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Clark gets chance to refurbish image at leaders summit after sloppy Senate proposals Add to ...

Got bad reviews? On the bright side, at least your first act won’t be tough to follow.

Consider B.C. Premier Christy Clark. Starting July 20, she will host Canada’s premiers and territorial leaders in Vancouver for the annual Council of the Federation meeting – a three-day gathering that will put Ms. Clark in the national spotlight as never before.

The meeting comes just in time to give Ms. Clark a shot at getting past some odd remarks she made on Senate reform on a recent visit to Ottawa. Over 24 hours, she proposed giving B.C. more senators without changing the Constitution, and then suggested capping the number of senators from overrepresented regions, risking court challenges from other provinces.

Observers were astonished, and not in a good way.

NDP Opposition Leader Adrian Dix, who would presumably like some day to host a council meeting as B.C. premier, was sharply critical of Ms. Clarke’s performance.

“The province didn’t look very good when she made proposals that, at best, could be called amateurish,” he said. “People can make mistakes, but she was representing the province, had officials with her, and the ideas seemed to come out of a Cracker Jack box – two ideas in 24 hours, neither very serious.”

Political scientist Hamish Telford has given a lot of thought to B.C.’s relationship with other provinces and Ottawa, writing on the subject in his essay “BC as an Intergovernmental Relations Player: Still Punching Below Its Weight,” published in 2010 as part of a new text on B.C. politics.

The University of the Fraser Valley professor wrote of B.C.’s “sorry performance” in intergovernmental relations, partly linked to “very powerful and colorful premiers,” who have failed to effectively align their concerns with other provinces and tended “to fly solo through the world of intergovernmental relations.”

B.C. premiers, Prof. Telford wrote, “have been preoccupied with governing the province, and they have tried to manage the complicated affairs of intergovernmental relations off the corner of their desks.”

Gordon Campbell, he wrote, brought a conciliatory approach to the file after the “tumultuous” Glen Clark years, but such key Campbell efforts as a pharmacare plan and the Kelowna accord were rejected by the Tories – who nonetheless liked Mr. Campbell enough to later appoint him high commissioner to Britain.

As for Ms. Clark, Prof. Telford said the rookie Premier risks being dismissed by her colleagues and the feds if she isn’t better briefed than she was when she laid out her “wacky” Senate ideas.

Mr. Campbell, he said, was possibly “too much of a get-along guy” who didn’t push back hard when his national proposals faltered. “[Ms. Clark’s] a bit more tenacious, perhaps not as tenacious as Glen Clark. But she’s got to have the substance. She’s got to be fighting for the right things. She’s got to know her files before she starts pushing people really hard or she’s not going to get anywhere.”

Exactly where B.C. wants to go at the meeting this month is unclear. Ms. Clark’s office said it was far too soon to discuss the agenda. (Announcing the 2011 meeting, Mr. Campbell suggested it would focus on a “forward-looking agenda” around Asia-Pacific trade.) Oddly enough, the guests were more forthcoming than the host. Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale wants to talk about issues of relevance to families, including maternal/parental employment-insurance benefits.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach? The economy, solutions to labour shortages afflicting Alberta, and Asian markets.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter wants to discuss federal-transfer renewals and controlling health-care costs, said an official in his office.

Premier Greg Selinger of Manitoba shares the health-care sentiment, suggesting there will be talks about cost-effective and innovative ways to deliver health care to families. He also would like to see some reflection on the economy – trade, in particular.

As for Ms. Clark, Mr. Selinger said he has talked to her about the meeting, and is confident she is fully prepared. “She’s ready to roll,” he said.

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