Gordon Campbell’s former chief of staff has launched an attack on Premier Christy Clark, questioning her approach on issues ranging from the Gateway standoff to renaming the B.C. Liberal party.
Ms. Clark’s government, Martyn Brown writes in a new e-book, has made mistakes “that have conspired to squander the benefit of the doubt that many voters have extended Christy Clark in the promise of new leadership.”
He adds: “At this point, it would take a near miracle for the B.C Liberals to form the next government.”
Voters go to the polls next May in a provincial election. The Liberals are trying for a fourth term, but facing polls that suggest the opposition New Democrats are far ahead.
Mr. Brown was at Mr. Campbell’s side for much of his career in provincial politics – a 13-year run in both opposition and government that included stints for Mr. Brown as a campaign director for the Liberals in three elections that saw the party win majority governments.
In an interview, Mr. Brown said he had advised Mr. Campbell, now Canada’s High Commissioner in Britain, that the book was coming out, but had not shared any of the contents with him. He said he was speaking for himself.
Mr. Brown is especially critical of Ms. Clark’s stand on the Gateway pipeline – a list of five demands that has put B.C.’s Liberal Premier at odds with her Alberta counterpart, Alison Redford.
In Towards A New Government in British Columbia, published this week on Amazon, the powerful aide to Ms. Clark’s predecessor says Ms. Clark chose to be “officially undecided, unofficially supportive and as invisible as possible” on the proposed $6-billion pipeline to ship oil-sands bitumen to the B.C. coast for shipment to Asia before she took her controversial stand.
But, he says, the demands, which include cutting-edge spill response, fair treatment of First Nations and improved financial rewards for B.C. are “common sense,” and that voters are unlikely to shift to support the Liberals based on one issue.
“However popular the Clark government’s ‘pay up, or pay the price’ threat might be to most British Columbians, it is not helpful and it is not even in British Columbians’ interests. Nor will it save the B.C. Liberals’ political bacon,” he writes.
No one inclined to oppose the project will support the Liberals if they think the party will support Gateway if “the price is right,” he writes.
Mr. Brown is unsurprisingly fulsome in his support of Mr. Campbell, though he concedes that the adoption of the harmonized sales tax, eventually struck down in a referendum, was a major mistake. Mr. Campbell resigned in 2010, citing the furor over the tax.
However, Mr. Brown says things have not improved with Ms. Clark, a former deputy premier who won the party leadership in early 2011.
“Unfortunately for B.C. Liberals, Premier Clark has steered her government along an erratic course. She has edged her way forward by bumping against public opinion and by scraping against each new hazard, and then veering away in whatever direction seems to be safest,” he writes.
“[The Clark government] has not done anywhere near enough to rebuild the trust that was lost through the HST debacle and through its own failures of leadership.”
Mr. Brown is also skeptical about a proposal in Liberal circles to change the party’s name ahead of the next election, suggesting it “calls into question the nature of all that [Ms. Clark’s] party stands for.”
“If nothing changes, it will be seen as a failure. If only the name changes, it will be seen as a cynical gesture.”
Mr. Brown writes there is still time for Ms. Clark’s government to “dig itself out of a self-dug grave” and praises the Premier’s “considerable communications talent.” He writes that the Liberals will have to commit to “meaningful change” based on determining what voters, in general, as well as core supporters are looking for.
In the interview, Mr. Brown said he was trying to be candid and forthright about issues he sees as pertinent to the next election.
He said he was not trying to hurt the party “although I am cognizent that anything you say that’s critical, and there’s a fair amount that is, will be taken in that vein. It is what it is.”
But he noted he was hard on himself and the government of Mr. Campbell.
“I wasn’t at all pulling punches in any respect on any individual,” he said.
He urged self-reflection for the Liberals. “That’s something governments are reluctant to do.”