Premier Christy Clark is sending hundreds of rank-and-file Liberals into the next election campaign with a stay-the-course message that emphasizes managing the economy, but no bold, new initiatives.
Ms. Clark capped the last convention of the embattled party before the May, 2013, election with a speech touting her party as the best bet for sustaining the economy.
“My vision is simple. I want British Columbia to be nothing less than the economic engine of Canada,” Ms. Clark said.
The goal, she said, is attainable if voters stick to the B.C. Jobs Plan that Ms. Clark said has created 57,000 new jobs since being launched more than a year ago.
By contrast, she said the opposition NDP, far ahead of the Liberals in the polls, has been evasive about details of their agenda. “They’re hiding it,” she said.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix has disclosed some proposed measures, including a hike in corporate taxes, a new push in skills training and opposition to the Gateway project.
But key parts of the platform remain in the works, and the NDP has said it won’t be released until after the next budget is released in February, 2013 – three months before the election.
“While our opponents bob and weave, obfuscate and hide their plans, we have set out our plan for all to see,” she said. “We have nothing to hide.”
Opposition MLA John Horgan, attending the convention as an observer, said Ms. Clark was speaking to activists, but offering nothing for the voting public.
"It's cliched to say they have run out of gas, but it's a 40-minute speech. She's run out of gas," he said. "She could have made that speech four weeks ago."
Mr. Horgan, the Opposition House Leader, has been sharply critical of the government for ruling out a fall session of the legislature, and said the government would be in the house if they had new ideas.
Throughout the weekend, Ms. Clark promoted the need for bold new ideas, especially as a means of galvanizing youth.
But speaking to reporters after her speech, Ms. Clark defended the absence of any new policy ideas.
Ms. Clark said her jobs plan, which calls for 17 new or expanded mines and three liquefied natural gas plants, is unprecedented in B.C. “Just because you already know about some of that stuff because we set it out a year ago, doesn’t mean it’s not bold,” she said.
The B.C. Liberals brought in strategists for a closed-door session earlier in the day to map out a campaign plan. During that meeting, delegates were told not to reject negative advertising just because the NDP has pledged not to engage in attack ads.
Ms. Clark indicated she has no qualms about going negative. "I think this campaign is going to be very competitive, and we know what that looks like," she said. She said she is going after the NDP because "I want to draw them out to be honest and upfront with British Columbians about what their plan is. My plan has been out there for over a year now."
Meanwhile, Ms. Clark rejected a proposal from former Reform Party icon Preston Manning – who was supposed to be a guest at the convention – to bring in Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall as a mediator between B.C. and Alberta on the Northern Gateway pipeline dispute.
“How can you have a mediator when you don’t have a negotiation?” Ms. Clark responded. Since last summer, the B.C. Premier has pushed for five conditions to be met before her government will support the proposed pipeline to get Alberta crude oil to the B.C. coast. “I’ve set out the path, somebody needs to sit down at the table and talk about it. I’m getting kind of lonely.”
Liberals touted the weekend convention in this resort community as an occasion for healing the split in the centre-right coalition that has the B.C Liberals linked to the resurgence of the B.C. Conservatives.
But it remains to be seen whether that has happened.
Ms. Clark was bullish about her party being unified for the looming campaign for a fourth Liberal term.
Looking out over an estimated 1,000 delegates, Ms. Clark declared "this is what renewal looks like. This is what coming together looks like. This is what winning looks like."