B.C. Premier Christy Clark upbeat after week of trials by fire

VICTORIA — The Globe and Mail

B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks to reporters after an emergency cabinet meeting in Vancouver on March 3, 2013. In a wide-ranging interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Clark said she is looking forward to an election campaign she believes she can win. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

She survived one of the toughest weeks of her political life. Now embattled B.C. Premier Christy Clark says she is looking forward to an election campaign she believes she can win and that she says will highlight the difference between her can-do attitude and what she labels the not-now, not-ever approach of her main rival.

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In a wide-ranging interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Clark played down reports that she faced a caucus mutiny over the recent ethnic-vote scandal, asserted that she is looking forward to talking to voters about the fundamental differences between her party and Adrian Dix’s NDP – especially around resource development – and that she’s not unnerved by the predictions her party is going to lose badly in the May 14 election.

“There is nothing wrong with being underestimated and exceeding expectations,” she said. “I think it was Winston Churchill or some great politician who said: ‘Before you get into an election, you are compared to perfection.’ I think that’s often the case with me. When we get into the campaign, I’m not going to be compared to perfection, I’m going to be compared to Adrian Dix and then we’re into a fair fight.”

The Premier also doused her early enthusiasm for an oil refinery proposal on the West Coast. Ms. Clark said the plan falls short of meeting one of the central conditions her government has established for approval of such projects.

That provision states that B.C. must receive its fair share of the economic benefits in exchange for the environmental risk it would be assuming.

Consequently, the Premier said Alberta and the federal government would have to address the gap that exists on the dollar side before her government could ever approve the refinery proposal.

“In terms of meeting that condition, Alberta and the federal government are still going to have to come to the table and talk to us,” the Premier said to The Globe in her office here.

Ms. Clark and Alison Redford famously butted heads on this point last year, with the Alberta Premier rebuffing any overtures to extract more dollars from her province in exchange for support of the Northern Gateway pipeline. The federal government has also been non-committal about throwing any more money B.C.’s way.

Last week, Ms. Clark enthusiastically greeted the news from B.C. businessman David Black that he is close to reaching a $25-billion debt-financing arrangement to build two pipelines, supertankers and a refinery, saying it was a potential “game-changer” on the resource-development front.

The refinery would purportedly create 3,000 operational and 6,000 construction jobs, which is more than what the Northern Gateway proposal would generate. But the Premier said any proposed heavy-oil pipeline project – including Mr. Black’s – has to meet five conditions set out last year by her government. They include approval from an environmental review, the development of a world-leading marine and land oil-spill response strategies and meeting all legal requirements that surround Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Mr. Black’s proposal would drastically reduce concerns about a tanker spill along the B.C. coast as the vessels would be loaded with a refined product and not crude oil that is far more environmentally destructive.

The Premier said her overall support for Mr. Black’s idea highlights a profound philosophical difference between her Liberal government and the opposition New Democrats.

The Premier said it’s an ideological divide that will be much discussed in the coming weeks. British Columbians go to the polls on May 14, with the start of the campaign expected to commence in mid-April. Ms. Clark’s party badly trails the NDP in the polls, a predicament that was not helped recently by the ethnic-vote scandal that cost her a deputy chief of staff and a multiculturalism minister. There could be more resignations to come depending on the results of an investigation into the matter that is expected to be released any day.

The legislature is expected to adjourn this week, a development that will allow the Premier to move into campaign mode full time. In fact, on many days it sounds like she already has. The Premier says the Black refinery proposal – one the NDP has reserved judgment on for now – will serve as a central point of debate during the campaign. “We support responsible resource development, we support a culture in government that gets projects to yes if they are good for the environment and fit into communities,” the Premier said. “We see this as trying to facilitate projects because we support job creation period.

“They do not support those things. They do not support resource development, responsible or not. They are not in favour of getting to yes. They’re in favour of road blocks and delays.”

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