Before the current election campaign began, there weren’t many B.C. Liberals who imagined Christy Clark still being in charge once the dust settled.
For months, pollsters have been predicting an NDP romp. There was general agreement that Ms. Clark would be in tough to win her own riding of Vancouver-Point Grey. And beyond that, many in the business community were disenchanted over the Liberal Leader’s approach to governing.
It didn’t go unnoticed, for instance, that one of the Liberals’ most ardent supporters over the years – the Independent Contractors and Business Association of B.C. – had decided not to run a pre-election, provincial advertising campaign to help the party out as it had in the past. It chose to aid candidates at the local level instead – a move that was interpreted as a clear shot at Ms. Clark’s leadership.
But that was then and this is now. Suddenly, a very different discussion is going on among Liberals, one prompted by the party’s unexpected surge. While most supporters don’t expect Ms. Clark to complete what would be a comeback for the ages, they believe the party could have a respectable showing.
One that is good enough to prompt the question: Does she stay on as leader?
There was already a group within the Liberals, one that included elements of the business community, prepared to begin the massive rebuilding job they expected to have to undertake after May 14. That effort was ready to commence, symbolically at least, a minute after the polls closed. And it was a job they expected would unfold in the absence of Ms. Clark, whose two-year tenure as premier was often marked by missteps and controversy.
But now many of those same people are wondering what their post-election world will look like. Remember, heading into this campaign many felt the Liberals would be lucky to get 10 to 12 seats. There was a real concern that annihilation at the hands of the NDP would mean a two-term rebuilding job.
But now, 30 MLAs aren’t outside the realm of possibility if a number of things break the party’s way. Given where the Liberals stood in the public’s esteem after the HST mess, an Opposition of that size was unimaginable. If it turns out the Liberals are able to secure anywhere near that many seats, it would likely be viewed as a huge victory – one for which Ms. Clark would largely get credit.
When Ms. Clark appeared before The Globe and Mail editorial board on the weekend, she was coy about whether she would remain as leader regardless of the outcome. She didn’t want to contemplate any scenario other than all-out victory. But some of her staunchest allies are already starting to chat her up as an effective Opposition leader who could bring the party back to power in four years.
Ms. Clark has often said that she’d be a great Opposition leader, given her pitbull tendencies as a politician. But she has a couple of problems: First, many in the party don’t want her to continue as leader under any circumstances. Secondly, there is the distinct possibility that she won’t even win her own seat, which would make keeping her job as Liberal Leader more difficult.
My understanding is that some at party headquarters have already begun thinking about what might happen under that scenario. I’ve heard that overtures have been made to at least one Liberal MLA (who is all but assured of victory) about the possibility of him stepping aside for Ms. Clark should she lose. But I’m also told his camp quickly rebuffed any talk of making way for the leader after the election.
I can’t imagine that many of the successful Liberal MLAs would be anxious to say yes to such a request.
Ms. Clark’s future could depend on who gets elected among her troops. Some, who are likely to be returned to Victoria, are not fans, and would want to stop any attempt by her to maintain control of the party. Others, including powerful and influential former cabinet ministers such as Rich Coleman, would likely prefer the status quo under Ms. Clark.
There will almost certainly be a leadership review later in the year in any event. That could be a determinant. But don’t forget that Ms. Clark’s people control the party’s apparatus now, which would give her an edge in the lead-up to any confidence vote.
For now, Ms. Clark is still running to be Premier. But after Election Day, she could well be campaigning again.