With party officials hounding him to complete his candidate nomination forms for an election campaign that could start as early as next month, Barry Penner tried, and failed, to take a holiday with his young family this month. On Thursday, he abruptly called Premier Christy Clark to tell her he has stepped down as B.C.’s Attorney-General.
Mr. Penner, one of the longest-serving MLAs in Ms. Clark’s government, was packing up his cabinet office by lunchtime, and planning a camping trip with his wife, Daris LaPointe, and their six-month-old daughter, Fintry.
As part of Ms. Clark’s push to have her B.C. Liberal Party on election footing for the fall, her election-readiness team has spent the summer pressing each BC Liberal MLA for a commitment to run again. Mr. Penner told his long-time colleague Rich Coleman he intended to seek a fifth term.
But the nomination papers sat on his kitchen table for 10 days, untouched. Mr. Penner said he couldn’t bring himself to fill them in.
“There’s been a lot of work and stress that comes with the job and I take that home with me and that’s not something that’s terribly healthy for a young family,” Mr. Penner told reporters, “To have a father being significantly distracted by not one but two BlackBerries and laptop and phones that never stop ringing through weekends and supposedly holidays.”
As he spoke, Ms. LaPointe sat nearby, holding Fintry, who occasionally punctuated her father’s remarks with a few notes of her own.
A notorious workaholic, Mr. Penner nonetheless sounded sour Thursday about his inability to unplug. “I was supposed to be on holiday the last two weeks. And I think I got maybe one-and-a-half days ... because of urgent issues in the ministry that had to be attended to. So that just illustrated to me that its very difficult to strike the work-life balance that I would like to have.”
The urgent issues included the referendum on the harmonized sales tax, concerns about the lack of charges in the Stanley Cup riots, and allegations of sexual exploitation of children related to polygamous communities. Meanwhile, a party official called repeatedly to ask him to name a campaign manager and financial agent for the next election.
Mr. Penner said he’ll remain as the MLA for Chilliwack-Hope for now. Ms. Clark, who quit Gordon Campbell’s cabinet in 2004 to get more time with her young son, told reporters: “The pull of family is something I understand.”
The post of the attorney-general is usually filled by a lawyer, but Ms. Clark, with only two other lawyers in her caucus, instead named Solicitor General Shirley Bond to fill in for Mr. Penner on an interim basis.
That leaves her with the option of a cabinet shuffle before a fall session – or she could head into a campaign with a smaller cabinet.
B.C.’s last election was in May, 2009 and under provincial law, the next general election is supposed to come four years later, in 2013. However, Ms. Clark has fuelled speculation about an early election call since she won the B.C. Liberal leadership in February.
“We want to be ready whether the election is a year from now or a week from now,” she told reporters Thursday.
Ms. Clark, who won the leadership as an outsider after spending time outside of government as a radio talk show host, initially faced a caucus with no enthusiasm for an early election. Since winning a third term in office in 2009, the Liberals have been pummelled by the HST issue. Even as the polls look more forgiving under Ms. Clark’s leadership, there are still mixed signals from party insiders about the ardour for a fall election.
Ms. Clark would not speculate about how many other Liberal MLAs may also opt to retire from politics. “I don’t know what cabinet ministers and MLAs will choose to do.”
The opposition New Democratic Party has had to match the premier’s election preparations and has also started candidate nominations.