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The Globe and Mail

Christy Clark talking tough about election

In Christy Clark's mind, the 2013 election campaign will really commence one day in early April. Or whatever date the New Democratic Party and its leader, Adrian Dix, decide to put their plans for governing on full view.

While Mr. Dix has long ago signalled some elements of his party's pending election platform – raising the corporate tax two points and reinstating a minimum tax on banks, among other moves – he has yet to indicate where his broader priorities lie. How he'll square a finite amount of government revenues with the litany of demands already being placed on his party by a disparate array of organizations expecting a New Democratic government to be more sympathetic to their cause.

That is when, Ms. Clark believes, the public will really get a chance to weigh the two most viable options before them.

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"They [the NDP] are no longer going to be able to avoid telling us what they stand for," the Premier told me during an interview in her office.

"So far they won't tell us where they stand on a 10-year deal with teachers, they won't tell us where they stand on public-sector wage increases, they won't tell us where they stand on the labour code and maintaining the secret ballot for union certification, they won't tell us where they stand on anything. They've gotten away with hiding their agenda so far. They aren't going to be able to do that during a campaign."

It's evident how the Liberals are hoping to shape the campaign's narrative. They are the party of creating jobs and bold ambitions. The NDP is the party of protecting jobs – union jobs – and lesser dreams. The Liberals will insist that New Democrats lack the entrepreneurial markers she maintains are part of the genetic makeup of her free-enterprise coalition. Safe doesn't create employment. Safe maintains the status quo. If the public wants to stay stuck in neutral, then vote NDP. If it wants to push onward to new horizons, vote Liberal.

You get the idea – the party in power portraying itself as an agent of change.

"So not only are people going to be comparing me with Adrian Dix," the Premier said, "they will be comparing leadership with an absence of courage to tell people where his party stands on things. If we get into a competition of ideas in this campaign, I believe I can win that battle because I believe the things I stand for are what British Columbians want: a strong economy, smaller government, jobs for our kids, a prosperity fund, lower taxes.

"I think we're aligned with the majority of British Columbians on many fronts, so let's get into that competition of ideas, the sooner the better."

Christy Clark was never short of chutzpah and it's likely to be on full display during the campaign. Maybe the bravado she demonstrated during our interview helps mask insecurities she has about her party's chances. While she says she never pays attention to polls – no politician does when they're behind – she has to know that the odds of her party winning on May 14 are exceedingly slim.

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But then, if she allowed that reality to infuse her thoughts and comments, the election would be over early. She has to wear the brave face she put on for me because she has no other choice. She needs to give her candidates hope, needs to give them the belief that they can pull off the upset of upsets. To use the old sports idiom, it's why they play the game. Anything can happen and often does.

The Premier believes that opinion surveys taken months before an election don't reflect reality. People don't focus on the choices before them until the campaign is on. Then, and only then, is their attention diverted from the daily travails of their lives. Then, and only then, do they put in the work to understand the issues and explore the party's positions around them.

"I know people don't like politics … but people also understand they have a responsibility as they come closer to voting time to inform themselves," said the Premier. "That's when they will focus in on who they're going to vote for."

Beyond the overall electoral fate of her party, Ms. Clark also needs to worry about getting elected in her riding of Vancouver-Point Grey. After winning the Liberal leadership, she ran in a by-election in the old riding of her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, and only won by just more than 500 votes. Many are expecting her to lose to NDP candidate David Eby this time around.

Once the campaign begins, she won't have much time to spend electioneering on the streets of Point Grey, so is doing some of that work now. She says she hasn't decided if she'll participate in any riding all-candidates debates, something she took heat for not doing during the by-election.

"But I can tell you one thing," she said, "people will not be confused about what I stand for or who I am."

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