For years under the conservative-minded leadership of Premier Gordon Campbell, provincial politics in British Columbia became a relatively dull affair – the odd drunk-driving conviction aside. But certainly the carnival atmosphere that had come to define political affairs on the West Coast was replaced with a more professional, more mundane, working ethos.
Well, it seems the circus has returned to town.
On Monday, Premier Christy Clark announced that Ken Boessenkool, her chief of staff, had resigned as a result of some undisclosed, inappropriate personal conduct. He is being replaced by Dan Doyle, a long-time public servant and trouble shooter of high reputation who most recently served as chair of B.C. Hydro.
Ms. Clark told a news conference that she couldn’t divulge any details about the incident that led to Mr. Boessenkool’s ouster. But her office did release his letter of resignation, in which he said he was going to return to Calgary to be with his wife and four children – to a family, he pointedly noted, he had “let down,” by whatever it was he did to precipitate his leave-taking.
It wasn’t long after all this was announced that public conjecture began on Twitter and elsewhere about what led to his dismissal. At a news conference called to discuss the matter, Ms. Clark was asked about one much-speculated claim, but refused to comment out of what she said was respect to Mr. Boessenkool’s privacy.
Good luck with that.
This all came about after a weekend during which the B.C. Conservative Party was dealing with rancorous internal dissent and the resignation of its lone MLA. Before that, Ms. Clark spent the better part of a week embroiled in controversy over comments she made to a reporter four months earlier. In them, she said she wanted to avoid the provincial capital as much as possible because it had a “sick culture” and no “real people” – just pundits and politicians all drinking each other’s bathwater.
An observation not entirely off the mark, just stated a little too crudely and insensitively for many people’s tastes.
The slow disintegration of the B.C. Conservatives, which have been siphoning off support from the Liberals, was a bit of much-needed good news for the Premier. Recent polls showed her party finally making some gains at the Tories’ expense. Now this – more upheaval in Ms. Clark’s office and more ammunition for critics who insist the Liberals are a troubled regime in desperate need of rejuvenation outside of power.
There was, however, some irony in Monday’s developments.
Dan Doyle is precisely the type of chief of staff that Christy Clark needed all along. He has tremendous experience and is widely respected both in and outside of government. The Premier first relied on her friend Mike McDonald, a Liberal Party strategist, to do the job. But as her approval numbers tanked, it was decided he wasn’t a good fit. In January, she brought in Mr. Boessenkool in the hopes that his federal Conservative Party bona fides might help shore up support on the failing right flank of the Liberal coalition.
But Mr. Boessenkool did nothing of evident value during his time on the job beyond illustrating that when it came to selecting the right person for one of the most crucial posts in her office, Ms. Clark’s judgment was suspect. Mr. Boessenkool’s backroom political experience was connected almost entirely to Ottawa and Alberta. Some in the Liberal caucus complained that he didn’t understand B.C.’s unique political culture. Cabinet ministers were annoyed at his sometimes shallow comprehension of the issues.
That won’t be the case with Mr. Doyle, a top mind who truly distinguished himself during the 2010 Winter Olympics when he came in to oversee venue construction. Games president John Furlong often described Mr. Doyle as a saviour, whose vast knowledge and level-headed decision making was instrumental in steering the massive project to a successful completion.
Whether he can similarly come in and help Ms. Clark safely navigate away from the rocky shoals upon which she and her governing party appear bound to crash remains to be seen. He certainly doesn’t have much time, nor does the government have much money to throw at splashy, attention-getting promises – no matter how well conceived they might be.
More likely, with just seven months to go before the province is plunged into an election campaign, Mr. Doyle will be more caretaker than policy architect. His main job will be to prevent his boss from getting into any more trouble that would make her already daunting re-election prospects even more remote.
By Monday evening, rumours were still flying around the provincial capital about the precise nature of Mr. Boessenkool’s transgression. And it seemed unlikely that speculation was going subside any time soon.
The circus is back in town. B.C. politics is once again The Greatest Show on Earth.