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Clark accused of riding Canucks' coattails Add to ...

It turns out the HST is an issue in Canucks Nation.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark on Monday proclaimed Jack Poole Plaza "the centre of Canucks Nation" as she presided over the lighting of the Olympic cauldron in tribute to the National Hockey League team.

"We want to have the home fires burning for our boys while they are away in Boston. … We are going to bring this home in four games," she proclaimed.

But a heckler started chanting "HST" over and over again with a volume that intruded on Ms. Clark's hockey talk.

Finally, she took him on: "Sorry about that, pal. Not today. June 24 - that is the day for that," she said, referring to the referendum on the harmonized sales tax.

With that, it was back to hockey. But some see active politics at play in the boosterism that Ms. Clark frequently pushes as she talks up the team's Stanley Cup bid. She even brought hockey talk into a recent legislative committee hearing where she defended the operation of her office.

The suggestion is that the B.C. Liberals are riding public enthusiasm for the Canucks, seeking to burnish Ms. Clark's image in advance of a possible provincial election this fall.

"I don't think it's subtle, but I don't think it works," said New Democratic Party Leader Adrian Dix, who noted he has watched every game but has been more subdued in his Canucks enthusiasm. On Monday night, he said he was headed downtown to enjoy the buzz, but no news conference was scheduled.

"I think politicians are sometimes wrong to put themselves at the front of the parade," he said. "My idea is to say, 'Look at the games.' My idea isn't to say, 'Look at me.' "

Hamish Telford, a political scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley, said Ms. Clark's repeated positioning in the Canucks parade has been too systematic to be accidental.

"It does look like a pattern, so it looks like some thinking has gone into this," said Prof. Telford, suggesting the Liberals may be trying to attract the same older, male voters that the B.C. Conservatives are wooing.

"We may not be in an election, but Ms. Clark is preparing for one," said Prof. Telford, noting that former premier Gordon Campbell was also prominent at a sporting event, wearing red mittens as he touted the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Still, he suggested Mr. Dix might be wise to be more visible about his own enthusiasm.

"[He]would be well advised to put on a jersey and get down to a bar with a pint of beer. It worked for Jack Layton," he said.

Asked about the issue, Ms. Clark, who appeared recently on the front page of a Vancouver daily wearing a Canucks jersey, steered clear of questioning Mr. Dix's hockey cred. She framed her enthusiasm as a matter of community pride. "This whole playoff run has been a great opportunity for all of us to feel pride in who we are as British Columbians," she told reporters after Monday's ceremony.

"I am a great hockey fan. I am a hockey mom. But it's the pride we all feel and the sense of common cause in bringing us together, and for me that's an important thing in politics."

She said she hoped "good feeling out of this will spill over into our civic discourse because that's important."

Pollster Mario Canseco of Angus Reid Public Opinion said the risk for politicians as fans is that the sporting crowd may not welcome the politicians as sincere, although he noted that it may be easier for incumbents to get away with such boosterism because it can be seen as part of their official responsibilities.

Former Canuck David Babych, who played with the team the last time they were in the Stanley Cup finals, came down on the side of any politician who wants to join the parade.

"They're humans, too. They're allowed to be excited about groups or anything in town, and the Canucks are a big part of the city," said Mr. Babych, attending Monday's ceremony.

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