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Clark teeters from left to right with federal counterparts

David Parkins for The Globe and Mail/david parkins The Globe and Mail

For all the Thomas Mulcair criticism coming lately from the BC Liberals, you would almost think the federal NDP Leader will be on the ballot in next year's provincial election.

Premier Christy Clark has bluntly described as "goofy" Mr. Mulcair's "Dutch disease" assertions that Alberta oil exports raise the value of the Canadian dollar to the detriment of the economy outside the province. In the legislature, Liberal MLA Bill Bennett, a member of the party's re-election committee, tabled a motion criticizing Mr. Mulcair.

Ms. Clark and her government, lagging behind the provincial NDP in the polls, are clearly trying to gain traction by knotting the provincial and federal New Democrats together. For Ms. Clark, that's the easy step in the political dance. It's more complicated to strike the right tone with the federal Conservatives to satisfy federal Tories within the BC Liberal coalition – without making federal Liberal members on the team consider defecting to the provincial NDP. Aside from expressing pointed concerns this week about Ottawa's decision to close the coast station in Kitsilano, the Premier has largely been a supportive ally to the federal Tories.

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"This is where we get into the peculiarities of B.C. provincial politics. It's more like byzantine politics than anything else where it's wheels within wheels," said pollster Nik Nanos, president of Nanos Research, speaking to Ms. Clark's need to be flexible in her dealings with the federal parties. "The challenge for Christy Clark is the complexity of the multifront war she has to fight in terms of who she is friends with and who she attacks."

These days, the challenge of dealing with the empowered federal New Democrats is something new for both Ms. Clark and other provincial leaders.

Mr. Nanos says this is part of a developing challenge for the NDP, which has never had to play "defence" on the national level. "New Democratic parties across the country are going to have to deal with, positively or negatively, the fortunes of Thomas Mulcair," he said.

Hamish Telford of the University of the Fraser Valley agrees. "It's a new landscape everybody is figuring out," the political-science professor said.

The Orange Crush that saw the NDP become the Official Opposition in Ottawa has opened Mulcair-busting as a tactical option for the BC Liberals, adding something new to the traditional political wars between the centre-right party in the province – whether the Socreds or Liberals – and the New Democrats. The surge in the polls under former NDP leader Jack Layton has left his successor, Mr. Mulcair, under considerably more scrutiny.

Mr. Bennett said the Liberals could have tried the tactic years ago, when opposition status was a dream for federal New Democrats, "but would people really have cared that much?" He says the Liberals see potential in the tactic because provincial New Democrats are also members of the federal party, unlike the Liberals and even the provincial Conservatives.

For now, the focus of BC Liberal attacks on Mr. Mulcair revolve around resource policy. But Mr. Bennett promises the same tactic will be applied to other issues as they arise.

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Provincial New Democrats "have an obligation to the people of this province that when the federal leader says something that could have an impact or will have an impact on the lives of British Columbians, the provincial NDP has an opportunity to say where they stand," he said.

NDP caucus chair Shane Simpson says provincial New Democrats are ready to play defence, highlighting the rebuttal that they make their policy in B.C. Still, he concedes there is a dialogue between Victoria and Ottawa.

"If you're asking, 'Are there discussions that go on between the federal and provincial party and federal and provincial caucus over issues of mutual concern?' Of course there are, and they will continue to go on," Mr. Simpson said.

"If Mr. Mulcair is successful in becoming the prime minister of Canada and Mr. Dix is successful in becoming the premier, they will have that relationship as well, but these are all open discussions."


The motion

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Here's the private members' motion that Kootenay-East MLA Bill Bennett of the BC Liberals introduced earlier this week: "Be it resolved that this House unanimously reject the position stated by Thomas Mulcair that resource extraction in western provinces is bad for Canada."

Such motions are advanced for discussion by members of the B.C. Legislature, but not generally intended for a vote unless there is all-party agreement for that to happen. They are intended more for promoting discussion.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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