Two years ago, on Feb. 26, radio talk-show host Christy Clark defeated three party insiders to capture the B.C. Liberal leadership – and the keys to the premier's office –with the promise of change.
Today, she is poised to launch an election campaign at a time when the polls suggest a majority of British Columbians want a different kind of change. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, the Premier takes stock as she marks her second anniversary in power.
When you were running for the Liberal leadership, you noted that the province's fixed election date did not anticipate an unelected premier for more than two years. "I want to go and get that mandate from the people," you said. How has that lack of a mandate influenced your ability to govern?
I also said I would listen, and people told me, "Christy, we don't want another election." To me it has been what I would have done otherwise, which is pursue the opportunities for our province with as much determination as I can, and that's what I am doing.
The day after you won the party leadership, you seemed to think the task of uniting your coalition – and a caucus that almost universally opposed you – would be a snap. Here's another quote of yours: "The job has been a lot easier than many pundits have predicted." Has it been?
Our caucus and our party put the wounds of leadership aside much more quickly than any of the pundits had predicted. Because this is not about personalities, it is about making sure we protect British Columbia's economy and keep it secure. We worked hard collectively to make sure that people who were thinking about supporting the B.C. Conservatives knew that we shared a lot more in common than we had differences. And that has been what has united our coalition.
Looking at the economic indicators, there is not a lot of great news about housing starts, employment or retail sales when you look at the past two years in B.C. What, in concrete terms, has changed in B.C. because of your leadership?
We have protected British Columbia from the worst of the economic storm. Look across the country, look across to the other side of the Rockies – they have got a $6-billion deficit that their children are going to inherit, and it is going to be incredibly painful to wrestle down. Here we are in British Columbia, one of two provinces without a deficit. That's a really concrete achievement in today's world.
We've been bombarded with something like $10-million worth of ads warning us that a change in government would be risky. But the latest polls indicate a majority of voters want change. How do you respond to people who think 12 years of Liberal government is enough?
As we get closer to May 14, I think people are going to look at how secure our economy is today versus the risk they would take with change. We are at a crossroads here. I know our critics say the revenues from liquefied natural gas, that's years away. Well, it might be four or five years away but those decisions have to be made now. This year. And if we don't make the right decisions, we will not be able to bring this opportunity home for British Columbians.
To have your popularity regularly measured and published via the polls – that might be hard to take some days. How do you cope?
The decision that matters is on May 14. The rest of it is irrelevant. I don't spend any time thinking about it, I just roll up my sleeves every day and get it done. I'm not distracted by that chatter.
Win or lose, what happens to the B.C. Liberals after May 14?
After the election, if we are successful, we are really going to get the chance to grasp this opportunity. The next four years have the potential to be the most transformative four years in British Columbia's history. Or it could be a lost four years. That's the choice people are going to face.