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Navigating Clark's journey from the radio booth to the helm of the B.C. Liberals Add to ...

Being British Columbia Premier certainly won't be like Christy Clark's last long-term job, as host of an afternoon radio talk show for Vancouver-based CKNW Radio.

Ms. Clark pinpoints one huge difference.

"In radio when you don't want to talk to somebody any more, you just hit the button and they're gone," she said in a recent interview, before beating three experienced former cabinet ministers on Sunday to become B.C.'s 35th premier and the second female leader in the province's history.

"Politics is a lot harder. You can't tune out. You have to stay tuned into people."

Tuning in to voters, and the demands of the B.C. Liberals - the party that represents the so-called "free-enterprise" coalition in B.C. politics - will occupy Ms. Clark into the foreseeable future.

Ms. Clark, 45, knows government. Over nine years, she was deputy premier, minister of children and family development and had a memorable run as education minister, where she was in conflict with the province's teachers over the government agenda.

But she left politics in 2005, an absence from the fray that gave her outsider credentials in the leadership race sparked when Premier Gordon Campbell - battered by public outrage over the adoption of a harmonized sales tax - quit last November.

Ms. Clark sought the leadership on a so-called families-first platform. In leaving six years ago, however, she said she put her own family first. She wanted to spend more time with her son, Hamish, now nine. Ms. Clark shares joint custody with her ex-husband.

Politics was part of her childhood, as well. Ms. Clark's father, a teacher, ran unsuccessfully three times for the B.C. Liberals. Her parents are both deceased.

Ms. Clark said her son is "a lot older and busier now," allowing her to return to politics.

"When I left politics, he was still a little guy. He wasn't even in school yet and I knew that that was my opportunity to be able to spend full days with him if I chose to. I knew that I would never get that opportunity again," she said.

The same year she left politics, she launched a failed bid to become Vancouver mayor. She now says she had the impression the responsibilities of being mayor would better accommodate family responsibilities.

After that, she steered clear of elected politics until the leadership run.

She has been defined by her time as education minister. Ms. Clark was sharply at odds with teachers over such issues as the power of the provincial College of Teachers, school closings and funding.

This time, she said she will approach conflict differently.

"One of the things I have learned is that the better approach is, even in the face of people determined to help you fail, to try and see them with respect and treat them with dignity even if you don't feel like their behaviour deserves it," said Ms. Clark.

"When you have got a child - even when they are misbehaving and even when they are pushing you to your limit - you learn patience and you learn your behaviour is just as important as theirs."

On the leadership campaign trail, she said radio had taught her to listen, and now says she will do that in a "respectful way," but that there are limits. "Listening can't go on forever, ad nauseam, because you'll have a government adrift."

Radio once provided an escape from politics for the host of The Christy Clark Show. A six-figure salary. Freedom from questions from the opposition and reporters. Reasonable hours.

Fellow CKNW host Bill Good said she was a natural.

"She was a good fit right from the start," he said. "She was not reluctant to be critical when she thought the party was offside.

"In that way, she established herself as being as independent as you can possibly be when you do have a political or partisan background. It didn't get in the way of doing good radio."

But after Mr. Campbell quit last November, Mr. Good said he could see Ms. Clark struggling over whether to return to politics.

"I've watched as she made the transition from someone who was adamant that she wasn't going to be brought back into politics to where she was tempted, to where she jumped right in," he said.

Ms. Clark explains the shift by noting people she respected asked her to consider running and she thought she would live with regret had she not taken a shot. "If you never take risks in your life, you will never make a difference to anybody. That is what made me decide to do it," she said.

"If I had stayed on in radio, I am sure I would have been successful at it and enjoyed it, but I wasn't satisfied I would be making the same kind of difference in the world."

There is some irony in her succeeding Mr. Campbell.

Back in the 1990s, the former Vancouver mayor persuaded Ms. Clark to enter politics at a time when she said she did not see the political spotlight as appealing. He called her in Ottawa, where she was working as Western assistant for then-transport minister Doug Young, and asked her to consider seeking a seat in the legislature.

Mr. Campbell changed her thinking on a role in political. "I just thought, 'Wow. If someone like him sees this possibility for me, maybe it's possible."

Mr. Young remembers Ms. Clark as determined to learn what she could about how government worked, and then get out of Ottawa.

"A lot of politicians come into the business without having any real understanding of what the hell is going on," he said. "They're literally a deer in the headlights. She was absolutely certain that she wasn't going to be a deer in the headlights."

Follow on Twitter: @ianabailey

 

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