When Liberals who oppose Christy Clark’s leadership first dreamt of the day she would be gone, they imagined the push to replace her would begin one minute after the polls closed on May 14.
But the so-called 801 pressure group did not envision a messy coup. Back when this amorphous faction of dissenters first started talking about a post-Clark world, the Liberal party was badly behind in the polls. At the time, this tiny band of insurgents was still contemplating a wipeout scenario that would make Ms. Clark’s exit a foregone conclusion.
Only in the last few weeks has that picture begun to change as the race in this B.C. election has tightened. Suddenly, those who couldn’t stand Ms. Clark and her leadership style must contemplate an ugly fight on the other side of this campaign, one they didn’t anticipate when the idea of emblazoning buttons with their 801 aspirations was first hatched.
To call 801 a movement, however, is a joke. Near as I can tell, it was the brainchild of a loose collection of those in the party who were most offended by Ms. Clark’s two years in power. There is no structure to this group. Imagine an assembly of like-minded political animals with various links to the B.C. Liberals getting together over drinks and talking about a new kind of Liberal party devoid of the kind of shenanigans it witnessed under the current leader.
And at the end of the evening, someone comes up with the great idea of printing some cool buttons with 801 on them that would be handed out only to those in the know. In fact, it was a prominent member of the Vancouver business elite who came up with the slogan and suggested immortalizing it on a piece of tin.
There’s your 801 movement.
But as I say, these people weren’t imagining they’d have to prevail in a nasty fight before they could install a leadership team they felt was more principled and ethical than the one currently running the Liberals.
The 801 dreams were born when it looked like voters would assign Ms. Clark to political oblivion – when they thought voters would do the dirty work for them. That is not likely to happen now. There is a good chance Ms. Clark will try to stay on as Opposition Leader even if a Liberal loss includes her own seat. A few 801ers I spoke to in the last few days were still talking bravely about dumping her even if she found a way to get a seat. But much of their earlier bravado has disappeared.
Here is a fact many overlook in this discussion. Yes, Ms. Clark did not enjoy the support of her caucus when she was made leader. Many didn’t like her. But most of those people are gone. Ms. Clark went out and recruited a whole new gang, many of whom, if they get elected, will owe her their loyalty. The anti-Clark crowd in caucus could well be a minority, which would make leading a mutiny that much more difficult.
It was telling, too, that since word of the 801 button campaign went public, there has been real concern among some members of the secret sect that they might be outed. Politics can be a pretty mean and vindictive business.
We still don’t know where all this will end up. If the NDP wins a healthy majority, there is going to be some pressure on Ms. Clark to reconsider her future, especially if she doesn’t win in her own riding of Vancouver-Point Grey. But if it’s close, as the polls suggest it will be, then everything changes. There will be a leadership review later this year and Ms. Clark is sure to face some opposition if she is in Opposition.
What becomes of the 801ers remains to be seen. I can guarantee you that some were flushing their buttons down the toilet Wednesday night. I was getting frantic texts from others anxious to disassociate themselves from the ambitions of the group. The revelation of the small faction’s existence ahead of voting day is a disaster for those involved. It will give Ms. Clark and her lieutenants a chance to plot strategy and find out who the traitors are – these people who may have halted her momentum at a critical time in the campaign.
I would imagine that Ms. Clark already suspects the identity of some. It will not be a pleasant time for them if the Liberal Leader pulls off a feat most predicted could never be accomplished.