Jim Shepard, the former Finning and Canfor CEO, is quitting his post as a $1-a-year economic adviser to Premier Christy Clark to rally a citizens movement to save the B.C. premier at the polls in the provincial election next May.
It’s a new turnaround mission for Mr. Shepard, who came out of retirement in 2007 for an eventually successful effort turning around troubled lumber giant Canfor Corp. He retired in 2011.
From a stage at the Vancouver Convention Centre, Ms. Clark announced Mr. Shepard’s departure from her office before about 1,700 supporters - up from about 1,600 last year - attending the annual premiers’ fundraising dinner Tuesday night.
Mr. Shepard, 73, elaborated after the speech. He said he will step down on Friday, and form a group called The Concerned Citizens for British Columbia, with one goal: “to get Christy Clark and the free-enterprise government re-elected.”
Asked about tactics, he said: “We’ll be doing whatever is reasonable and necessary.”
He said he will focus on community leaders in B.C. “The people I am going to be talking to are not people you’re going to know,” he told reporters.
The centre-right “free-enterprise” coalition that Ms. Clark, herself, referred to in her speech is now split between the Liberals and the B.C. Conservatives under their leader, former Tory MP John Cummins, raising the prospect of a B.C. NDP victory in the next election.
Mr. Shepard said resolving the situation may involve reaching around Mr. Cummins, who has bluntly ruled out any co-operation with the B.C. Liberals.
“John Cummins has publicly stated he won’t negotiate. That’s a fact. I’ve never spoken with him. When you talk about his people, that’s a different story,” he said.
Mr. Shepard said the coalition is now “fractured” but Liberals are reaching out to the Conservatives, which he saw as different from previous fractures.
“We’re saying, `Look. Let’s bring us all back together again.’ That’s Christy Clark’s way. ‘Let’s embrace. Let’s reinvent ourselves.’”
Mr. Shepard took on a similar partisan role for former B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell back in 2001 when Mr. Campbell led the Liberals to win 77 of 79 seats in the B.C. legislature with the centre-right united in B.C. politics. He recalled that effort involving full-page newspaper ads for Mr. Campbell, who went on to win two other elections.
Without specifically mentioning either the Conservatives or Mr. Cummins, Ms. Clark touched on the centre-right split during her speech to an audience that included members of her caucus, federal Conservatives, and business leaders.
She touted her party’s convention this October, and said it will be an “open” meeting for supporters of “free-enterprise” government to offer their ideas to the party. In the lead-up to that meeting, she said her caucus will fan across the province “to listen to British Columbia this summer - not to the pundits - to the people,” she said.
“Our government is not infallible, but I also know we do get the big things right,” she said.
Mr. Shepard said he won’t be operating as a member of the B.C. Liberal party or the government.
“I am leading private citizens. I am not going to be part of the Liberal party or the government. I am going to step outside, and I want to get other people who say, `We’ve got to do something because if just we keep sleepwalking we’re going to sleepwalk into another 10 years of NDP rule.”
For the last year, Mr. Shepard has been working on developing Ms. Clark’s economic plan, working on outreach for the premier, and travelling with her to Asia. He rejected the idea of leadership change for the B .C Liberals.
The life-long solid federal Conservative aside from voting for Pierre Trudeau in 1968, said he has been impressed with Ms. Clark’s as a “very, very competent premier.”
“We’re gathering together and basically we’re going to recruit people feeling the same way I do that Christy has not been given a fair shake. We don ‘t know why, but it doesn’t matter.”