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David Parkins for the globe and mail
David Parkins for the globe and mail

Dispatch

Increasing Christy Clark’s female flock by engendering a change in image Add to ...

Chantelle Stone spends most election campaigns in the trenches, licking envelopes and knocking on doors. This time out, she’s part of a group trying to launch a “Women 4 Christy” campaign to help the B.C. Premier win the May, 2013, election.

That is a difficult task. A new Angus Reid poll out Thursday shows the BC Liberals are slowly closing the gap – but women voters are still twice as likely to favour the BC New Democratic Party. “The NDP continue to be insanely popular with women,” said pollster Mario Canseco. The Liberals have Premier Mom, but the NDP has traction on issues of education and health.

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Ms. Stone hopes to make more of the Premier’s gender to win back voters, helping to craft a social media campaign to show that Ms. Clark is like them – juggling the demands of family and work.

Although Ms. Stone is not without political connections – her husband Todd Stone is running for the BC Liberals in Kamloops-South Thompson – she wants this to be a non-partisan affair. “It’s totally open, I’m hoping to engage women across political lines,” said Ms. Stone, who works in the technology industry.

“It’s not about the perceived gender gap. For me, this has been an ongoing battle for years. Every political function I have ever attended, for the most part, is dominated by men,” Ms. Stone said in an interview. “I’m a mom, I have three daughters. It’s really disheartening that women look at it as politics, instead of part of their lives. They don’t see that this is about their lives and that they can influence government policy.”

Her daughters are young – the oldest is eight – and she wants them to see women who can manage both career and family without the constant guilt that haunts working moms. To her, the Premier is a role model. “Mostly we want people to know who Premier Clark is, we want them to know she is not just a premier, she is a woman and a mom. She experiences the same frustrations that we do as parents.”

Ms. Clark doesn’t miss an opportunity, it seems, to remind voters of her efforts to balance the needs of her son against those of her demanding job; that has been a big part of her outreach as she tours the province, meeting with groups of women.

The first women-only meeting was last June, in Cranbrook. The Premier was in town for a fundraiser, and Beth Bennett, wife of cabinet minister Bill Bennett, suggested a breakfast meeting at the Heritage Hotel for women in the community. It was billed as a non-partisan event and about 90 women showed up.

Ms. Bennett declined to give an interview, so Mr. Bennett offered his account: “What I noticed is the remarkable way Christy is able to relate to other women as a woman, not a politician.”

Last Friday, Ms. Stone was one of about 20 women who met over a teleconference to brainstorm on how to use Facebook and Twitter to help the Premier connect with women. It is billed as grassroots but is a BC Liberal-led initiative, including the party president and three members of the government caucus.

The Women 4 Christy Facebook is still in startup mode. At last visit, it had fewer than three dozen “likes.” On Twitter, Women4Christy had fewer than two-dozen followers. Most are clearly BC. Liberal activists. And the non-political pitch is not helped by the Premier’s sharp partisan tendancies.

“Women are policy driven,” said Alise Mills, a crisis communications expert and a conservative media pundit. “Playing politics as she does, the Premier is missing that narrative.”

Ms. Mills thinks the Premier needs to do far more than remind women that she can relate to their challenges of balancing work and family. Ms. Clark needs to act on policy issues that will have an impact on their lives as parents and in their businesses. “They are not just moms,” she said. “They are small business owners, they are decision makers. And they are smart.”

In other words, Premier, please don’t dumb it down for us.

Follow on Twitter: @justine_hunter

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