Now Christy Clark has it all – the magic and the mandate.
She always had the charisma, the winning way with voters, but there seemed something lightweight about her, not quite premier-like even as she held the title. But now, lifted by an unexpected majority and backed by a caucus that is finally hers, the emboldened B.C. Premier appears ready to assume a larger and more assertive role on the national stage.
In fact, Ms. Clark finds herself in better political shape than most of Canada’s high-profile premiers: Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, unelected and leading a minority; Quebec’s Pauline Marois, whose minority government faces deep voter dissatisfaction; Alberta’s Alison Redford, imperilled by a leadership review this fall. Ottawa, Bay Street, First Nations, oil and gas companies – all must now figure out what makes Ms. Clark tick, after largely writing her off.
On Wednesday, the Premier spent little time gloating about her shocking victory, which defied the predictions of pollsters and pundits. Instead, she spoke confidently about forging ahead with an economy-first agenda that has an unmistakable stamp of approval from British Columbians.
It was a starkly more self-assured and poised performance from a woman who sometimes looked out of her depth after leaving her job as a talk show radio host to take over a B.C. Liberal Party scorned by the public and racked by dissent. Her two pre-election years in office were marred by rookie mistakes and internal rebellions ignited by Liberal MLAs who opposed her leadership.
Now Ms. Clark, despite losing her own seat, should not have to worry about that. Half of her caucus is comprised of MLAs she recruited herself. The other half is made up of Liberal incumbents who came to believe in her leadership. All owe the Liberals’ remarkable comeback to one of the all-time great performances by a politician in a leading role.
During her news conference, Ms. Clark did not veer off her positions on some of the biggest issues of the day, including the future of pipelines. She said the five conditions she laid out for their approval remain, and she continued to strike a pessimistic tone when talking about Northern Gateway.
Most of the questions, however, centred on her surprise triumph. It’s Ms. Clark’s contention that NDP Leader Adrian Dix’s flip-flop on the Kinder Morgan pipeline – he backtracked on a promise to wait until the company submitted its full plans later this year before rendering a final opinion on its merits – helped frame the ballot-box question around the economy. But she maintains that the televised leaders’ debate, which attracted a record number of viewers, really helped shift numbers in her direction.
“That was a chance for the public to compare and contrast the leaders without the filter of the media,” she said.
New Democrats will long debate their strategy to “go positive.” But the election came down to the way the public felt about the two main combatants: Ms. Clark, who has a natural rapport with voters and a telegenic appeal, and Mr. Dix, who is unquestionably smart but just as indisputably awkward. In her last six months on the job, Ms. Clark finally seemed comfortable and certain in the role as premier, a deportment she took into the campaign. Mr. Dix, to his detriment, often seemed nervous and fidgety.
Ms. Clark allowed the public to get to know her. People learned about her deceased parents Mavis and Jim, a failed political candidate who instilled politics in his daughter’s blood. Voters, too, became acquainted with the premier-elect’s 11-year-old son Hamish, whom she raises jointly with her ex-husband Mark Marissen.
Pre-election polls had suggested Ms. Clark had a gender problem – women didn’t like her. The gap between her and Mr. Dix on this front was believed to be unbridgeable. But she seemed to have an answer for that too.
“The Liberal campaign was particularly effective with women,” said Greg Lyle, president of the Innovative Research Group. “In their ads, Christy was talking about balancing the budget or being debt-free but in a language that was aimed directly at women,” Mr. Lyle said.
“She was saying this is about our kids, our families. She didn’t use business analogies, she used family analogies,” he said.
“She talked about her family, her parents. It was all presented in a way that was accessible to women. Few noticed this when the campaign was on, but it’s a big part of the overall story. ”