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British Columbia Premier Christy Clark talks with media following the morning meetings at the annual meeting of the Council of the Federation in Vancouver, British Columbia on July 21, 2011. (Andy Clark/Reuters/Andy Clark/Reuters)
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark talks with media following the morning meetings at the annual meeting of the Council of the Federation in Vancouver, British Columbia on July 21, 2011. (Andy Clark/Reuters/Andy Clark/Reuters)

B.C. Politics

Clark's briefing material offers rare glimpse into life as a new premier Add to ...

B.C.'s government could always use some extra money. How about backing a role-playing game about what it's like to be the province's new premier?

The results of an access request, released last week, would provide the first key piece for such an enterprise.

It's the briefing material Christy Clark received in February after she won the leadership of the B.C. Liberals and became the province's first new premier in a decade.

One can imagine Christy Clark poring over the Advice to Premier Designate with a highlight marker. As a former cabinet minister, radio talk show host dialed into current affairs, and leadership hopeful coming off a tough campaign, one assumes she knew a lot of this stuff.

"Please be forgiving if it covers ground familiar to you. The goal was to be complete," says the author, an unnamed member of the public service. Still, he or she assures Ms. Clark deputy ministers are on call to answer any question about the material within 24 hours.

Lots of material has been redacted due to rules allowing certain records to be withheld, but in the words of the author the document - an "inventory of the present" - was written to provide "information on how to form your government" although "this may not reflect your overall sense of prioritization."

It's a fascinating read for political junkies. With six more provincial and territorial elections scheduled for this fall (and Ms. Clark herself yet to rule out a fall election to seek a mandate of her own), there are a lot of politicians who may be receiving such material.

What Ms. Clark was given includes such housekeeping matters as a 'to-do' list for the swearing in, down to asking the new premier to decide on either hot and cold finger food for the reception or just cold finger food - no breaded shrimps, or foie gras pate sandwiches.

But there's also more substance, including a blunt assessment of where things stand on the fate of the Harmonized Sales Tax, now subject to a mail-in referendum.

The demise of the tax would create "serious, ongoing legacy issues" for the government, says the author. "The importance and arguably necessity of shifting the HST Referendum debate to a more realistic comparison of two tax options is further underscored by the serious public policy and political challenges involved in returning to the PST/GST system."

However, there is hope, says the author. "Research suggests voters, while confused and fatigued about the HST, are entering a more pensive state with respect to the HST."

The new premier arrives at an important point: "Strategic policy and communications decisions will need to be made immediately - the right combination of which has the potential to significantly influence vote results."

He or she adds: "There will be only one opportunity for the new Premier and executive to redefine the HST debate."

Since Ms. Clark was sworn in, we have heard her working off a script all her own, but one with the thematic DNA of the ideas outlines in the advice to premier designate. The music is here, but she brought her own words to the song.

Other chapters, in a breezily informative manner, cover the schematics of the premier's office with names, salaries and budgets; the overall B.C. budget; intergovernmental relations, and First Nations issues, among other matters.

There's an interesting section on government communications, notable for a particularly a blunt assessment of the government's online communications.

B.C. leads the nation in Internet usage, but the online system has never been focus tested with citizens and generates "increased frustration with the lack of usability" and integration of various sites, says the author.

"Simply put, while the B.C. government web may have at one point worked well for government itself, on a number of fronts, it has never worked for citizens."

Such briefing documents are routine in Canadian politics, but B.C. political scientist Norman Ruff was hard-pressed to recall the previous release of any such similar material in recent B.C. history. "It's the first time in my knowledge (a briefing book for a premier designate) has been made public. Potentially, it's a mine of public-policy information for the interested public."

He said the advice to Ms. Clark is of note because such material is generally shielded so public servants have comfort in expressing an unvarnished view of issues without fear it will come under larger scrutiny.

"It's invaluable for political historians, but also important in terms of contemporary policy discussions," says the professor emeritus with the University of Victoria.

"If I was still teaching my B.C. politics class, it would be required reading."

The document is available online.

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