B.C. Premier Christy Clark shuffled her cabinet Wednesday and, at the same time, tried to put the best possible face on an ever-deepening sense of concern in her government.
Changes in her executive council were necessitated, in part, by a raft of resignations that have hit the governing Liberals in the past couple of weeks. These are politicians, including four high-profile cabinet ministers, who have indicated they have no plans to seek re-election next spring.
Ms. Clark has sought to advance the notion that this is just the normal turnover that happens in political parties in advance of elections. Not many are buying it, however. There’s little question that her party’s dismal standings in the polls and the historically dim prospects any government has in seeking a fourth term had plenty to do with many of these decisions.
As did Ms. Clark’s own leadership failings.
Of the 49 Liberals elected in the 2009 vote, 17 won’t be around to run for the party next May. Three quit, one defected to the B.C. Conservatives and 13 have decided not to run again. That’s an attrition rate of 35 per cent – and there could be more yet. By comparison, only two of the 36 New Democrats in Victoria have indicated they won’t seek re-election.
Contrasts are already being made to the dropout rates of the Social Credit Party in 1991 and the NDP in 2001, when large numbers of MLAs in each party opted not to run again in the face of certain defeat at the polls. In the case of the Socreds, it ultimately resulted in the party’s annihilation. For the NDP, which was reduced to only two seats in the 2001 campaign, it has taken the better part of a decade to get back to the point where it’s once again in a position to form a government.
So, is there any hope for the Liberals? Is Ms. Clark just running out the string? Has the public made up its mind, no matter what she does?
It certainly looks that way. But then there’s a reason that Ms. Clark and others continue to trot out that well-worn cliché about a week being a long time in politics, let alone the nine months between now and the next election: It’s true.
Lots could happen – although the odds certainly don’t favour the Liberals. And the hope of some miraculous comeback is tempered by the sober assessment many have of Ms. Clark’s track record since she became premier in March of 2011. And this comes from people inside government, people who have watched her up close and had a chance to appraise her performance.
The most common complaint I hear is that Ms. Clark has failed to articulate any kind of vision for the province. And from this perception stems the real fear that she doesn’t have one. Instead, she has politicked on mostly empty slogans such as “Families First” that are built on words and seemingly not much more.
She has promised to work for jobs – but what politician doesn’t? She has failed to surround herself with advisers who can shore up her own deficiencies, especially on policy matters. Most everyone concedes that the Premier is a gifted communicator, but those skills don’t get you far if you don’t have substance to communicate.
Instead, according to many inside the Liberal realm, Ms. Clark has resorted to crass pandering of various political subgroups in the hopes of making marginal gains at best. So when she attends Vancouver’s Philippine Independence Day celebrations, she tells the crowd that, “in my heart, I am Filipina.” When she goes on a popular Christian television program, she talks about how she finds inspiration from the Bible – even though she’s not known to be a deeply religious person.
And when the polls indicate alienation among female voters, she holds women-only coffee klatches. One can only imagine the outrage if NDP Leader Adrian Dix held men-only meetings throughout the province.
If Ms. Clark continues with her current game plan, she’ll no doubt pay a heavy price at the polls. She could even be forced to fight off attempts to oust her, in a desperate bid by some to find a political game-changer.
She changed her cabinet Wednesday. Now the question is: Will she change her strategy?