The NDP policy flip-flop on Kinder Morgan’s pipeline plans in the middle of the 2013 provincial election campaign has been written into the history books as a fatal miscalculation. But Premier Christy Clark revealed Saturday that her own B.C. Liberal strategists were so rattled by the move, they wanted her to follow suit.
“We had a vigorous debate amongst all the strategists,” Ms. Clark told delegates at her party’s convention, which was mostly a celebration of the Liberal’s unexpected electoral victory a year ago.
Adrian Dix, who has since resigned as NDP leader, has taken heat for what quickly became known as the Kinder Morgan flip-flop. But Ms. Clark, for the first time, revealed publicly how close her party came to following a different storyline.
Halfway through the 2013 campaign, the NDP seemed comfortably ahead of the Liberals and felt their biggest threat came from the B.C. Green Party. So Mr. Dix marked Earth Day in Kamloops where he abandoned the “matter of principle” that he would not take a stand until the project was formally proposed, and instead announced his party would oppose the expansion of the oil pipeline.
For the next four days, the Liberal pollsters and strategists watched anxiously as Mr. Dix, already well ahead in the polls, began to grow their lead while the Liberals flatlined.
Speaking with reporters after her convention speech on Saturday, the Premier said she was not part of the internal debate about the need for a Liberal policy about-face – she was on the campaign bus while strategists back at the campaign headquarters debated how to respond.
Ms. Clark said she was asked to get off the fence and take a stand against the pipeline, because the NDP was jeopardizing her party’s support in coastal ridings – including her own Vancouver-Point Grey seat.
“I was confronted with the decision ... I was asked about it, and my immediate response was, ‘forget it, we are not changing our position on this’,” she said.
Instead, she came out swinging against Mr. Dix on the issue in a radio debate four days later. Ms. Clark spent the final two weeks of the campaign hammering the theme that the NDP would threaten job creation, that rejecting Kinder Morgan made the NDP the “party of no.”
“The NDP were going up in the polls every day... the Green support started to coalesce behind the NDP and we were pretty far behind in the polls, we couldn’t really afford them making gains in support. But to me, it seemed so obvious that if you stand for something, you have got to stick with it. And I also believed the election would be about character as much as anything else,” she said.
On Election Day, the NDP succeeded in defeating Ms. Clark in her own riding, but lost the election.
“In the end, standing firm on my values was more important than winning,” Ms. Clark said. “Thankfully we got to do both.”
Ms. Clark later won a seat in a by-election in Westside-Kelowna, which is where she is hosting roughly 1,200 party delegates for a mostly celebratory weekend.
“I have never seen a happier group of B.C. Liberals,” she told the crowd.
“We were on the right side of history.”