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British Columbia Premier Christy Clark makes an announcement about the BC Liberals during a press conference at the Mobify offices in Vancouver, B.C. on Monday, April 10, 2017. (JIMMY JEONG/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark makes an announcement about the BC Liberals during a press conference at the Mobify offices in Vancouver, B.C. on Monday, April 10, 2017. (JIMMY JEONG/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Analysis

Christy Clark’s Cheshire grin belies her grim outlook Add to ...

Despite polls that consistently put her party behind the New Democrats as the province readies for the start of a general-election campaign, Premier Christy Clark looks like a politician who knows something the rest of us don’t. Her confidence, in fact, was underscored by the policy platform released by her BC Liberals on Monday, one of the dreariest, least-inspiring vision documents put forward by a governing party in recent memory.

It is either a sign of supreme self-assurance or a symptom of a government that has run out of ideas. Time will tell.

The fact is, the budget released by Ms. Clark’s government in February was effectively the Liberal’s campaign manifesto. It included a cut to medical services premiums, new spending on health and education and boasted some of the strongest financial fundamentals in the country: five straight balanced budgets plus the top credit rating and lowest projected debt among provinces.

Ms. Clark later announced her government would be throwing $2.2-billion toward the Metro Vancouver transit plan, a reversal of its previous position; elections have a way of focusing the mind that way.

And then on the weekend, the Liberals announced they would cap the amount people using the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges pay in tolls to $500 annually – a move that prompted the New Democrats to double down and say they would eliminate levies on the two crossings entirely.

Both policies are short-sighted and idiotic, but the NDP’s perhaps more so.

But back to Ms. Clark, and Cheshire grin she wore on Monday as she answered questions about the upcoming campaign. Perhaps, her countenance reflects the fact that just as certain athletes thrive under the pressure of the post-season, some politicians elevate their game during election races – especially those with the type of people skills the B.C. Premier possesses. She ground her last NDP challenger, Adrian Dix, into dust in 2013. She is hoping to do the same this time with the New Democrats’ current leader, John Horgan. That will be a tougher challenge.

Mr. Horgan is a much sturdier adversary than Mr. Dix, a cerebral sort who seldom looked completely comfortable in a crowd. Mr. Horgan, on the other hand, plunges into the masses much more easily, and can rev them up much quicker, too. This time around, Mr. Horgan is prepared to get down and dirty with the Liberals, to run a tough, elbows-up campaign that will remind voters in the darkest and nastiest of terms of every scandal, peccadillo and harmful policy decision with which Ms. Clark and her government have been associated.

NDP proxies have already launched ads that focus on legal problems that current and former members of Ms. Clark’s government and party have faced or are currently facing related to activities they undertook on the Premier’s watch. Ms. Clark’s tone-deaf, indefensible position on cash-for-access dinners and campaign financing in general is, not surprisingly, going to receive a lot of attention from her political opponents this time around and rightly so.

Standing back and watching the nascent, knock-down, drag-out fight will be the leader of the Green Party, Andrew Weaver. Don’t discount the impact he could have in this election. Mr. Weaver has done an impressive job since taking over the helm of his party in 2015 and giving it a forceful voice in the B.C. legislature.

He is an articulate spokesman for the progressive, alternative agenda the Greens are promoting – one that, if polls are to be believed, is increasingly being viewed as more attractive than what the Liberals and NDP are offering. The Green platform has been particularly well received by idealists living on Vancouver Island, a development that, if real, could hurt the NDP much more than the Liberals.

Perhaps that’s another reason Ms. Clark continues to smile amid the gloomy headlines that the precampaign public-opinion surveys have incited.

There are actually many senior Liberals who think the negative polls are a good thing; it will help dispel the feeling of superiority many of the party’s supporters were beginning to develop. It may also snap Liberal campaign workers out of the sense of complacency party stalwarts worried was beginning to settle in.

Regardless, it will be a brutal, close election; they generally are in British Columbia. The biggest question will be whether Christy Clark will be haunted by her mixed legacy or persevere despite it.

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Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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BC Liberals promise tax cuts in election campaign platform (The Canadian Press)

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