Premier Christy Clark, working to freshen the B.C. Liberal brand before the next provincial election, has tended to keep her distance from her predecessor – but her office announced Thursday she has hired his press secretary as her own.
Mike Morton, who worked for Gordon Campbell for a decade, has come out of retirement to take over as Ms. Clark’s press secretary, replacing Sara MacIntyre.
He is Ms. Clark’s third press secretary in the past year.
In an interview Thursday, Mr. Morton said Ms. Clark brought in her own people after succeeding Mr. Campbell last year, but that he has known her since 1996, offered his help informally, and they had talked in recent weeks about his taking on some role.
“It’s a long-time association. I am not terribly surprised by the fact that I am coming back,” said Mr. Morton, who noted, despite his association with Mr. Campbell, that he has come to know the entire caucus well thanks to work in caucus operations. “The association evolved over the years.”
He added: “We had a discussion about me coming back and I said, ‘Absolutely. I would be delighted to.’ ”
Ms. MacIntyre, a former press secretary for Prime Minister Stephen Harper hired to work for Ms. Clark in February, is still on duty with the Premier but will handle larger planning issues.
That will leave Mr. Morton as the point of contact between journalists and the Premier in the legislature, scrums in the Lower Mainland and wherever else she travels.
Travel is going to be a priority for Ms. Clark this summer, reflecting challenges confronting the embattled Liberals as they face a May, 2013, election where her party is seeking a fourth term.
The Liberals are running far behind the NDP in the polls, and facing a challenge from the B.C. Conservatives, who are drawing voters from the centre-right coalition that is the B.C. Liberal Party. Neither the provincial Liberals nor the Conservatives have any connection to their federal counterparts.
Ms. Clark has to hit the barbecue circuit this summer to motivate Liberal volunteers, and shatter the assumption that an NDP win next May is a forgone conclusion, says political scientist Hamish Telford of the University of the Fraser Valley.
Those volunteers may be used to seeing Ms. Clark in news conferences, but “it’s another thing when the Premier holds your hand and looks you in the eye and says, `Can I count on you?’ She needs to connect with her members in that way,” Prof. Telford said.
Mr. Morton will be along for those travels. “There will be a fairly significant amount of travel throughout the province, meeting with people, engaging British Columbians and talking about issues and, basically, in coming months that will be the pattern,” he said.
He joined Mr. Campbell in 1988 as communications director for the then opposition leader, and then was his press secretary.
After Mr. Campbell was elected premier in 2001, Mr. Morton continued as press secretary – a job he held until 2008 when he became executive director of the B.C. government caucus. He retired in 2011 – the same year Mr. Campbell left office, bedeviled by controversies around the adoption of the harmonized sales tax that was eventually defeated in a public referendum.
Mr. Morton has since been a commentator representing the Liberal take on politics in a weekend segment on CKNW Radio.