B.C. Premier Christy Clark does not deny that a steady diet of dreadful polling results represents a daunting challenge for her Liberal Party as it prepares for next spring’s election.
But she also cautions those who have already written her off and given the election to the B.C. New Democrats: That’s what they said about Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals in Ontario and Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservatives in Alberta earlier this year – and both parties defied bleak prognostications to win seemingly unwinnable elections.
And, the Premier adds for good measure, that’s what the U.S. commentariat was saying about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney not that long ago – that he didn’t have a chance. Now he’s deadlocked with U.S. President Barack Obama in the fight for the White House.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Clark talked about the possibility that the Liberal Party banner in B.C. could soon disappear and that her focus in the next election will be on jobs. She also played down the dreary position in which she and her party currently find themselves.
“We live in a world now where people make their decision during the writ period,” Ms. Clark said. “And increasingly, people make their decision toward the end of the writ period. So I think polls are pretty meaningless whatever they say. It’s a fool’s game to pay attention to them.”
And maybe that’s what you’d expect a Premier who is anywhere from 14 to 27 points behind the NDP, depending on the pollster, to say as she prepares to attend her party’s annual convention this weekend. But for someone who is said to be dead leader walking, there is plenty of bounce in her step these days.
Certainly, the fight she has instigated with Alberta over the future of the Northern Gateway project has invigorated her. Ms. Clark is a tenacious political scrapper unafraid of a good dust-up. She’s got one on her hands with Ms. Redford and appears to be revelling in it.
But she also has something all political leaders crave in advance of an election: some positive economic news. The Premier has recently been crowing about B.C.’s job-creation numbers – currently tops in Canada. She has made a point of saying that her province has done it without the help of oil – which some interpreted as a shot at Alberta.
When asked if it was, Ms. Clark denied it. The Premier said she was simply stating a fact and that all provinces in Canada measure themselves against Alberta when it comes to economic performance because it has set the bar so high for so long. It likely won’t surprise you to hear that the Premier says the job numbers are the fruits of her government’s year-old Jobs Plan, a large part of which is centred around natural gas and mining.
Delegates to the Liberal convention should expect to hear plenty about Ms. Clark’s achievements since assuming leadership of her party in February, 2011. She has a long list prepared, which starts with raising the minimum wage and ends with an economy she insists is increasingly becoming the envy of the country. To the trained ear, however, it will sound like a very familiar war cry. One that goes like this: Do British Columbians want to risk the economic gains that we’ve made by turning over the economy to the socialists who mostly ruined it in the 1990s?
It is a bogeyman strategy that worked for the Liberals in the past three elections. Many thought it had outlasted its usefulness as a centrepiece of a campaign platform. Listening to Ms. Clark, however, it doesn’t sound like her party is prepared to abandon it just yet.
“I think there was the NDP experiment of 1972-75 and then the experiment of the 1990s and they’re pretty ingrained in people’s consciousness,” said the Premier. “But I’m going to run on my record absolutely. We’re No. 1 in job creation, we have the lowest taxes in Canada and our trade with China is up almost 25 per cent in one year.
“All the numbers support the fact that we’ve done a pretty good job. We didn’t become No. 1 because it just happened. We believe putting people to work is the most important thing a government can do.”
Ms. Clark is already sharpening her talking points when it comes to the NDP. When compared to perfection, says the Premier, her party doesn’t fair too well. But when they’re contrasted with the NDP, her government looks much better.
“So what do we know about where the NDP stands so far?” Ms. Clark asked. “They want to have a tax on banks and credit unions, they want to raise business taxes and they want to throw out the balanced budget laws. Oh, and they want to rewrite the labour code, too.”
While this weekend’s convention is about firing up the troops for pending battle, it will also be a time of reflection for the governing party. Ms. Clark acknowledges that it could be the last convention B.C.’s so-called free-enterprise coalition holds under the Liberal banner.
The Premier has mused about changing the party name to something more generic. The Liberal name has always irked conservatives in the party who would be happier with a title that is more inclusive. Plans to explore a name change were put off by the party until after the next election.
“It could be,” Ms. Clark said, when asked if this could be the last B.C. Liberal Party convention. “After the next election [there] may be a chance to change the name, so we’ll see.That’s up to party members though.”
That said, Ms. Clark does not believe the Liberal brand nationally is damaged to the point of possible extinction. She said all parties have their ups and downs. Not that long ago, she reminded, people said the Conservative party was dead.
“Now look at it,” she said.