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Finance Minister Colin Hansen (R) during an announcement for his support for Kevin Falcon in his campaign to become BC's next premier in Vancouver February 18, 2011. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Finance Minister Colin Hansen (R) during an announcement for his support for Kevin Falcon in his campaign to become BC's next premier in Vancouver February 18, 2011. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

B.C. Premier taps man she sent to backbench to help her win by-election Add to ...

Christy Clark's crucial bid to win the Vancouver-Point Grey by-election hinges on the man she booted as finance minister when she formed her first cabinet last month.

That's right. Colin Hansen is campaign chair for Ms. Clark's by-election effort, tasked with making sure she wins on May 11.

"The Premier phoned me up and asked me if I would do it and I said sure. It was that simple," he said in an interview on Tuesday.

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Because Mr. Hansen's Vancouver-Quilchena riding is alongside Vancouver-Point Grey, he has previously come into the riding during provincial elections to help former premier Gordon Campbell's re-election bids. For that reason, he said he knows many of the volunteers in the riding so has been able to easily work with them now.

The veteran cabinet minister, now a backbencher, chuckles at the suggestion some would find it odd he's helping out the leader who, to outward appearances, fired him from cabinet.

As Ms. Clark advanced an agenda of change to win the B.C. Liberal leadership, she had to decide what to do about Mr. Hansen, who was profoundly identified with the controversial harmonized sales tax he and the former premier introduced after the 2009 election.

As a result, Ms. Clark appointed Kevin Falcon as Finance Minister.

There were no hard feelings, said Mr. Hansen, an MLA since 1996.

"I have quite enjoyed the last month of not having quite as much stress in my life as I did for the previous 10 years," Mr. Hansen said.

"As I told the Premier when I first talked to her after the leadership, and she asked me what role I would like to take on, I said, 'The number one project I would like is to make sure she wins the next election.' "

The by-election stakes are huge. Ms. Clark's defeat in the race against her key rival, New Democrat David Eby, would be a disaster for her fledgling government, generating scenarios that would cause Liberals to shudder.

On the subject of a debate between Ms. Clark and Mr. Eby, Mr. Hansen said he had found all-candidates' meetings tend to attract the politically "converted" so the focus of the campaign would be Ms. Clark getting out to meet undecided voters.

"We'll make sure there's lots of opportunity for that," he said.

Still, he did not entirely rule out a debate.

"I know there's opportunites. I know that people have suggested them. The question is whether or not there would be one that fits, and that decision has not been made," he said.

"The key thing is that she's out there meeting with voters."

Mr. Campbell was the riding's MLA for 15 years. In the past election in 2009, he won by 50 per cent against the 40 per cent earned by the NDP.

Mr. Hansen said Vancouver-Point Grey is no slam dunk for the Liberals. "It's not a riding that we can take for granted in any way, shape or form. It's not what we would call a safe seat - never have, and certainly wouldn't call it that now."

However, it was the first readily available seat. (Mr. Hansen ruled out quitting his own Vancouver-Quilchena riding to make room for the Premier, going so far as to post his decision on Twitter to stamp out rumours to that effect.)

Ms. Clark, he said, has been in the Point Grey riding campaigning every day since last Saturday.

"She has a very busy schedule that would not be the case for any other candidate. Having said that, she has made this a priority and she has certainly made it a priority to be in the riding campaigning every time she can and lately that has worked out to be just about every day."

Helping her along, Mr. Hansen is in command of an effort that includes the search for sign locations as well as door-to-door and telephone canvassing. He has, himself, been on doorsteps in Vancouver-Point Grey making the case for Ms. Clark.

Despite the ongoing federal election that has split the federal Conservative and federal Liberal party members who make up the B.C. Liberal coalition, Mr. Hansen said he has had no problem finding volunteers to work on Ms. Clark's campaign.

"I was quite thrilled when I started phoning around 10 days ago to ask people if they would take on leadership roles within the campaign and I got an enthusiastic response," he said.

Mr. Hansen said he did not expect his prominent role in engineering the controversial HST would be a burden on Ms. Clark's campaign, though he acknowledged the point might be raised by "hard-core partisans."

"Clearly on a subject like the HST, I have admitted we didn't do a good job of introducing it, explaining it. We could have done a better job. I take responsibility for that. At the same time, there's a lot we have accomplished that I think all of us involved with the B.C. Liberal party have every right to be proud of. Premier Clark has a tremendous base to build from for this next decade."

 

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