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After election upset, Liberals consider a name change

Premier Christy Clark at Vancouver airport in Richmond, BC May 17, 2013 before leaving on a holidaywith her son Hamish

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Say goodbye to the B.C. Liberal Party. Despite winning a fourth straight majority mandate in this week's election, newly empowered Premier Christy Clark wants to ditch the name.

Earlier this month, Ms. Clark told the editorial board of The Globe and Mail in Vancouver that dealing with the issue was a priority. "The problem with the name 'Liberal' is that it's not inclusive enough, because there is a federal party that shares the name." The provincial party has no connections to its federal counterpart. "We'll worry about that after the election."

Ms. Clark had no preference on a new name for the party, which has governing roots in the province dating back to the early 20th century. In a sense, she need not. Whatever it is, it will be the Christy Clark party.

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The former deputy premier, who returned to politics in 2011 after a six-year break, recruited many of the 25 new Liberals elected to the legislature. They ran on a platform developed under her supervision, that she sold during a campaign many credit for turning things around for the Liberals, who had laboured under discouraging polls.

Until this week, Ms. Clark was leading the caucus that won office under her predecessor Gordon Campbell. No more.

"It's Christy Clark's party now," said prominent Vancouver condo marketer Bob Rennie, a key supporter of Ms. Clark who backed her through the leadership race. "It is not Gordon Campbell's."

Former B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Wilson agrees.

"This is the first time that she has stood, as leader, in front of all British Columbians and said, 'With my new team' – and she called it 'Today's B.C. Liberals' – this is what we want to do. And the province has endorsed it – overwhelmingly."

Her challenge, he said, will be to turn that support into "something real."

Ms. Clark has a long list of priorities and, during a post-election news conference earlier this week, cited her five conditions for such heavy oil projects as Northern Gateway as well as commitments to growing the economy, low taxes, economic development and control of government spending.

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Only one member of the caucus supported Ms. Clark in the 2011 leadership race. Now she can appoint a cabinet, committee chairs, a whip and a house leader from a mix of veterans who sought re-election with her and rookies who have known no other leader.

Ms. Clark suggested that it was going to be easier to lead a caucus that had been through the team-building exercise of running for election together. "We're going to be rowing in the same direction from now on," she said.

Ironically, some suggested that candidates had played down her name and image during the campaign.

The party, which is said to have about 100,000 members, will assemble for a convention in 2014. The debate over the name could be divisive, because a label is key to a party's identity.

Mr. Wilson, who led the party from zero to 17 seats in the 1991 election, is wary about a new name because the old one proved to be not a liability in this week's vote.

"I'm not sure that tinkering with it now is going to do anything but confuse the voters," he said. "I think British Columbians want stability right now in politics. They're not interested in the superficial and hearing talk about how we can paint the bus. They want to know who's driving it and where it's going," said Mr. Wilson, who came off the political sidelines to endorse Ms. Clark during the campaign.

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But Mr. Rennie said it may be time to rebrand. He opposed the idea before the vote because he thought it would be viewed as opportunistic.

Now he says a change would eliminate confusion between the federal and provincial Liberals.

Rich Coleman, the deputy premier, said in an interview that he doubts a new name would change the party or the impact of Ms. Clark's contribution. "She took more garbage and crap from people, media, pundits and all the rest of it for the last 18 months to two years," he said. "She weathered all of that and continued to build the organization and attract the candidates, and then she went out and won an election, and she proved everybody wrong."

Until recently, Mr. Rennie said, some in B.C. viewed Ms. Clark like a neighbour who was not going to be around for long so did not warrant getting to know.

Mr. Rennie recalled a standing ovation for Ms. Clark this week at an urban affairs conference in Vancouver. "It's socially acceptable now to admit that she can [lead]."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More


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