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david Parkins (For The Globe and Mail)
david Parkins (For The Globe and Mail)

DISPATCH

A political scion lends Christy Clark a hand Add to ...

At every B.C. Liberal campaign stop, he is there in the room like a spectre. Brad Bennett, of the Social Credit dynasty, isn’t called upon to speechify. His appearance at Christy Clark’s side is enough to send a reminder of where the party’s roots lie.

In the first week of the campaign, Ms. Clark mostly toured in the north, the interior and the Fraser Valley – the “250” area code of the province. It is here, in rural B.C., that W.A.C. Bennett and then his son, Bill Bennett, built their Socred party that dominated B.C. politics for nine elections.

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Trying as she is to associate her government with the Bennett name, it is little surprise that Ms. Clark avoided mention of the B.C. Liberal brand during her campaign rallies. Instead, she talked about the so-called free-enterprise coalition. Holding that coalition together is the secret to keeping the NDP out of the premier’s office.

Brad Bennett did not follow his father and grandfather into politics. But his first campaigns blend in with his earliest memories – he was born in 1958 when W.A.C. Bennett was premier. Either his father, or his father’s father, held the keys to the premier’s office for a total of 31 years. It gives him a certain amount of political authority even without having offered himself up for public office.

“The kids help out in the family business,” he explained in an interview in Prince George during a campaign stop. “A certain amount rubbed off, but I don’t have a need to take over the family business.”

After a career of staying out of the spotlight, Mr. Bennett, at the age of 55, has accepted a leading role in helping the party that took the place of Social Credit when that brand was reduced to ashes in 1991.

While the Liberal Leader delivers her speeches, shakes hands and takes questions from the media, he is just there in the room, the spitting image of his father, lending his family name to the free-enterprise cause.

For someone who has not shown a strong interest in following in his father’s footsteps, it is curious to see Mr. Bennett offering himself up to Ms. Clark’s campaign. “I believe in the values of free enterprise,” he said, by way of explanation.

While Ms. Clark rarely mentions her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, Mr. Bennett is an unabashed admirer. Perhaps he is here to help the party at large, rather than Ms. Clark in particular. But he defends Ms. Clark’s poor showing in the polls: “I don’t think she has been given a fair shot to communicate.”

In between campaign stops, Ms. Clark sits with him and they review how the tour is unfolding. While sitting on the ferry to the airport outside Prince Rupert, she pointed out how well the crowd had received a line she had just delivered, about how the NDP would raise taxes in the north to pay for services in the south.

Playing up resentments between rural and urban B.C. may have been his idea – he doesn’t say. Certainly he has confidence in his ability to communicate. “I was born into the business. You develop a certain gut instinct, a political radar,” he said.

The Bennett name is invoked by Ms. Clark, who would also like to be thought of as a builder of B.C. The Bennetts built big. As just one example, it was the creation of BC Hydro, with its massive infrastructure of hydroelectric dams, that paved the way for so much of the industrial development that drives much of the province’s economy today.

Ms. Clark’s campaign rests on the promise of a new liquefied natural gas industry that she proclaims will deliver a trillion dollars of economic activity over the span of decades. On the side of her campaign bus next to her image is the promise of a debt-free B.C. That promise hinges on LNG revenues that won’t start to flow until after the next election – if at all.

This is easy to dismiss as pie-in-the-sky electioneering, which is why the Liberals hope to remind voters of the scale of W.A.C. Bennett’s ambitions and successes.

But what Mr. Bennett built still stands, while the scale of Ms. Clark’s LNG ambitions remain on paper, intangible as a wraith.

Follow on Twitter: @justine_hunter

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