch of idiots, voters really are!
    I guess Vancouver got the leaders they deserve!

  • @Everyman #20

    Oh I absolutely think the current Federal Conservatives are liars and cheaters. But I think they are doing it to serve their warped ideology, where as Federal Liberals have no ideology other than power.

    As for Dix, those ethical lapses (assuming the ticket is a lapse and not an accident) seem pretty trivial in comparison to the whole BC Rail scandal or Gordon Campbell’s drunk driving arrest or the HST…. I can go on and on.

    Oh well, at least Translink can add this to their justification for faregates: we need turnstiles to prevent fare evasion by politicians.

  • brilliant

    @Morry 19-Elaborate. Intransitive verb: to expand something in detail.

  • F.H.Leghorn

    @brilliant#16: “Angry Old White Guys Party”? Where do I sign up? Not that I’m particularly angry, who has the time or energy? But old and white, now you’re talking. If we play our cards right we could wind up running everything.
    If only we can sidetrack the women and the leftoids with something intractible like climate change or the “environment”, or maybe a couple of political scandals. Then when gats hits $10/litre we can live like Saudis or Albertans.

  • Everyman

    There hasn’t been much discussion of the subject Frances broached: that the media and public judge a woman in politics differently tahn tehy do a man. Thoughts? I tend to agree. Why is Clark judged a lightweight, while Dix is not? What did Dix even do after his time in Glen Clark’s office?

  • MB

    Dear Legs,

    I hope your vericose veins don’t give you too much trouble when sprinting to the discount buffet. Please wear tall socks, man. And careful with the servers these days. They’re all really, really fit and will break an arthritic finger or two when you’re reaching to squeeze one of their delectible young commie asses.

    With Geezer Affection,