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B.C. Premier Christy Clark in her Vancouver office March 17, 2011. (JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
B.C. Premier Christy Clark in her Vancouver office March 17, 2011. (JOHN LEHMANN/JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

The Tell

Christy Clark: 'There is a lot of appetite … for a little bit of honesty' Add to ...

When Gordon Campbell announced in November that he would step down as B.C.'s premier, Christy Clark knew she wanted the job. But what about Hamish?

The former education minister and deputy premier had left politics in 2005 to spend more time with her only child, now 9, and had built an enviable life as a radio talk-show host which allowed her to do just that.

On the advice of other busy working moms in her book club, she took a long, hard look at how she was using her family time.

"I pulled out how many hours of real quality, attentive time I spent with him, and I was really surprised at how small that number was," Ms. Clark explains in an interview this week, two days after taking the oath of office that made her the second female premier in B.C. history.

The exercise persuaded her that she could, indeed, seek the job and still be sure of having quality time with her boy.

She has joint custody of Hamish with her ex-husband, federal Liberal strategist Mark Marissen, who co-chaired Stéphane Dion's leadership bid and operates The Burrard Group, a Vancouver-based communications and government-relations agency.

But Mr. Marissen revealed Friday that he has decided to shutter his business after 13 years and seek other employment. He does not want to risk anything that could be seen as a conflict with the new Premier, with whom he has been raising Hamish "50-50, right down the middle, week-on, week off." However, he adds, "we may have to be more flexible, given her new role."

Such concerns are especially important to Ms. Clark considering that she won her party's leadership on Feb. 26 after campaigning on a "families first" platform, vowing to measure her policies against their impact on the well-being of the B.C. family. She also promised open government, job creation, a balanced budget and, above all, change - saying that, if the Liberals don't provide it, the rival New Democratic Party will.

At 45, Ms. Clark takes over a party that Mr. Campbell ran for 17 years and has governed the province since 2001. Assertive, charismatic and armed with communi- cations skills honed on talk radio, she represents a dynamic new face for the so-called "free-enterprise" Liberals (not connected to their federal namesake, they're a coalition that embraces federal Tories) who hope to rebound from a dramatic collapse in support and win a fourth term.

Simply by being so candid about her personal life, she stands in contrast with her more guarded, 63-year-old predecessor, who surprised his province by adopting a controversial harmonized sales tax (HST) not long after the 2009 election, Mr. Campbell has left politics altogether, this week resigning from a Vancouver-area riding that Ms. Clark may try to make her own.

He always seemed to be holding something back, says veteran political scientist Norman Ruff, a professor emeritus of the University of Victoria, who has watched 11 premiers come and go over the past 42 years.

With Ms. Clark, he adds, "what you see is what you get.

Born into Liberal life

The role she plays may be new, but Christina Joan Clark is no stranger to B.C. politics. Her teacher father, Jim, tried three times, without success, to win a seat as a Liberal, and she knocked on doors for him along with her three siblings. (Neither of her parents lived to see her become Premier.)

After studying French at the Sorbonne, religion at the University of Edinburgh and political science at Simon Fraser University, she worked as a researcher for the B.C. Liberal caucus, and was a western assistant to federal transport minister Doug Young when none other than Gordon Campbell changed her life.

The former Vancouver mayor, then Liberal opposition leader, recruited her as a candidate. Just 30 when elected in her hometown Port Moody in 1996, she became deputy premier and minister for education when the party came to power. Three years later, she announced that she wouldn't run again so she could focus on Hamish.

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