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gary mason

After the May 9 provincial election, the BC Liberals gathered in a Vancouver hotel to discuss the distressing results.

Party Leader Christy Clark led the meetings. While her government wouldn't fall for a few weeks, the possibility of such an event occurring hung in the air.

Despite emerging from the campaign with two more seats than the NDP, the Liberals were crushed by the outcome. They didn't see it coming, and no one was more surprised than Ms. Clark herself. A party that had every conceivable advantage going into the election – a buoyant economy, a healthy treasury, five balanced budgets, a massive campaign war chest – had somehow blown it.

Now all eyes were on the leader.

"I get the sense that you'd like me to stay on through this period," Ms. Clark said at one point. "To keep us together and put the question of leadership off to the future."

The reaction in the room was near universal: No one imagined Ms. Clark going anywhere. There were emotional testimonials to her leadership. There were tears, according to one person in the room. If nothing else, in her six years as Liberal leader, Ms. Clark had engendered tremendous loyalty.

That loyalty will now be put to the test.

The Vancouver meeting was held before Ms. Clark's last-ditch effort to force another election, radically revising the government's Speech from the Throne to prepare for it. Now, however, her decision to adopt, almost wholesale, the policy playbooks of the NDP and the Greens is challenging Ms. Clark's support inside her party. Many of those of a conservative bent are furious, saying the leader destroyed the party's brand in one fell swoop. Others say it was a gamble that was worth taking but also one that ultimately backfired.

There seems little doubt that Ms. Clark will be spending at least part of the summer not only licking her wounds but pondering her future. She is committed to leading the Liberals in the short term. She will front a vicious Opposition that will be out for revenge and loaded for bear. Her best shot at redemption is another election. But it would almost certainly have to happen in the near future.

Certainly, the one-seat majority that the NDP "enjoys" is precarious. It doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to conjure scenarios where the balance of power in the legislature slips, forcing another trip to the polls. However, as NDP stalwart Carole James has indicated, the NDP can bring about lots of policy change through cabinet orders, avoiding the nastiness of the legislature.

It's not something the New Democrats would want to do often, but it could, in theory, help extend their parliamentary life while operating with a razor-thin majority. It's not difficult seeing the NDP, with the help of the Green party, operating for 12 to 18 months with little problem.

After bringing in popular changes, and a balanced budget, and after showering important ridings with love, the NDP might not want to govern much longer than that anyway before manufacturing the case for an election.

Which brings us back to Ms. Clark. How long can she last before impertinent questions surrounding her leadership begin to surface?

If the NDP manages to survive through next spring, pressure would likely begin to ramp up on Ms. Clark to step aside. The party is scheduled to hold a leadership review in September, 2018, and it's inconceivable she'd want to subject herself to that.

That is a milepost on the horizon of which she is certainly cognizant.

Right now, her personal popularity falls well short of the popularity her party enjoys with the public. This is a problem. That said, it would be foolish to count this woman out. She is a force of nature. As Opposition leader, her popularity could once again soar. If she gets the early election she is hoping for, the election she desperately needs, all bets are off.

People have counted Christy Clark out before. They should never do it again.

John Horgan is set to be B.C. premier after Christy Clark's Liberals were defeated Thursday in a non-confidence vote in the legislature. The NDP leader says growth is important for the province, which he called the 'envy of Canada.'

The Canadian Press

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