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A year before the vote, Christy Clark hits the campaign trail

Premier Christy Clark told businessmen that voters will have a choice between a government that looks after their money and respects taxpayers and an NDP government that will do the opposite by increasing the deficit and raising taxes.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

It will be more than a year before B.C. residents go to the polls in a provincial election, but Premier Christy Clark is already electioneering.

In a speech Monday to a crowd of about 800 sponsored by the Urban Development Institute, Ms. Clark appealed to those "who care about a future for free enterprise," to help the Liberals win the May 14, 2013 election.

"But I can't do it alone, my team can't do it alone. We need everyone in this room today," she said, after noting she was speaking to a room that represented about 18 per cent of the gross domestic product in B.C.

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The Urban Development Institute has about 600 corporate and thousands of individual members representing land planning and development in the province.

The Liberal Premier told the crowd that voters will have a choice between a government that looks after their money and respects taxpayers and an NDP government that will do the opposite by increasing the deficit and raising taxes.

Her plea comes as the latest public opinion poll puts the NDP 20 percentage points ahead of the Liberals and has the Conservatives neck and neck with the Liberals for those intending to vote.

Last week, Liberal backbencher John van Dongen left the party to go to the provincial Conservatives after a fiery speech in the legislature aimed at scorching Ms. Clark 's leadership.

"We have faced some challenges, no question about it. In the next year, before we get to the next election, we will face more challenges as well." Ms. Clark told the crowd.

But Ms. Clark said her government will look those challenges in the eye and wrestle them to the ground because she wants voters to have a choice.

"The choice is going to be between a government that looks after their money, that respects taxpayers, that decides it wants to support a thriving private sector," she said. "Or a choice between a government that will do the opposite."

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She said people are always talking about shrinking the gap between rich and poor, and she agrees.

"But you don't shrink the gap between rich and poor by trying to punish those who are successful."

Instead, government needs to grow the middle class by putting people to work, not "by sitting outside a tent at the art gallery," she said to laugher, referring to last year's Occupy Vancouver protest that was eventually shut down by a court order.

While Ms. Clark didn't once mention the provincial Conservative party, high-profile property marketer Bob Rennie followed up on Ms. Clark 's speech by telling the crowd that a vote for the provincial Conservatives is a vote for the NDP.

"It's splitting votes. We have to get behind the Liberal party right now, we need free enterprise."

Mr. Rennie said he supported Ms. Clark in her leadership bid because the Liberal party needed a change, but now that the party has changed, the province doesn't need to change.

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"I think what the turnout today shows is we're not all just loyal to the last poll that we read," he said. "I like the fact that Liberals are actually down in the polls because it gives us something to fight for."

Ms. Clark didn't want to talk about polls and refused to take questions from the media after her speech. In a running scrum that took Ms. Clark , her entourage and a crowd of media cameras and reporters through the back hallways of the hotel, Ms. Clark turned to the cameras and briefly replied that she hadn't seen the latest poll.

The Canadian Press

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