For a fifth day in a row, Christy Clark's election campaign was dogged with questions about the BC Liberal Leader's handling of a brief but testy exchange she had with a voter that sparked a social media firestorm.
Apparently, that was enough for the Liberals to finally admit that their attempts to discredit and malign Linda Higgins as an NDP operative out to disrupt and embarrass Ms. Clark were baseless. In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, the party said: "As the Premier said, we are fortunate to live in a democracy where we are able to respectfully disagree with each other. We are happy to stand corrected."
But there was no apology to Ms. Higgins. The Sunshine Coast woman stumbled upon a Liberal campaign event in North Vancouver last Thursday, approached Ms. Clark and told her she would not be voting for her. Before she had a chance to explain why, the Liberal Leader cut her off and blurted out something about the wonders of living in a democracy before bolting off as fast as she could. The moment was caught on camera and when it was posted to social media, Ms. Clark's treatment of Ms. Higgins immediately stoked a strong reaction and incited the hashtag: #IamLinda.
In response to the negative comments toward Ms. Clark the hashtag was eliciting, the Liberal Party's campaign director, Laura Miller, suggested on Twitter that Ms. Higgins was an NDPer, out to make mischief. Other key Liberal strategists also chimed in, insinuating the same thing – a view seemingly based on a photo that was unearthed of Ms. Higgins with NDP candidate Nicholas Simons. As it turned out, they were merely acquaintances from another movie.
Soon, the media was on to the story, revealing that Ms. Higgins was no NDP plant, but just a citizen who happened upon Ms. Clark and thought she would express her frustration over some of the government's policies and the high cost of housing in B.C. She never got the chance.
This is when Ms. Clark, had she not been seized by her famous stubborn streak, should have ended the controversy by apologizing to the woman for not sticking around to hear her out and apologizing on behalf of principals in her party who suggested she was doing the NDP's dirty work. But no. Instead, the Liberal Leader doubled down on trying to question the woman's motives.
She told reporters: "She [Ms. Higgins] said she didn't vote for me last time, she's never voted BC Liberal and she never will and she's not going to vote for me again. Perfect, that's her right." It was a bizarre claim to make since tape of the exchange clearly showed Ms. Higgins did not have the time to make any such statements before being cut off by Ms. Clark. Ms. Higgins also flatly denied making any such remarks.
Again, it only helped to keep the story alive, even inflame it. Day after day on the campaign trail, Ms. Clark was asked about it. Day after day she sloughed it off, saying it wasn't a big deal. Finally, on Tuesday in Merritt, she told reporters they would have to ask Liberal headquarters what evidence they had Ms. Higgins was an NDP plant. Soon after, the party issued the statement that it did.
If this entire sordid mess sounds eerily familiar, it should: In February, Ms. Clark made a completely baseless accusation that the NDP had hacked into Liberal Party computers. It was an astonishing charge, especially given that the Liberal Leader, then acting in her role as Premier, could not produce a shred of evidence to back up her incendiary allegation. A couple of days later, she slowly began to climb down from her statement, but refused to apologize. Then finally, Independent MLA Vicki Huntington came forward to reveal it was a staffer in her office who accessed sensitive information on the Liberal Party website that was open to the public to see.
Forced into a corner, Ms. Clark did something she clearly hates to do: express regret. Among other things she said: "… I have no problem saying sorry because I made a mistake and I shouldn't have jumped to those conclusions as quickly as I did."
Yet it was fine, it seems, for senior staff in her party to jump to conclusions of their own when it came to the motives and background of Linda Higgins – without a scintilla of proof. And it was all right for Ms. Clark to completely manufacture words she attributed to Ms. Higgins, in an attempt to demean her further. Who does that?
The Liberal Party's admission that it wrongly accused Linda Higgins of being someone she wasn't may have ended queries about this matter on the campaign trail. But in the process, the matter has raised questions of different sort, ones that speak to the essential character of someone running to be premier.