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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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