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British Columbia Former B.C. premier’s son Brad Bennett rejoins Clark campaign

Brad Bennett addresses delegates during an open forum titled "Free Enterprise Friday" at the B.C. Liberal party convention in Whistler, B.C., on Oct. 26, 2012.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Brad Bennett, the son of B.C.'s 27th premier and the grandson of its 25th premier, will be back by BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark's side in the looming election campaign.

The Kelowna-based businessman travelled with Ms. Clark in the 2013 election – her first as premier and party leader – offering advice and counsel in a role that appears distinct in B.C. politics. He describes his role as scanning, observing and talking to people, and providing an outside perspective to Ms. Clark as she campaigns.

During the previous campaign, Mr. Bennett was a familiar figure on the tour, usually not far from the party leader on the campaign plane or bus. Although there was a team of party staff around Ms. Clark, Mr. Bennett was very much at the side of the BC Liberal Leader.

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Mr. Bennett, who has resisted calls to run for office himself, said he'll again be a sounding board for Ms. Clark as she tries to lead the Liberals to a fifth consecutive term.

"I'll be joining the tour from writ day to E-day," Mr. Bennett said in an interview. The campaign runs from April 11 until voters go to the polls on May 9.

In 2013, Ms. Clark led the Liberals to a come-from-behind victory despite polls that suggested the NDP had a massive lead.

Now, in 2017, Mr. Bennett says it's way too early to predict how things might play out for the Liberals, who are facing relentless questioning about their actions on political fundraising in the province. "Campaigns do matter. It's never over until it's over."

Mr. Bennett's day job is president of McIntosh Properties, a real-estate investment firm in Kelowna. He is also the chairman of BC Hydro.

There is a certain ideological consistency in Mr. Bennett's role for the BC Liberals in both 2013 and the election campaign.

He is the grandson of W.A.C. Bennett, who governed British Columbia as the province's first Social Credit premier from 1952 until he was defeated by the Dave Barrett-led New Democrats in 1972. By then, Mr. Bennett had won re-election six times. Three years after the Socred defeat, Brad Bennett's father, Bill, led the Socreds back to victory against Mr. Barrett. Victory came only two years after W.A.C. retired as leader. Bill Bennett won elections in 1975 and was re-elected in 1979 and 1983, leaving a record that included austerity but also Expo 86, which jump-started the B.C. economy as it showcased the province to the world.

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The Socreds represented the centre-right, free-enterprise coalition of B.C. politics as the BC Liberals do now. "I certainly see the continuity," said Brad Bennett. "Regardless of name, whatever you call it, it is a free-enterprise coalition of like-minded people. You call it Social Credit or the BC Liberals."

Former BC Liberal premier Gordon Campbell, in his own campaigns, travelled to Kelowna for appearances with Bill Bennett, making the free-enterprise connection as he praised Mr. Bennett's accomplishments as a leader. Bill Bennett died in December, 2015, after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Kelowna has been considered the birthplace of the political movement that W.A.C. Bennett launched. He operated a hardware store in the city, which was also the hometown and political base of Bill Bennett. Following her defeat in Vancouver-Point Grey in the 2013 election, Ms. Clark sought and won a legislature seat in the Okanagan city riding of Westside-Kelowna.

Mr. Bennett said he is back because Ms. Clark asked for his return. "Brad Bennett knows B.C. in his bones," Ms. Clark said in a statement. "That's what made him such a valuable adviser in the last election and that's why I wanted him by my side in the challenging campaign ahead. His combination of wisdom, deep personal roots and the private-sector experience makes him a key voice."

Mr. Bennett said the campaign is a lot of work, but that he'll get through. "It's a lot of work and it is intense – very intense, but it's 30 days."

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