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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 ...

Some call Ms. Clark a populist, but Prof. Ruff is wary of the term. "It's used to explain everything in B.C. politics, but it may explain nothing. But she certainly has a populist streak … She tries to establish a direct connection with British Columbians and it is reciprocated."

Gwyn Morgan, the founder of energy giant EnCana who brought his federal Conservative pedigree to both her campaign and transition team, is equally skeptical. "Populist means you say and do whatever everybody likes rather than take the tough decisions when you need to," he says. "Christy is a person who will make the tough decisions."

Her first tough decisions came Monday when she unveiled her cabinet, demoting nine Campbell-era ministers, and trimming the body count from 23 to 17.

She fired Finance Minister Colin Hansen, a 10-year cabinet stalwart who, on Mr. Campbell's orders, brought in the HST that doomed both of their political careers. During the swearing-in ceremony, he was on the sidelines gamely describing the rewards of serving as a back- bencher but admitted he isn't sure he will run again.

Mr. Hansen's successor is the same man who, after coming second in the leadership race, boldly told reporters he had no interest in being finance minister. Now former health minister Kevin Falcon has the punishing task of trying to save the HST by persuading the public, before a referendum slated for June, that it's not so bad after all.

As well, Ms. Clark has swept away a decade-old freeze on the minimum wage imposed by the government she now leads, a move long opposed by B.C.'s business community.

Not surprisingly, the New Democrats remain skeptical. They too are looking for a new leader, and Mike Farnworth, one of five candidates on the April 17 ballot, says the new Premier's wave of popularity cannot last. "It's all about hype with Christy," he says. "It's about style, media - it's the snowball of hype without a lot backing it up."

While Ms. Clark prepares for such challenges, Mr. Marissen is helping on the home front. Although he had no formal role in her leadership campaign, he helped to round up support. Now, he says, his "main job" on behalf of the Clark administration is providing stability in Hamish's life.

He rejects the description of his ex-wife as a single parent. "She's a joint-custody parent Premier ... Yes, she's single and she's a mother, but she's not a single mother based on the connotation of what people would normally think that means."

Ms. Clark has been careful to avoid criticism of her old boss but does nothing to discourage the notion that he had become an autocrat and lost touch with both the public and his own party's grassroots.

"There is a lot of appetite … for a little bit of honesty and straight talk about where we are at, and I think that's what people expect of me," she says. "And that's a tough expectation to meet, because government as an institution works against all those things all the time."

As education minister, she had a reputation as combative, especially when it came to taking on the teachers' union. But she says she has learned a lot since leaving in 2005, thanks in large part to Hamish. More time for parenting taught her about flexibility, consultation and mediation.

As a result, "I very rarely approach a decision with my mind made up," she says. "I have enough experience now to know that you're not always right."

Queen of the airwaves

Her experience on CKNW also served to smooth some rough edges - and, of course, to raise her profile.

"It really helped during the leadership campaign - the fact that she is more well known than any of the rivals," says Mario Canseco, public affairs vice-president with Angus Reid Public Opinion in Vancouver.

Even though she was up against four sitting cabinet ministers, he adds, "we had a lot of people, particularly at the start of the race, saying, `I don't know who these people are, but I do know who Christy Clark is.'"

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