During her leadership bid, she was compared to Bill Vander Zalm, the charismatic gardener and former Social Credit cabinet minister who also returned to politics as a self-styled outsider and prevailed over establishment candidates to become premier. His reliance on gut instinct and habit of blurting out the first thing that came into his head fed the storyline that survives to this day: a loose cannon, intellectual lightweight and style-over-substance premier.
Ms. Clark took over her party with the endorsement of just one sitting member of the legislature. The caucus seemed to feel that she had left politics in 2005 because she didn’t like the cabinet post she received and was returning after a high-profile stint in talk radio only to claim the top post. No way, many thought – an attitude that has proved to be a curse.
Ms. Clark got off to a shaky start because of her ever-evolving position on the HST. One minute, she flirted with holding a referendum or a free vote in the legislature on whether to keep the controversial new tax, only to change direction when polls suggested rising in support for it.
Then she went to Ottawa to meet the Prime Minister. Asked about Senate reform, she was widely mocked for offering up two solutions for B.C.’s chronic under-representation in the upper house, neither of which was even remotely realistic.
After that, she made an off-the-cuff comment about transit financing that threw into chaos a plan her government had worked out with regional mayors. Her office had to issue an embarrassing clarification.
When not tripping over her tongue, she was being accused of grandstanding.
The most flagrant example may have been when, to draw attention to her decision to raise the minimum wage, a long-overdue move for which she was deservedly praised, she decided to see what it was like to be a waitress in Vancouver.
The very idea of a politician paid $200,000 a year walking in the shoes (for two hours) of a minimum wage-earner came across as absurd, if not insulting. Even members of her cabinet had to roll their eyes.
Eventually, Ms. Clark learned to be more cautious and stately. But by then, her own narrative had started to take shape.
In her first few months, the ambitious schedule of public appearances was probably the product of her desire for an early election, something she had promised if made leader – she felt she needed a mandate from the public.
The caucus soon talked her out of that, but she still seemed to be trolling for votes, with a succession of elaborately staged events to herald everything from new bridges to shipbuilding contracts. It kept her in the limelight, but created the impression that she was campaigning rather than governing.
Perhaps the most famous photo op took place Jan. 12, 2012, when she was accompanied by Stephen Harper to her son’s hockey game, each clutching a cup of Tim Hortons – the quintessential Canadian moment.
The get-together came just as her party was facing a threat from the B.C. Conservatives, reborn and trying to capitalize on dissent within the free-enterprise coalition the Liberals represent in this province. (That alliance of liberal and conservative people has operated under different banners in the past, including for decades the Social Credit Party).
Because many on her right flank were suspicious of her more progressive leanings and known ties to the much-maligned federal party, she suddenly went from being Premier Mom, all about liberal values, to seeking the blessing of such conservative stalwarts as Preston Manning and Ottawa’s great hockey fan. Posting pictures online of herself with Mr. Harper generated lots of exposure – but also generated criticism that it was just another example of the crass politicking for which she was quickly becoming known.
Ms. Clark fiercely denies the accusation that she has spent too much time looking for votes.
“It’s simply not true. I became Premier on March 14 and I set about gathering together every minister in government and set them a task of making a contribution to a government-wide jobs plan. And then pulled together a plan and released it a few months later. …
“I do get my back up a little bit … because, if anyone takes the time to look at the numbers and results, then you cannot credibly make that charge.”
But it’s harder to deny the lack of support from her own caucus. Some members had not forgotten that, despite saying she was leaving politics to spend more time with Hamish, she had promptly run for mayor in Vancouver and, after losing, landed on her feet as host of a popular afternoon radio talk show that kept her in the public eye. This led to resentment.