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The Globe and Mail

Clark rules out deal with B.C. Conservatives as staffer reaches out to Tories

Premier Christy Clark in Port Moody March 22, 2012.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Premier Christy Clark's chief of staff was reaching out Friday to B.C. Conservatives to talk about a co-operation not long before Ms. Clark said she was ruling out any "backroom deals" with the rival party.

Hamish Marshall, campaign director for the Conservatives, took a call from Ken Boessenkool, and says the contradiction underlies the confusion he says is afflicting the Liberals.

"He didn't get into any specifics, but said he was calling to say we would have to have some working together or co-operation," said Mr. Marshall, who says Mr. Boosenkool is a friend, but has never called him in any official capacity.

"He said, 'I'll probably be calling you between now and the election.'"

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Mr. Marshall said he ruled out any co-operation with the B.C. Liberals, who were defeated this week in by-elections in Port Moody-Coquitlam and Chilliwack-Hope - ridings where the Liberals won strong majorities in the 2009 general election.

Regarding the contradiction between Ms. Clark and Mr. Boessenkool, Mr. Marshall said that the premier and her envoy may not have compared notes this morning on what they were talking about.

"It strikes me as another example of a government that seems confused from day to day."

During a news conference that began shortly after 10 a.m., Ms. Clark ruled out any deals with the Conservatives. "I don't think British Columbians respond well to backroom deals," she said in response to a reporter's question.

Instead, Ms. Clark said the would be reaching out to disaffected Liberals to reinforce what she called the "free-enterprise coalition" with her as leader.

"I am the leader of the free-enterprise coalition in this province and I am going to lead us into the next election," she said.

Ms. Clark's communications director said there was no contradiction. "What she said today is we're reaching out, so we're going to reach out. We need to talk to people to find out what we need to do to strengthen the coalition," said Sara MacIntyre.

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Mr. Boessenkool is launching talks to find out whether a right-of-centre party can be formed in time for the next election that could mean a new name, but not a new leader, said the premiers' office. Others are pushing for an even more urgent and massive overhaul – perhaps a new leader – in a bid to restore the coalition before the next campaign.

Mr. Cummins, who has flatly ruled out any co-operation with the Liberals, said he had received e-mails from various members of his team suggesting that Mr. Boessenkool had been in touch.

Of the Liberal outreach, he said: "They came out looking for a crutch. They want us to build them up."

He said the confusion in senior Liberal ranks was odd. "He's talking and saying one thing and she's going the other way."

Ms. Clark noted during the news conference that Mr. Cummins had ruled out any deals, "but I don't think that's true of the thousands of people that voted for the B.C Conservatives."

Ms. Clark said her government has been working to maintain the coalition, but has to step up its efforts.

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NDP Leader Adrian Dix scoffed at Liberal concerns about vote splitting, saying the insinuation was an insult to voters because it suggests they are confused.

With a file from Justine Hunter

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